Expert Opinion: Second-Half of Season

USC Beat Writers Dan Greenspan and Whitney Blaine talk about the Trojans' toughest opponent of the second half of the season and the position group most needed to step up.

---Toughest Opponent in Second Half---

Whitney Blaine, USC Beat Writer and Reporter

-Notre Dame

I know what you're thinking--how can this decision NOT be Oregon or Stanford? What kind of expert opinion is it to NOT pick one of the two top-ranked teams?

The problem here is we have no doubt those two opponents will be tough for the Trojans, even with Stanford in the Coliseum (see: Dan Greenspan on Andrew Luck below). But that's exactly why Notre Dame is my choice--USC is not expected to lose that game. So instead of "toughest" opponent, I'm going to pick the most "unexpectedly tough" opponent because there are a variety of factors that could result in the Trojans' getting a loss in South Bend.

The first of which is Notre Dame is not THAT bad. Yeah, I know there's a little bit of a rivalry so saying that to some fans is worse than admitting USC isn't the best team in the nation. The Fighting Irish came close to beating Michigan early on in the season, Notre Dame was up 24-7 in the third quarter but some Denard Robinson goodness slowly erased their opponents' lead. And then three weeks later, the Wolverines obliterated--no seriously, a 58-0 romp--of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. You may recall USC played Minnesota in its season opener, and the score was not that lopsided.

Secondly, Notre Dame is at home. USC will only have played two road games by that time and they were short trips. Playing in South Bend is a trek. The young Trojans might not be ready for what's in store in this rivalry.

Thirdly, the Fighting Irish are coming off a bye week and four straight wins. They're feeling confident after dropping the first two of their season.

Many think that Stanford and Oregon will be USC's toughest task and it may very well be. But Notre Dame won't be a breeze, and it might not result in a win, either.

Dan Greenspan, USC Beat Writer and Reporter

-Stanford

Andrew Luck.

What do you mean it has to be more than two words?

Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck. Andrew Luck.

What do you mean I can't just type Andrew Luck over and over again?

Fine.

Set aside the sheer brilliance of Stanford's redshirt junior quarterback and this is still a fundamentally sound team. The Cardinal can run the ball with a stable of effective backs, can create mismatches with a collection of tight ends, and can get to the quarterback. Even without the fiery, cerebral and occasionally strange Jim Harbaugh at the helm, they have maintained their identity of a tenacious, physical team.

USC might be able to bomb Stanford through the air once again, but they can no longer punish them through sheer force of will. Oregon is more athletic, Notre Dame more determined to save its season, but no team embodies what the Trojans were and what they will need to be again than the Cardinal.

Punishing, nasty, controlled aggression used to be Pete Carroll's trademarks. Now they embody the Farm.

And they have Andrew Luck too.

---Most Important Position in Second Half---

Dan Greenspan, USC Beat Writer and Reporter

-Defensive Line

Lane Kiffin was enthralled by his defensive line a year ago, and said as much again entering this season.

But with only four sacks through five games in the weakest part of their schedule, it's impossible to regard the pass rush as anything but a major disappointment. They haven't accounted for a single turnover and did little to disrupt the methodical passing offenses of Arizona State and Arizona, as the Trojans surrendered 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time in school history.

The front four has been adequate against the run, but only through pressure can USC hope to disrupt the potent attacks of Notre Dame, Stanford, and Oregon. Without dominant play from the line, especially supremely gifted defensive end Nick Perry, the defense will continue to be gutted, and the Trojans will stumble to another four or five loss season, wasting the brilliant campaigns of quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods.

Whitney Blaine, USC Beat Writer and Reporter

-Cornerbacks

To begin the season, the biggest point of concern for the Trojans was that offensive line. The left guard spot seemed to shift every day in practice and three different players started the first three games. But with playmaker Torin Harris out for an uncertain amount of time, it seems as though that second cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey is having the same path as that left guard spot once did.

Robey has not been as impressive as expected, missing tackles and has not forced a turnover yet. But Robey is not the problem as much as that uncertainty on the other end of the field is: Tony Burnett, Anthony Brown and Isiah Wiley are competing for the position. It seems as though Wiley is the biggest playmaker of the three, as far as one can tell from practices. And Brown seems most effective in nickel defense, because of his physicality. If Harris remains out, receivers the likes of Cal's Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones, one of the nation's best in Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Stanford's Chris Owusu and Oregon's up-tempo offense could put up huge numbers on the Trojans. That position has to be better, or it could be potentially devastating for the second half of USC's season.


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