So now we know that the ESPN Stats and Info folks think that USC will be right behind Texas, and ahead of Stanford and UCLA the next five years for the 1-2-3-4 toughest schedules in all of college football, maybe there's no need to apologize for opening this fall against Arkansas State and Idaho at the Coliseum.
And no need here to apologize for looking ahead and not taking them one game at a time.
This is the time of year when you have to look ahead -- what else is there to do right now in the down time between spring practice and summer workouts? It's the one month set aside specifically for looking ahead.
And you have to take them all at once, looking at the overall schedule, the way it plays out and how that works for a USC team we can only guess at the specifics right now. No way you do much of an individual analysis for each game. Not enough info for that.
Just one example: There are at least eight players, maybe more, who were unable to take part in the Spring Game who will be on USC's two-deep the Sept. 5 day the Red Wolves come calling. Things will change by September in ways we can't know.
But the schedule won't. We know the Notre Dame game will kick off in South Bend at 7:30 ET, a prime time game, and 4:30 here. Over the next months, we'll know more as details on TV and times become available for all 12 games.
But right now we have the schedule, 12 games. We know that this is the year USC gets five of the nine Pac-12 games at home -- and three of the first four.
Is that good or bad? Well, let's look at them as we see how this all plays out from nearly five months out.
SEPT. 5 -- ARKANSAS STATE: Not a bad way to open for a young, talented Trojans team finding out who it is. Arkansas State should have another good, balanced offense that under a changing cast of coaches year over year has managed to keep on winning, although last year's 7-6 team did so barely. They play uptempo, move the ball and score it -- or did -- at some 36.7 points a game. They play Missouri -- at home -- the next week so don't expect them to be overawed here. And that's good. They'll come in and play a team ranked possibly in the top five. You want to get their best.
SEPT. 12 -- IDAHO: OK, this trip through the Sun Belt -- and yes, the Vandals from way up north in Moscow, Idaho, are members -- if barely -- of the Sun Belt along with Arkansas State where they finished 1-7 (1-10 overall) last fall. And their schedule is a bit different from Arkansas State's -- opening with Ohio U. the week before the USC game and playing Wofford the next week. The well-traveled Vandals do pick up Auburn later on in the season but their second trip to the Coliseum in the last decade (last time in 2007) will be the ninth game in the series for the team that once was the badly overmatched eighth team in the Pacific Coast Conference with USC from 1922 to 1958. And yes, this is one of those games, with Stanford coming in the next week, when you absolutely do look ahead. Fine tune things. Don't show too much. Keep everybody healthy. Put on a show for the fans. Have fun.
SEPT. 19 -- STANFORD: Now this is more like it. Stanford has lost a lot of guys -- especially in their front seven on defense -- and despite winning two straight against the Cardinal, USC still owes them. But you've got to think Stanford hasn't forgotten either. Not sure they'll have the defense to do anything about it as a Coliseum crowd should be there for a 2-0 ranked Trojans team. The Cardinal won't have had it quite as easy as USC in the first two games, opening at Northwestern then hosting Central Florida. Kevin Hogan is back at quarterback but his skill set doesn't seem to match up that well against ranked teams, going 1-5 last fall.
SEPT. 26 -- at Arizona State: The last time USC opened with three straight home games was 2011 and Game 4 that year was in Tempe -- and a 43-22 ASU second-half win for the Sun Devils who have won three of the last four against USC now. One would think that the memory of last year's season-destroying last-second loss will never be far from the thoughts of USC's players and coaches in what should be a season-defining game against a Sun Devil team that will come after them in the desert heat even at night, which it almost certainly will be. And they'll have just one extra day's rest. With games against Texas A&M in Houston, Cal Poly and New Mexico, ASU's obnoxious fans should be riding high for their ranked Devils at home. And as much as the atmosphere there puts off Trojan fans, this is a trip they really must make. This one will matter for a team that better be ready to play all 60 minutes, something none of the five-year ASU players have seen from a USC team in their careers.
OCT. 8 (Thursday) -- WASHINGTON: We like the Pac-12's Thursday games, even in LA. Make plans. Beat the traffic. But the extra four days off gives USC a half-bye week here at what could be just the right time. And if only Sark has the luck he twice had at UW against USC, once at the Coliseum, things should work out well for all the transplanted Husky staffers wearing Cardinal and Gold. We think the motivation works both ways here but the better athletes, especially USC's offense against a UW defense that lost so many stars to the NFL -- favors USC in this one. UW will be coming off four games -- Boise State, Sacramento State, Utah State and Cal -- that that may not quite prepare the Huskies for the Trojans.
