Loaded with true and redshirt freshmen making their first appearance on the road, USC couldn't have been given a tougher test that playing in Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State is enigmatic, loaded with talent but beset by injuries and a penchant for self-destruction. They still see this game as their chance to seize control of the Pac-12 South and their fans will respond even in the desert heat.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin went out of his way to prepare the likes of receiver Marqise Lee and tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer for this challenge, playing them extensively in the first three games to try and work out the mistakes of youth.
Aside from breaking out the loud speakers to prepare the offense for crowd noise, how does Kiffin prepare the Trojans for the emotion of playing away from the Coliseum, especially against the volatile Sun Devils?
Same Starter? – Four out of five isn't bad, unless you are trying to develop continuity on the offensive line. The shuffling at left guard continued against Syracuse, with freshman Marcus Martin getting the nod.
Martin was pleased with his performance, but it will come down to how coaches grade out the effort on film that determines if he draws a second consecutive start. The degree of difficulty goes way up on the road, especially against a unit featuring the best defender in the conference in junior linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict is a terror, leading the Pac-12 in sacks and tied for third nationally. Whoever plays left guard will have to be ready to handle his blitzes.
6-foot-8 – There isn't a more unique quarterback on the West Coast, perhaps nationally, than lanky Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler. He isn't a statue; the one-time Gonzaga basketball commit cannot only move in the pocket but take off and run.
The junior struggled in a let-down loss at Illinois, completing 25 of 45 passes and throwing a pair of interceptions, but the USC pass defense showed glaring vulnerabilities in its three-game home stand.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib came out white-hot, hitting on his first 11 throws and proving effective in getting the ball out quickly to neutralize the pass rush. The Sun Devils spread offense relies on similar principles, so Monte Kiffin will have to figure out some way to at least limit the damage Osweiler can inflict.
Missing Junior? – Depending on how the 2011 season plays out, Dennis Erickson could be left with the question of what might have been? Arizona State was decimated by injuries in the spring and again in fall camp, with the likes of linebacker Brandon Magee, corner Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson all lost for the season.
The hits keep on coming, as sophomore defensive end Junior Onyeali hurt his knee in Champaign. Onyeali quickly established himself as their top defensive lineman last season with 11.5 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks and was named Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
The severity of the injury is unknown, but if Onyeali cannot play, the Trojans and their offensive should benefit immensely.