By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com columnist
The Obvious: Los Angeles – The No. 8 University of Southern California Trojans football team will open the season on Saturday night (8 p.m. PDT) in the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the unranked Arkansas State Red Wolves from the Sun Belt Conference.
The Not So Obvious: In a game that has been portrayed as a cupcake opener for the Trojans, the change of play calling responsibilities from head coach Steve Sarkisian to offensive coordinator Clay Helton has breathed some excitement and intrigue for no other reason than watching how it will all work. Sark can still veto calls, but says he will “chime in” on third down situations and red zone opportunities. The final score might not be in doubt, but now there is a certain amount of fascination.
The Obvious: The Trojans opened as 29-point favorites to defeat Arkansas State.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have won their past 17 season openers and the last time a team from Arkansas came to the Coliseum for a season opener was 2005. Pete Carroll’s Trojans sent the Arkansas Razorbacks back to Fayetteville with a 70-17 trashing before 90,411.
The Obvious: The USC/Arkansas State game will be telecast on the Pac-12 Networks (8 p.m. PDT/11 p.m. EDT).
The Not So Obvious: Broadcasters for Saturday’s game will be Ted Robinson handling the play-by-play, analysis with Glenn Parker, and sideline reports from Jill Savage.
The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans game from the Coliseum will be broadcast on the Trojans flagship station, ESPNLA 710 Radio, with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline) describing all the in-game action.
The Trojans four-hour pre-game show will commence at 4 p.m. (PDT) with Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Steve Mason, Harvey Hyde, Katie Boggs, and Shaun Cody. There will be a two-hour post-game show following the conclusion of the season opener.
The Not So Obvious: The Arkansas State broadcast can be heard on Jonesboro flagship station KFIN 107.9 FM with Matt Stolz calling the action along with analyst Bill Keedy, and sideline reporter Tom Castilaw.
The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather report for Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 80 degrees and a low of 63.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans defense can stuff an Arkansas State offense that last season that set school marks for total offense, total offense average, plays, points and TDs. We’ll find out just how much the Trojans will miss former All-America defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams. Another defensive key will be the inside linebacking play of senior Anthony Sarao and even more importantly the linebacker that will join him in the middle. With senior Lamar Dawson expected to miss Saturday’s game with injured ribs, it appears that the other starting inside linebacker will be Cameron Smith, the true freshman, who will join Sarao on the inside. So we’ll see whether the freshman can make an impact in his first college game. Overall, the nation will find out whether the Trojans can finally stop a dual-threat quarterback like ASU’s Fredi Knighten, and whether the defense can stop an Oregon-style attack. Of note, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has moved to the press box to make the defensive calls, so we’ll see whether it makes a significant difference.
Offensively, We’ll see whether three-year starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Cody Kessler (above photo) continues to feast upon inferior opponents. We’ll see whether the offensive line, under first-year line coach Bob Connelly, can dominate from the get-go, which should be bolstered by the return of starting junior left tackle Chad Wheeler. Although much will be expected with senior tailback Tre Madden running the ball, intrigue will be at hand to find out whether the three new true freshman tailback – Ronald Jones 11, Dominic Davis, and Aca’Cedric Ware – can show the same running back flash they showed during training camp. Then there are the explosive Trojans wide receivers, and whether sophomores JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell can begin to make fans forget All-American Nelson Agholor, now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Of interest, of course, will be the debut of new junior placekicker Alex Wood and whether he gets any Coliseum jitters on his starting assignment.
And let’s not forget the Adoree’ Jackson factor and how many touches he gets and whether he is more dominant on offense, defense, or special teams.
Perhaps most intriguing on offense, however, could be the play-calling rhythm of offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton, who has been given much of the responsibility from head coach and former play-caller Steve Sarkisian. Whether anybody can detect any early effects of this play-calling reassignment could be too early to tell in a game in which the Trojans figure to be conservative in showcasing their offensive playbook.
The Obvious: A base ticket price for the Saturday night’s game is $60.
The Not So Obvious: Cost of public parking at the Coliseum will be $25 (Lots 4, 5, & 6).
The Obvious: The Trojans head coach is Steve Sarkisian whose team went 9-4 in 2014, which included Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska.
