By Greg Katz – WeAreSC
The Obvious: After commencing its 2016 training camp on Thursday, Clay Helton’s USC Trojans head into their first full weekend of workouts in preparation for what many are calling the toughest college football schedule in the country.
The Not So Obvious: Given that brutal slate of games, it takes a man with real courage or stupidity to predict the outcome of each of the Trojans’ 12 regular season games, but that’s exactly what the O/NSO is going to do. So break out a crate of rotten tomatoes, Tums, a few bouquets of Roses, and/or a refreshing libation, as the O/NSO unveils our optimism, pessimism, realism, and game prediction(s) for the approaching season.
The Obvious Game 1 – Alabama (2015 record – 14-1): The Trojans open the season on Sept. 3 against the defending national champions in AT&T Stadium (7 p.m. CT/5 p.m. PT/ABC) in Arlington, Texas.
The Not So Obvious Alabama outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Alabama lost Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry, the Crimson Tides inexperienced QB situation is questionable, and UA lost some outstanding defensive players to the NFL Perhaps the best thing going for the Trojans is that it’s Alabama’s first game, and they will be at their most vulnerable. And Lane Kiffin will be the calling the plays for Alabama, so hello bubble screen.
The O/NSO pessimist: Alabama has won three of its past four titles with a first-year QB. It would be a major shocker if the Crimson Tide doesn’t physically school the Trojans on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Now think about this, Alabama could conceivably play 11 former 5-star recruits on defense. The Tide has the nation’s best defense.
The O/NSO realist: Coach Nick Saban’s Alabama club is the defending national champs for a reason, and the Trojans – performing on the biggest of regular season stage so early in the season – could get caught with that deer in the headlights syndrome in an intimidating environment and on national television.
The O/NSO prediction: Alabama 37, USC 24
The Obvious Game 2 –Utah State (2015 record – 6-7): The Trojans home opener takes place on Sept. 10 against the Utah State Aggies on Sept. 10 (11 a.m. PT/P12N).
The Not So Obvious Utah State outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans are by far the more talented team, and the Aggies defense is a major weakness. The Coliseum faithful will get the Trojans up from a potential Alabama hangover, and the Aggies will have to pay the price. The Aggies have new coordinators on both sides of the ball, so there is inexperience there.
The O/NSO pessimist: Just how beat up will the Trojans be after the Alabama experience? And to make matters worse, kickoff for the Utah State game in the Coliseum is 11 a.m. PT, which is criminal. The fans might literally have a tougher time “getting up” for the game than the team. USU does have a respectable offense on paper. Regardless of the score, it’s also possible if there’s going to be a Trojans quarterback controversy, this could be the game, which is not a good thing with Stanford next up on the schedule.
The O/NSO realist: Too much Trojans home cooking and the season is still so young that a bounce-back game for the Men of Troy is evitable. If the Trojans jump out early, it figures to be a rout. Clay Helton will pull out all the stops to avoid a two-game losing heading up to Palo Alto the following weekend.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Utah State 17
The Obvious Game 3 – At Stanford (2015 record – 12-2): The Pac-12 opener for both teams will be played at Stanford Stadium on Sept. 17 (5 p.m. PT/ABC).
The Not So Obvious Stanford outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Quarterback Kevin Hogan is finally gone. Stanford is trying to find the right quarterback and star running back Christian McCaffrey is one hard hit from making Stanford’s offensive a less formidable force. In addition, the Cardinal offense has a rebuilt line, and there are some defensive holes to plug.
The O/NSO pessimist: Stanford is picked to win the Pac-12, the game is in Palo Alto, and the Cardinal is again too physical for the Trojans. The Cardinal know they have the Trojans number and so do the Trojans…at the moment. Stanford head coach David Shaw loves his team speed on defense and hasn’t been shy to speak up about it. Believe it or not, Stanford is now a reload rather than a rebuild program.
The O/NSO realist: The Trojans defense has no answer for a second straight season for junior All-America tailback Christian McCaffrey, and the Men of Troy are riding a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal.Until the Trojans prove they can stop the multi-dimensional McCaffrey, they’re the credible underdog.
