We pretty much have come to take it for granted. But does any team in America have a more attractive, interesting or nationally challenging road schedule for 2015 than USC?
When you look at it, that's pretty much a rhetorical question. USC at Oregon could be as important a conference game as any in the nation.
And USC at Notre Dame is . . . well, USC at Notre Dame. And after last fall's trip to the Coliseum, it will be as much a grudge game for the Irish in South Bend as we're likely to see since they were hammered by Miami back in the day.
But that gets us to our task for today. Ranking USC's roadies for this season. There are just five of them, a schedule breakdown we like in a 7-5 home/away season that makes you feel like an honorary SEC team.
But when we rank a road schedule, it's not just potential conference championships or national rankings we should consider, it's also history and tradition, the travel involved, the destination city and all the surrounding factors involved that go with it.
And for us, one of those factors is the attractiveness of the entire package, from ease of travel to the possibilities of a mini-weekend vacation that can draw favorite Trojans fans from places like Florida and Michigan, Connecticut and Ohio, to the games. Those reunions make these games special.
Which is why this fall seems special. All five games offer just that. Here's how we rank them.
No. 1 -- USC at NOTRE DAME, OCT. 17, SOUTH BEND, IND.: So it's not for the Pac-12 title and has not always had a national impact in recent years but it's USC-Notre Dame. It's the last nice weather weekend in the Midwest. It's the history of college football. It's the greatest -- by far -- intersectional rivalry ever. For us, at least, we get to see more USC fans that weekend than at all the home games, just walking across the Notre Dame campus all day Saturday, which you can do now that the game is almost always at night.
You turn a corner by the bookstore and there's Tim Brown and his guys. Or head to the Golden Dome and Joe Montana is holding court. Or back at the stadium, Mike Golic is queuing up and then Anthony Munoz walks by, up from Cincinnati. It's like a living, breathing Hall of Fame here.
That's after you've had all day Friday in Chicago if you choose, starting with the pep rally at the Navy Pier, which I could see out of my window from the 51st floor of my building for the couple of years I lived there. So for me, it's home. And a chance to get together with Notre Dame fans I grew up with and USC fans I've gotten to know the last 14 years. It really doesn't get any better than that going back to the place my dad took me to my first big-time college football game as a little kid. And now I get to go back there every other year as a representative -- to some extent -- of the visiting team that has become my team.
Now if this game were in late November, as it once was, that might change everything. But it's not. It's perfect. And it helps that for all time, a USC program just off unwarranted and unfair NCAA sanctions thanks in part to a Notre Dame vote, will have a revenge motive as well. That's what football rivalries should be all about. As this one is -- and always will be.
No. 2 -- USC at OREGON, NOV. 21, EUGENE, ORE.: You know, despite all the talk up in these parts and all their recent history here, the Ducks, and their fans, don't want any part of a USC football team that is back to playing USC football. They remember the last time the Trojans came to town.
That team mostly didn't shoot itself in the foot and hadn't yet been taken down by the NCAA's numbers-diminishing penalties. It came in and punched the Ducks in their whatever and didn't let the cold or the hoopla bother it a bit. We can see a similar scenario this time. Lots of hoopla. And a bit of trepidation from a trendy Duck program that changes its look every week against a team that doesn't, a team that says this is what we looked like the last time we were here. Remember us?
So even if it's a bit of a backwoods place as you head to Autzen Stadium through what appear to be duck blinds populated by fans who would be called "mountain men" if this were West Virginia, whch it is except for the time zone, this is a great place to be a Trojan fan on the road. And a great time to sport your Cardinal and Gold, even if it's not the easiest place to get to or a challenge for warm weather Trojans fans to dress the part. You're here for the game. This is one not to miss. Be there. It could be the moment you know USC football is back.
No. 3 -- USC at ARIZONA STATE, SEPT. 26, TEMPE, ARIZ.: Another revenge game that Trojan fans, real Trojan fans, have to make this trip to see. Just like last year when the Sun Devils' buzzer-beating Hail Mary signaled USC's ultimate Pac-12 South demise, this game has to be the one that turns it around for USC.
And does so in a place where USC fans should be able to celebrate more than just golf and good times getting together in Scottsdale, or along Mill Avenue. If only the last two trips to Tempe had been as good as the good times on the rest of the trip here. It's time for that to stop this time around and in a place where USC fans can always get tickets. And they should. Right now. This one matters.
USC football can't be USC football if it can't win the first Pac-12 road game against a serious Pac-12 South challenger that on paper does not have the talent the Trojans do. But ASU didn't have as much talent last fall either and we know how that turned out. Which is why you should be there. Losing three out of four to ASU and two straight in Tempe is not something a program that talks about national championships can allow. It can't happen as USC returns to the top. As the first road game, this is that first step back.
No. 4 -- USC at CAL, OCT. 31, BERKELEY: Sure, we love The Weekender when it's on the weekend. And it's great to get people to fly in to the Bay Area for . . . the weekend. What's not to like. Name another program where the trip to The City, as the San Francisco folks call this place, would be no better than the fourth-best roadie in a season. No, it's not Starkville or Stillwater, Morgantown or Waco, West Lafayette or East Lansing. Nor is it Corvallis or Pullman, neither of which appear on USC's itinerary this year, it's just another day in the Pac-12 if you're lucky.
And it's only our No. 4 because the game doesn't rank as high as the ASU game as a game. Maybe it will as it did when Pete Carroll was just getting things going at USC. But until then, it's a place to play in a day game, we hope, under the Northern California sun in a high-scoring affair in the best part of Berkeley -- the $360 million rebuild of Memorial Stadium.
Sure, the Porta Potties can be a bit off-putting but it's one of college football's historic settings. And a favorite for USC fans who in the wide-open ways this game is often played, should get to see some home run hitting from long-ball guys like Adoree and Steven against the Bears.
No. 5 -- USC at COLORADO, Nov. 13 (Friday), BOULDER, COLO.: So we don't ski. Even if we did, that bump for an early weekend on the mountains wouldn't keep this game from the fifth spot. At least until the Buffs get their game up to Ralphie's, who is without doubt, up close and personal, college football's greatest mascot. It's worth getting here early to watch Ralphie practice her paces on the field.
And as just voted by an Athlon Sports panel, Boulder is the best college town in a league full of them and a challenger for national honors. The town is Rocky Mountain scenic and the campus is as eye-pleasing as it gets. And with more than $140 million in Folsom Field renovations under way, there will be room in the new football performance center for thousands of tailgaters. And in mid-November at night, that's a must for most of us -- indoor tailgating.
Sure it's a long way to the Denver airport, but the Denver airport is a long way from anywhere. Otherwise, not a bad way to start your weekend eight days before getting back together in Eugene, which we have to assume will take away from Trojans fans coming to Colorado on the only back-to-back road trips of the season. But if you ski, or you want to be able to have your voice heard down on the field, this could be the game for you.
NEXT: Ranking the road trips historically, the Top 10 in our time here -- at least this century.
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