Over-under, favorite or dog, lots of numbers for this Trojans team

So just what can we say in midsummer for where, how and how much this USC team will do against the nation's toughest schedule?

So what's your USC number?

How about 7-5? Maybe 8-4, 9-3? 10-2 even?

Add in a bowl game, maybe a Pac-12 title game again so the Trojans number is up, or down, to 7-6, 8-5, 8-6, 9-4, 9-5, 10-3, 10-4 or 11-3.

Or if you listen to Max Browne, jump them all the way to 12-3, 13-2, 14-1, 15-0 after the CFB Playoffs -- should lightning strike.

And of course, lightning does strike on occasion. But not often any more in college football and certainly not against a schedule the likes of which no Top-25 team has had to face in recent years the way this USC schedule shakes out against 12 teams that won 99 games, 11 of them bowl teams from 2015.

And as we look back at national champion Alabama last year, USC's opener, the Tide wasn't able to run the table so maybe we'd better shy away from any numbers for USC that end with a zero. Just sayin'.

Then there are those other numbers? Is USC really a 6.5-point dog at an untested Stanford, a 6.0-point dog at Washington and a 4.0 dog against UCLA -- but a 6.5-point favorite over the Irish at the Coliseum? And favored against Utah by one on the road and Oregon by three at home?

Yeah, that's about it. And as much as we could care less about betting lines, if you pushed us, right here and now, and we had to pick every one of those games, we'd probably take the USC side on all of them and think we'd have the better chance to come out ahead than if we picked against the Trojans.

But that's as much a case of seeing what we're seeing this summer, a USC team that's been working five days a week starting in June, up from four times a week a year ago. And a team that's doing "team runs" -- again, starting in June, not July.

There's a confidence that comes with that sort of regimen. It's the kind of talk we heard a decade ago when the Trojans had no doubt that anyone they played had not worked as hard as they had. But we haven't heard it much recently. Now we're hearing it again.

Stanford comes early and has new starters everywhere except for Christian McCaffrey. Ask UCLA fans if they think they should be favored over USC. They were at last year's game. Washington might be at home but they won't be facing an overserved USC coach and his underprepared team this time around.

As far as Alabama is concerned, the team that USC opens against does return four absolutely top defenders on the Bednarik Award Watch List out today. But a year ago with a defense that's lost more than half its starters, Alabama did give up 43 points in a loss to Ole Miss and 40 more in the national championship game against Clemson.

USC meanwhile, gave up 40 points or more four times in the Justin Wilcox-led defense that allowed 48 at Oregon, 41 at Notre Dame and then 41 twice against Stanford. But that was last season and he's gone and Clancy Pendergast is here. And while that has been factored in, so must Clay Helton be.

He's a rookie, finished not so well as a stand-in last fall, losing three of four. Athlon ranks him No. 12 among Pac-12 coaches. So the safe play from afar is to, well, play it safe. And go with the home field when in doubt although playing at the Rose Bowl is hardly like playing on the road.

And unlike the preseason magazines, we probably see the failure to name a starting quarterback coming out of the spring as a strength, not a weakness -- two quarterbacks who can play, not the absence of one who can.

We think the way USC is approaching this season offensively with this staff -- from the front line first --  with a deep, big and veteran O-line under tough-minded taskmaster Neil Callaway is unlike anything we've seen in the last half-dozen seasons, at least.

And a once thin, inexperienced D-line has gotten a lot better in the last week with the arrival of transfers Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Josh Fatu and the switch of Khaliel Rodgers from the offense.

But not to get carried way here. Even for super-fans, just think about how good USC's 2002 and 2011 teams were. How many great players, tough, smart veterans who went on to distinguish themselves in the NFL, led those teams. And still, they lost two games.

And those teams were really good. As good as anybody in the nation by January. And they lost twice. And against schedules not as tough as this one facing USC.

Flip a couple of those games and don't lose to someone you should beat and USC could be in a very good place. That place would be 10-2, we'd guess, 12-2 with the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl if all goes as well as it could.

Not that anything ever does go like that around here. The history major in me tells me not to go there. So we won't. Make it 9-3 if you'd like. We're not going to. We'll just show up every week and all you can hope for is that USC does as well. 

But when hasn't USC stubbed its toe the last decade?

Sure, the Trojans have more talent than 11 of the teams they face. No one who pays attention to these things disagrees with that. Not even the oddsmakers. But those Vegas guys count history for more than just a little when it comes to coming up with the numbers.

Which is why, insider that we might be, we'll pass here. Programs count more than talent.

But if you'd like to bet, we remind you that if we were asked to make a simple wager a year ago at this time, or three years ago in the summer, and the bet was to name the USC head coach for the second half of October of each of those seasons, we'd have all said what a sucker bet -- Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, of course.

But of course.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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