The O/NSO prediction: Stanford 41, USC 34
The Obvious Game 4 – At Utah (2015 record – 10-3): A trip to Salt Lake City for a huge Pac-12 South game will be played on Friday night, Sept. 23 (7 p.m. MT/6 p.m. PT/FS1).
The Not So Obvious Utah outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans offense should be jelling, and no way will the Trojans lose two consecutive Pac-12 games – no way! And the Utes have early season QB issues, inexperienced linebackers, and lost their prolific punter Tom Hackett to graduation. Don’t underestimate the loss of Hackett and his effect on a game.
The O/NSO pessimist: Utah knows the Trojans are ripe for the upset, the rabid Utah student fans, The MUSS, will be a factor along with the altitude. For their third time in four games, the Trojans will be tested on physicality and against a formidable defense. How much physicality can this team handle in the first month of the season?
The O/NSO realist: Utah no longer has tailback Devontae Booker and that is huge. The quarterback situation is highly uncertain. Being a Pac-12 South game, this could be the turning point in the season for the Cardinal and Gold. This is a “must win,” and the Trojans will play like it, but it won’t be a cakewalk.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 27, Utah 24
The Obvious Game 5 – Arizona State (2015 record 6-7): After back-to-back Pac-12 road games, the Trojans return to the Coliseum to face the Sun Devils on Oct. 1 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Arizona State outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: There won’t be an ASU “Hail Mary” victory pass this time around in the Coliseum. ASU is rebuilding almost everywhere. The Trojans now have the Sun Devils number, and ASU head coach Todd Graham’s frustration will show with his decision-making during the game. Two of ASU’s first three games are against Southern Utah and at San Jose State, which speaks for itself.
The O/NSO pessimist: Overconfidence based on last season’s 42-14 smashing of the Sun Devils in Tempe could be a big issue for the Trojans. Todd Graham could game plan the upset of the season, and this again being a potential Pac-12 South eliminator, the Sun Devils will be more than ready, especially with so many former SoCal prep stars on its roster.
The O/NSO realist: Just don’t see this ASU team with the same firepower as past teams. The Trojans also know this could be another Pac-12 South eliminator, so the Men of Troy will be fired up. If the Trojans drop back-to-back games to Utah and ASU, stick a pitchfork in the Trojans season. ASU won’t be able to keep up with the Trojans offense.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 38, ASU 24
The Obvious Game 6 – Colorado (2015 record – 4-9): The Trojans conclude a two-game homestand against the Buffaloes on Oct. 8 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Colorado outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Hey, Colorado is in town, so consider it a bye week, which begs the questions, “Where are we eating after the game?” Seriously, once the Trojans get the lead, it’s turn out the lights, baby. The Buffs can’t stop the run. Buff’s coach Mike MacIntyre is 2-25 in Pac-12 play. Get the picture?
The O/NSO pessimist: Bye week? Pleeez! Last season in Boulder, the Trojans barely escaped 27-24. Colorado is an experienced team. The Buffs will see this game as a chance to prove that last season’s game in Boulder was no fluke, and they’ll come to L.A. to finish the job.
The O/NSO realist: Yes, Colorado will come to compete, but the Trojans are still too talented and too motivated for the Buffs, and if the Trojans are still in the national and/or Pac-12 South picture, they will have plenty of incentive to win. The only thing that could make this a game will be how many Trojans are already on the injured list.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 37, Colorado 20.
The Obvious Game 7 – At Arizona (2015 record – 7-6): Returning to the road, the Trojans visit the University of Arizona on Oct. 15 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Arizona outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Yeah, the game is in Tucson, but the Wildcats are missing All-America linebacker “Scooby” Wright (NFL) and that’s a big deal. Let’s face it, head coach Rich Rodriguez has a whole new defensive staff, which means trouble in River City. In addition, the Wildcats defense is small and weak.
The O/NSO pessimist: Because the game is in Tucson and hot weather could be a major factor, the upset is possible. Rodriguez can really coach, so will Clay Helton and his staff be outcoached? Offense has rarely been an issue for a RichRod team. Some might call this the “trap game” and with good reason. You can bet the UofA fans will “Bear Down.”
