One way to do that is to rank the games in terms of chances to win, which we will do, ranking them from the least difficult to the most difficult. We're pretty upbeat about this team, young as some of the talent may be, as you'll see. Here we go:
1. Idaho, Sept. 12 at the Coliseum: The Vandals, losers of double-digit games the last four years, won't be favored to win any of their Sun Belt Conference games (Yes, they're in the Sun Belt) this year much less this game as they come off a 1-10 season last fall. "At least 40 point underdogs," ESPN says of them. And sure, USC fans remember the last 40-point underdog to come into the Coliseum but the guys from Moscow aren't Stanford. They have no chance. Even if USC lined up just the freshmen, they win this one.
USC's chances of winning: 100 percent (which means it's not technically a chance.
2. Arkansas State, Sept. 5 at the Coliseum: Just because we have Sun Belt favorite here next to Idaho doesn't mean this game, USC's opener, lines up in any way like the next week's. Arkansas State can score the ball with good skill people and 14 starters coming off an appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl where they put up 44 points on Toledo but gave up 63 in a 7-6 season.
USC's chances of winning: 98 percent.
3. Colorado, Nov. 13 in Boulder: OK, it's a mini-trap game, Friday the 13th, late and cold, the week between Arizona at home and Oregon on the road and yet, USC for some reason has always had the ability to head to the Rockies and play well no matter the climate or the altitude. We're not seeing this any differently. The Buffs go high-octane and that does nothing but help USC's athletes here.
USC's chances of winning: 95 percent.
4. Washington, Oct. 8 at the Coliseum: Might be a surprise that we have Washington this high -- or low -- but the Huskies, without a QB and with three NFL first-rounders missing from last fall, could be in for a tough time. Sure, there could be the Sark factor here for his former players but we're looking at the Chris Petersen factor as more important the way the former Boise State coach has dissed the way the previous Husky coach now at USC ran the program. Advantage Sark, we say. Also we like the 10 days to get ready for this Thursday night game even if it comes between Arizona State and Notre Dame.
USC's chances of winning: 85 percent.
5. California, Oct. 31 in Berkeley: Halloween on Tightwad Hill, where better to be if you're not in Corvallis that day? Another one of the maybe scary games -- between home games against Utah and Arizona -- against a talented Cal offense led by QB Jared Goff except for this one thing. Like Colorado, Cal wants to go full-speed uptempo and the athletic advantage in these games should always go to USC. Even if the Trojans defense can't completely stop the Bears, they should be able to run away from them on offense and in the return game.
USC's chances of winning: 80 percent.
6. UTAH, Oct. 24, at the Coliseum: Here we go into the part of the schedule where you really better be ready to play, which we think will be the case for the Trojans after the way they blew the Utah game on the last two drives -- one of their own, one the Utes. It's the week after Notre Dame and the first game in the final half-dozen in the Pac-12. We think the Trojans will be ready to play 60 minutes this time, especially with a couple of potential Utah kids getting a shot here.
USC's chances of winning: 75 percent.
7. ARIZONA, Nov. 7, at the Coliseum: You can pair these two games -- Utah and Arizona -- when you look at USC's Pac-12 South schedule over the years. They're both going to either be paired at home or on the road in the second half of the season and against competitive teams where USC should be favored but could easily lose. Arizona just goes at a higher tempo which should, even if it hasn't always, play into USC's hands. We think it will here this year. USC won't have to be lucky to win at the end this time.
USC's chances of winning: 70 percent.
8. STANFORD, Sept. 19 at the Coliseum: The Cardinal can't be happy headed into what could be a third straight loss to USC after making a habit of tearing out the Trojans' hearts at the buzzer before that. But this is a Stanford team trying to figure its way back. Sure, David Shaw's guys will always be tough and physical and not give in or give up but USC's speed and athleticism has tipped the edge USC's way, we think. And as the Pac-12 opener, it's hard to imagine the Trojans not being ready here even if Arizona State awaits the next week on the road.
USC's chances of winning: 65 percent.
9. ARIZONA STATE, Sept 26 in Tempe: For once, we think USC has a chance to be ready to play -- and play to the final whistle -- against the Sun Devils, even in the desert heat. The numbers will matter in this one as they will change the approach and the gameplan for USC team that has the weapons -- and the senior quarterback in Cody Kessler -- to handle ASU's athletic all-out blitzers. May be a game you just have to outscore them and that's something this USC team should be able to do -- but it won't be easy and it won't be a gimme. It never is. Need we note last fall's "Jael Mary" finish? We shouldn't have to. Who will ever forget it.
USC's chances of winning: 60 percent.
10. NOTRE DAME, Oct. 17 in South Bend: Sure, the Irish have 19 starters back. And sure, all of them didn't play in last year's USC romp at the Coliseum. But is that a good thing or a bad thing to have all those guys back who couldn't keep up with USC's speed and athletes in LA? Guess we'll find out. No doubt the Irish have this game circled on their schedule but with earlier games against Texas and Clemson, that won't be easy to do. For USC, this is the game, ESPN projects, that if it gets USC to 6-0, it also gets the Trojans into the Top Four for the CFB Playoffs. So it could be a big, big deal which when it's USC-Notre Dame, is probably redundant. Again, we like the Trojans athleticism on offense here.
USC's chances of winning: 55 percent.
11. UCLA, Nov. 28 at the Coliseum: You'd think with this game at the Coliseum after three straight embarrassing Crosstown losses, USC would be the pick here. But wasn't that the case two years ago here and a year ago at the Rose Bowl? And didn't those turn out to be Jim Mora coaching coronations against the flat, flatter and flattest USC efforts we've seen in this series? So until we see that someone at USC has figured out how to play the Bruins on both sides of the ball and special teams, where UCLA had all the answers -- and most of the emotion, we're just going to flip a coin here.
USC's chances of winning: 50 percent with UCLA having the other 50 percent which might be wishful thinking the way this game has gone under three different, and overwhelmed, USC coaching staffs.
12. OREGON, Nov. 21 in Eugene: The biggest thing USC has going for it here is the memory of 2011, the last time the Trojans trekked to Autzen Stadium. Show that film a lot -- well maybe not the last quarter until the final play, but we think USC will be ready to go this second-last week of the season. We just don't know how good Oregon will be, with a new QB and all. We also don't know how together Justin Wilcox's defense will be against what the Ducks do so well. So we think, once again, USC may have to outscore Oregon and beat the Ducks at their own game. We think USC has the athletes to do that but we're not guaranteeing anything.
USC's chances of winning: 45 percent.
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