OCT. 17 -- at Notre Dame: The next best thing about a Thursday game after the four extra days before the game is you get an extra two days before the next Saturday game, which in this case is the every-other-year trek to South Bend. Perfect. The Irish will already have hosted Texas here in their opener and will be coming off the Navy game and the shin-busting Midshipmen cut blockers the Saturday before. They'll have already had to handle Georgia Tech's option, too, and Clemson. Not sure what shape Notre Dame will be in. Brian Kelly says his QBs are a lot better now but we'll see about that. If USC attacks on defense, plays fast, makes ND make plays, we think the Trojan athletic difference that we saw last fall is the difference again.
OCT. 24 -- UTAH: Another revenge game as USC folks try to erase that last drive -- or maybe the last two including the Trojans' fizzle at the Utes' 27 -- from last fall in Salt Lake City in another game USC should never have lost. Now they'll get a second chance to get it right against a Utah team that's never easy to put away and will have already faced Michigan, Oregon and Arizona State. Having this one at the Coliseum will help, especially if USC is off to the kind of start the Trojans could be off to. We all know what that does to the SoCal fan base. This is the kind of team that could get them out if the season is going the way they remember how things were not too long ago.
OCT. 31 -- at California: Much better to be in San Francisco for Halloween than Corvallis. And another "Weekender" on the weekend looks good to us even if Cal has two more days to get ready for this game. Hoping for another day game. Berkeley looks so much better in the daylight. Get in, get the ball in the end zone a bunch of times and hold on as Jared Goff & Co. try to do the same. Again, USC has way more top-line athletes and if they're ready to play, this should go the Trojans' way. Looking for Adoree Jackson to do a little Nelson Agholor punt-return magic in this one the way it happened two years ago.
NOV. 7 -- ARIZONA: Again, the right game at the right time in the right place. Much rather play the Wildcats here this year after somehow escaping Tucson last fall with a W at the buzzer. And once again, we say you gotta' play all 60 minutes in the Pac-12. Coming back home should help here. Knowing you're playing RichRod's defending Pac-12 South champs should help even more. And with the next two games on the road, USC fans should turn out for this one, which they will if USC avoids the not-ready games and the fail-to-finish ones.
NOV. 13 (FRIDAY) -- at Colorado: We'd love this game if it were in the daytime. But the fact that it will be played on Friday night just like four years ago here tells us it won't be and all we can think of is how well the Trojans have performed in the snow and cold and wind the last two night games in Boulder. It was so cold last time we had trouble enjoying Ralphie's pre-game run-through. And that's a shame. The scenery is great. Ralphie is better. And so, by the way, will be the Buffs. Not better enough. Not if USC doesn't BC this one. So our dream of a daytime game in Boulder waits for at least two more years (Ed. Note: original version of the story had the game on Saturday. It's not).
NOV. 21 -- at Oregon: Perfect. USC will have had a cold weather game to get ready for Eugene, which like the ND game, will probably be late in the day. The Ducks will be coming off a Stanford game so no edge for them there. But for USC, we'd like to see the Trojans turn this week over to Lamar Dawson, who started at MLB the last time USC played -- and won here. And to Tre Madden, who played as a backup linebacker. Cody Kessler and another half-dozen Trojans redshirted for that 2011 game but the memory of that visit should never be far out of mind. We can only hope Uncle Phil brings in LeBron and his NBA Nike stable of athletes to man the sideline again and turn this into Circus City. For some reason, USC -- the real USC teams of the past -- seemed to rise to the occasion in those moments. Maybe this is the time the Trojans announce that they are back -- really back.
NOV. 28 -- UCLA: After the last three seasons and three of the worst game-prep weeks and bad game-day work by everybody involved with the Crosstown Rivalry, you'd think Sark could put this one on cruise control. Which we suggest he do. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just do what you've been doing all fall. Be tough. Be smart but don't try to outsmart anybody. Be aggressive. Punch somebody in the mouth (figuratively of course). Just don't make more of it than it is. And never, ever let the Westwoodians celebrate in the tunnel the way they did two years ago. That was a real kick in USC's football heritage. Time to make it go away -- one rivalry game at a time. This isn't a must-win game, it's more than that. Which is why you don't do anything other than what you do. Which is take back this rivalry one game, one practice week, one play at a time.
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