The O/NSO realist: The Wildcats have given the Trojans trouble in the past in Tucson, but if the Men of Troy limit the turnovers and convert Wildcat turnovers, they’ll be fine. As for the weather, the game will hopefully be played at night, which could make a position difference for the Trojans.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Arizona 24
The Obvious Game 8 – California (2015 record – 8-5): A nationally televised Thursday night game, Oct. 27, has the Trojans welcoming the Cal Bears (7:30 p.m. PT/ESPN).
The Not So Obvious California outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Cal’s best quarterback is now playing for the Los Angeles Rams, and the loss of No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff is overwhelming. The Bears seems to have holes everywhere, and can you remember the last time the Bears beat the Trojans? Well, if you can’t, that should tell you something. This is a “name the score” game.
The O/NSO pessimist: Cal lost 15 players of note from last season’s team, so even a pessimist can be an optimist for at least one game a season. However, the game, as mentioned, is a Thursday night tussle on ESPN, so the Bears will play with purpose, while Trojans fans will be tearing their hair out fighting rush hour traffic – yet again – to be seated by kickoff.
The O/NSO realist: Honestly, this is not a good Cal team and with no Jared Goff the Bears are hurting. Quite honestly, it really doesn’t matter what time of day the game is played. The Trojans will dominate, and the biggest decision by the fans will be whether to leave early or call in work for a “Friday sick day.”
The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Cal 24
The Obvious Game 9 – Oregon (2015 record – 9-4): The Trojans celebrate Homecoming against the Ducks on Nov. 5 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Oregon outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: There are reasons for optimism. The Trojans will be playing the Ducks in the Coliseum, it will be Homecoming, and Oregon will have a first-year starting quarterback. Plus, the Trojans played against the Ducks explosive offense last season, so they now having a working knowledge of what to expect. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has made a number of staff changes, so there is the continuity question.
The O/NSO pessimist: Last time Oregon came to the Coliseum in 2012, the Trojans got thrashed 62-51, and last season in Eugene the Trojans got throttled 48-28. The Ducks believe they have the Trojans number, both home and away. How many yards and touchdowns will Oregon’s star running back Royce Freeman execute? Another 300-yard rushing performance by the Ducks running backs?
The O/NSO realist: Hey, it’s Homecoming and the law of averages would say Oregon can’t win its third game in a row over Men of Troy, can they? The game should be a wild scoring affair, and it will really come down to how much the Trojans defensive front seven has improved through the course of the season. This is gut-check time. This is one of those “scary” games for Trojans fans.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 44, Oregon 41
The Obvious Game 10 – At Washington (2015 record – 7-6): It’s been awhile since the Trojans last played at Husky Stadium (2009), and there is a large media segment that says the Men of Troy could be the underdog when they visit Seattle on Nov. 12 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Washington outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans will be looking for revenge after last season’s 17-12 setback to the Huskies in the Coliseum. Trojans QB Max Browne is from Seattle, so if he is still the Trojans quarterback, he will be highly motivated. The Trojans won’t be caught looking ahead to UCLA because of the importance of the game. The Huskies might be the most overrated team in the country.
The O/NSO pessimist: The Huskies return bunch of starters from last season’s upset of the Trojans, including QB Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. The Husky defense gave the Trojans all they could handle in the Coliseum last season, and Husky Stadium will be rocking and so will the chilly and rainy November weather, as well. I’ll say it, the Trojans could be looking ahead to a potential Pac-12 South Division title showdown with UCLA.
The O/NSO realist: Back in Husky Stadium, the wall of sound, for the first time since being upset back in 2009, the weather, Coach Chris Petersen, a rising program, and gained confidence against the Trojans will be a factor, as well as the rabid UW faithful. The Trojans will need to be ready because if they aren’t, it could be a Great Northwest nightmare.
The O/NSO prediction: Washington 34, USC 31
The Obvious Game 11 – At UCLA (2015 record – 8-5): The Pac-12 South title could very well be on the line when the two crosstown rivals go at it in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 19 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious UCLA outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: The Rose Bowl has traditionally been the Trojans second home, the Men of Troy waxed the Westwooders last season, 40-21, and Jim Mora nowknows Helton can beat him. The UCLA offensive is thin.The Trojans will smell recruiting blood in the water, and a victory in front of all those Bruin recruits could turn into a recruiting jackpot for the Trojans coaching staff.
