It's the toughest schedule in the nation -- and it's not even close. The first four games for USC in 2016 are ridiculous.
Alabama in Texas. Utah State is never a gimme. Then at Stanford. And five days after that, USC heads to Utah for a Friday game. Neat trick there by the Pac-12. A road game at Stanford and then another road game AND a short week on the way to Salt Lake City.
But hold your fire for those first four games because the final four could be tougher.
Start with Oregon at the Coliseum followed by a trip back to Husky Stadium for the first time since 2009. Then in another of those back-to-back road game swings, it's off to the Rose Bowl for UCLA. And then here comes Notre Dame to the Coliseum probably thinking the Irish are on the way to the playoffs again next season if they get by the last game.
So which is it? The first four or the second four?
Either one of those would give USC a tougher schedule than it might be possible to play in the other divisional Power Five conferences. And USC has two of those four-game gauntlets in the same season.
It may be the toughest schedule any USC football team has ever played. And that doesn't count the rematch in the conference championship game.
USC's 2015 team played 10 bowl teams. In 2016 that could easily be 11.
And has there ever been a program as historically important as USC with what it thinks is a chance to win big that opened with three out of four games away from home? Has USC ever done that?
No more hoping the Trojans get this right. They have no choice. They'd better get it right or they'll get their heads handed to them.
The prescription, Clay Helton says, is this 1-2-3-step: 1) Winning in the trenches. 2) Being able to run the ball. 3) And stop the run. With Alabama and Stanford in Games 1 and 3, does USC have any choice?
There's really no other way to go here. Not sure any team in America has that sort of challenge set out for its O-line and D-line returnees. Ivan Lewis should be ordering the schedule posters now for the weight room.
The good news? Win against this schedule and no one will debate where the Trojans belong come playoff time. Has anyone played a schedule that's almost certainly tougher than the playoffs would be although there is this.
This might be the first time a team has ever faced two of the other three teams in the playoffs in its regular season schedule. This schedule is that good.
Sure, the middle four games might give USC a chance to breathe a bit. Three of them are at the Coliseum. And there's only one Thursday night game and USC gets 12 days to get ready for Cal in that one.
And we're guessing it won't be more than 95 degrees during the day for that Oct. 15 game at Tucson. No sweat.
But it's going to take lots of sweat to get to where USC can compete next fall. No Idahos and Arkansas States here.
The Trojans have no other choice but to be ready. And it starts now.
When you look at Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl, that's three of the next four USC opponents big, strong, physical teams with a tough guy mentality. Will USC join them?
If the Trojans do -- and they must -- it's the one way to survive 2016. In fact, it's the only way.
2016 USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 3 – vs. Alabama @ Arlington, Tex.
Sept. 10 – Utah State
Sept. 17 – at Stanford
Sept. 23 (Fr.) – at Utah
Oct. 1 – Arizona State
Oct. 8 – Colorado
Oct. 15 – at Arizona
Oct. 27 (Th.) – California
Nov. 5 – Oregon
Nov. 12 – at Washington
Nov. 19 – at UCLA
Nov. 26 – Notre Dame
*** Home games in BOLD
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