The Not So Obvious: The head coach of Arkansas State is Blake Anderson,a native of Hubbard, Texas, who came to A-State after spending the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina, where he helped lead the Tar Heels to an Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title in 2012 and the Belk Bowl in 2013.
The Obvious: Steve Sarkisian has named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton as the basic play caller for 2015.
The Not So Obvious: Helton was hired in the same role at Arkansas State after the 2009 season, but was there just two months before becoming accepting a position with the Trojans.
The Obvious: The Trojans currently have no players from the state of Arkansas.
The Not So Obvious: Arkansas State features three Californians on its roster, which includes QB Cameron Birse (Danville/ San Ramon Valley HS), WR Tyler Trosin (Folsom HS/ Sacramento American River JC) and OL Adam Whalen (Lancaster/ Eastside HS).
The Obvious: In its history, the Trojans USC has had just four football lettermen from Arkansas:
The Not So Obvious: Perhaps you remember QB Mitch Mustain (2008-10/ Springdale HS), WR Damian Williams (2008-09/Springdale HS), TB Broderick Green (2008/Pulaski Academy) and RT Roy Smith (1954/Blytheville HS). Mustain and Williams attended the University of Arkansas before transferring to USC.
The Obvious: Trojans home games will again feature a fan fest located outside the peristyle end of the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: The Trojans Fan Fest will located on “Christmas Tree Lane” just east of the Coliseum. Food trucks, music, games, merchandise, free giveaways, vehicle displays, and more will be available. FYI, The Trojans Fan Fest opens four hours prior to kickoff at every home game.
The Obvious: In 2014, the Trojans offense averaged 35.8 points per game while the defense allowed 25.2 points per outing.
The Not So Obvious: In 2014, the Arkansas State offense averaged 36.7 points per game while the defense allowed 30.5 points per outing.
The Obvious: Three-year starting and Heisman Trophy quarterback candidate Cody Kessler will again lead what is expected to be another high-scoring Trojans offense.
The Not So Obvious: Kessler is coming off the most efficient passing season in Trojan history (69.7%, 3,800-plus yards, 39 TDs, 5 interceptions) while setting six school records.
The Obvious: Arkansas State’s offense will be led by senior quarterback Fredi Knighten.
The Not So Obvious: A dual threat quarterback, Knighten, a 2014 All-Sun Belt first teamer, last season completed 62% of his passes for 3,000-plus yards with 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions and also ran for nearly 800 yards with 11 scores.
The Obvious: Everyone returns on Troy’s experienced, deep, and talented offensive line, led by All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk, a leading Rimington Trophy candidate.
The Not So Obvious: A key question is not about Tuerk but who will surround Max at kickoff. The key, of course, is whether junior left tackle Chad Wheeler, returning from knee surgery, lines up in his old spot. If he does, it figures that sophomore Toa Lobendahn, a 2014 Freshman All-America who replaced Wheeler last season when the talented tackle went down with a knee injury, will move to right guard. The domino effect would mean that sophomore Viane Talamaivao, a 2014 starter, would likely come off the bench and spell Lobendahn.
The Obvious: Talented senior Tre Madden will start for the Trojans at tailback.
The Not So Obvious: Arkansas State’s top rusher from a year ago returns in Michael Gordon who ran for 1,100 yards with 13 TDs.
The Obvious: Throughout each Trojans home game, there will be special events, recognitions and fan giveaways.
The Not So Obvious: For the Arkansas State game, Navy Seal parachutists will drop into the Coliseum prior to kickoff, and USC’s 2015 individual national champions will be honored during the game, which will include swimmer Cristian Quintero (200-yard freestyle), the men’s swimming 400-yard (Quintero, Dylan Carter, Santo Condorelli, Ralf Tribunstov) and 800-yard (Quintero, Carter, Michael Domagala, Reed Malone) relays, sprinter Andre De Grasse (100- and 200-meter dashes) and beach volleyballers Sara Hughes and Kelly Claes (pairs). The 2015 USC football schedule poster will be given out to fans exiting the Coliseum following the conclusion of the game.
The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans open with three consecutive home games in the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: The last time the Trojans opened with three consecutive home games was in 2011 (Minnesota, Utah, Syracuse).