The O/NSO pessimist: The curse of former Trojans fullback and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, currently the UCLA offensive coordinator, will be in play. Polamalu will test the Trojans physicality with his Trojans “old school” offensive philosophy disguised as the UCLA offense, which means the USC defensive line will be heavily tested. UCLA QB Josh Rosen could be the best throwing quarterback in country, and he could be on fire against the Trojans. The Trojans have a two-game losing streak playing the Bruins in the Rose Bowl, and no way will UCLA be intent on keeping that streak alive.
The O/NSO realist: As has been tradition of this crosstown rivalry, the game could go either way, and we’ll see – especially if the Pac-12 South title is on the line – which team succumbs to the pressure of the moment. Thanks to last season’s domination of the Bruins, the Trojans have newfound confidence against their archrival. A USC victory will be especially challenging in the Arroyo Seco, but the Trojans have the players and experience to get the job done. The future of both programs is on the line in terms of perception, so this is a golden opportunity for the Trojans to make a lasting statement.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 31, UCLA 30
The Obvious Game 12 – Notre Dame (2015 record – 10-3): It’s the Irish bi-yearly Thanksgiving Week trip to Los Angeles, and it’s possible that the nation’s greatest non-conference annual rivalry could decide a CFP representative on Nov. 26 (kick-off time and TV TBA).
The Not So Obvious Notre Dame outcome points of view:
The O/NSO optimist: Last time the Irish played in the Coliseum (2014), they were humiliated by the Trojans, 49-14, and the Trojans will be looking to avenge last season’s 41-31 loss in South Bend. Generally speaking, get the Irish out of South Bend against the Trojans and the results in Los Angeles are some of Notre Dame’s most painful losses. Regardless of how this season has gone for the Trojans, a win over the Irish will be either some redemption or at the very least a nice ending to a very challenging season. Notre Dame. The Irish defense is not what it has been.
The O/NSO pessimist: Consider the Irish are loaded on both sides of the ball, a CFP invitation could be in the line for ND, and their skill players are nearly as good as the Trojans, especially at quarterback. The Irish are extremely tough on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the Trojans will have to play at their most physical to be positioned for a win. The Irish will bring it, and head coach Brian Kelly won’t be outcoached. Either Notre Dame quarterback, DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire, can give the Trojans’ defense fits.
The O/NSO realist: The Trojans can win if they play as physical as the Irish, play with a sense of purpose, and limit the turnovers. Brian Kelly remembers the flogging his team took last time in the Coli, so there will be plenty of Irish motivation. As usual, the Coliseum will have its large segment of Irish fans, which will be competition for Trojans fans in attendance. Being the last game of the regular season and Senior Day, the Trojans will rise to the occasion as they have so many times against the Irish. IF the Trojans can stop the Irish ground game and establish one of their own, they win the game, but it will be close. A field goal(s) by Trojans junior lefty placekicker Matt Boermeester could be the difference.
The O/NSO prediction: USC 34, Notre Dame 31
The Obvious: And finally, the O/NSO sees the Trojans final regular season record (not counting a potential Pac-12 title appearance) as a difficult but doable 9-3.
The Not So Obvious: The final 2016 regular season record depends on your point of view.
The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans get off to a 3-1 start and the Men of Troy are in the hunt for some big prizes down the road.
The O/NSO pessimist: The Trojans get off to a 1-3 start to the season, and it’s fasten your seatbelts the rest of the way and anything goes.
The O/NSO realist: The Trojans will need some clutch placekicking and some positive turnovers in the last three critical games (Oregon, UCLA, ND) to finish with a 9-3 record. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. A lot depends on the Trojans have physical and mental state leading into the final three very difficult games.
The O/NSO prediction: Based on the aforementioned analysis, the Trojans finish a best-case scenario 9-3 or a worse case scenario 6-6. A case could be made for either outcome for a USC team playing the nation’s most daunting schedule.