With all the focus on the Coliseum's fate over the next two years or the immediate impact of the 1-2-3 back-to-back-to-back home games to open the 2017 season, USC's road schedule has gotten a bit lost in the weeds.
That's something that certainly can happen in the years when USC has seven home games, just five on the road, as is the case this fall.
But when you get right down to it, despite a quirk here and there like the fact that four of the five road games come in a pair of back-to-back two-game sets, or that the first of those trips comes with a short second week ending with a Friday game in the Palouse, it's mostly manageable.
And if you're thinking about becoming one of those USC fans who think maybe they'd just as soon make all the road games and avoid the Coliseum hassle the way one of our favorite Trojans living in Florida, for example, has always liked to do, this wouldn't be a bad season to become a road warrior.
With 12-straight games and no bye until the week before the Pac-12 championship game, something Clay Helton likes to remind us about, this would not have been the season for USC to have a six-six, home/away split or a four-home, five-road, nine-game conference sked.
So far, so good. And except for Colorado Nov. 11 in Boulder, the weather could be USC's friend most of the way.
Here's our game-by-game triptik, mostly from a fan's perspective, in planning out a 2017 road trip schedule.
*** At CAL, Sat., Sept. 23: Nice way to warm up for the road. It's The Weekender -- and it's on a weekend, no less. And if there's no Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos in town to speak, it should be fine, especially if it's a day game as it's been for USC the last two times here, well, that's even better. Memorial Stadium, while maybe not worth the $321 million Cal spent on the renovations, is a great historic place to watch a football game these days. And the normal 15,000-plus USC fans know they're among friends. And now that former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is the new head coach at Cal and pretty much starting over from Ground Zero, this is a good way to get accustomed to play away from home after three straight weeks at the Coliseum.
There'll also be chances to visit with a pair of Trojan favorites -- Cal passing game and recruiting coordinator Marques Tuiasosopo, at USC for the 2014-15 seasons, and head strength and conditioning coach Torre Becton, here for the 2016 season. As the game between Texas and Washington State, Cal works for me. The first road game has a tendency to get players fired up on its own. We'll take it.
*** At WASHINGTON STATE, Fri., Sept 29: The first time we reached the Palouse, we felt a little like we were on our own personal Lewis & Clark expedition. The college program we'd help start, Northern Kentucky University, had improbably made it early on to the NAIA College World Series in nearby Lewiston, Idaho at Lewis-Clark State College. We decided to fly into Seattle and drive over.
"How far could it be?" we asked ourselves before crossing the state of Washington by car giving us the chance to stop at Pullman and visit Washington State where our own Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Jack Thompson, "the Throwin' Samoan," played. "Might as well stop here," we told ourselves, "since we'll never be back. Let's see what this place looks like." And now we've been to the Palouse more times the past 15 years than we've been to the Kentucky Derby, Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium combined. In the one year we covered both USC and UCLA football, we made it to Pullman twice in the same month. Try that some time. Another one of those "you can't get there from here" places to go along with Fayetteville, Ark., Manhattan, Kan. and Auburn, Ala. where USC football has taken us.
But the Palouse is in a place all by itself -- literally -- after that 2004 night game when it rained, sleated, snowed and haled in the half-hour before kickoff that many Coug fans considered a sure win against the fair-weather folks from LA only, they didn't figure on one Pete Carroll. Pete outsmarted them by convincing his Trojans that they were going to have the time of their lives in what he billed as a winter wonderland for guys like San Diego's Reggie Bush as the hale hit their helmets in pre-game to the Trojans' delight. Well, USC scored twice in the first two minutes of a 42-12 romp and has now won 12 of the last 13 here even though five of the last nine have the notation "Cold" after the score in the media guide.
Now that's the good news here. This game is on a Friday night in September so it could be nice although that didn't help the conditions last September in Salt Lake City. But if the weather won't be a problem, the short week might be. We've been over this a number of times. USC should take a stand here and say no more back-to-back road games with the second week on a Friday. Let this be the last. But for this season, make it a big deal. Because it could be.
WSU could well be unbeaten and while USC is on the road for the back end of a two-game road trip, the Cougs will be playing at home for their fifth straight weekend to start the 2017 season. And they'll be doing so with quarterback Luke Falk, projected as a first-round NFL draft pick, and 6-foot-8, 354-pound Cody O'Connell, a unanimous All-American offensive lineman, leading Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. The Trojans will have to be on their game in what could be the first matchup between two Top 10 teams in this series since No. 3 USC beat No. 6 WSU 43-16 in the Coliseum in Pete's first national championship season in 2003. We recommend this trip. Martin Stadium is a place where USC fans can matter but seldom ever make it here.
At NOTRE DAME, Saturday, Oct. 21: For us, any season with a USC game in South Bend is a winner as a Midwestern kid whose dad, like so many, started taking him to Notre Dame games in grade school when we could get tickets. I've gotten to cover two of the greatest college football games in history here -- No. 1 USC's "Bush Push" 34-31 comeback over the No. 9 Irish in 2005 and that 1988 "Convicts vs. Catholics" 31-30 Notre Dame win for Lou Holtz over Jimmy Johnson's Miami team. But it's more than that. It's the people you meet on campus, the 5,000 USC fans who make the trek every other year and all the old friends from Cincinnati and Chicago you're sure to run into.
Looking forward to seeing the nearly completed outside additions to Notre Dame Stadium. Not looking forward to the new one-player-wide tunnel for the visiting team that will cause it to tiptoe directly through a section of seats behind the old Notre Dame bandstand and no more emerging from the tunnel where we just happened to be standing when that all-out pre-game brawl between USC and Notre Dame broke out in 1989. I'll miss that. Not as happy that this will be another night game but not much we can do about that. It does give you a full day to tailgate and meet friends. And there's Chicago on Friday. But it's going to be cold and damp by game's end.
Then there's this. While it's not always the case, or hasn't been in recent years when the Irish come to the Coliseum, in South Bend, especially after last season, Notre Dame is not going down without a fight. And for a USC team coming off a Utah home game that may well decide the Pac-12 South and will surely be physical, this isn't perfect timing. But it's Notre Dame. And that should be enough. It always is for us.
*** At ARIZONA STATE, Sat., Oct. 28: Good time to go to Tempe. Still could be hot but not like in September. And a renovated Sun Devil Stadium should be all finished by now and we're eager to see how that turned out. It's the fourth straight road stadium where USC will be playing that's been fairly recently re-done. Although nothing like what's coming for the Coliseum. And none of these stadiums, much like the way Washington's Husky Stadium last year stayed true to its history and architecture, will have been rendered unrecognizable.
As for the game, who the heck knows. Todd Graham is coaching for his life as both Arizona coaches could be in back-to-back weeks against USC so that adds some interest here. But if the Sun Devils don't do a better job defending, along with Arizona the next week at the Coliseum, there will be a couple of coaching career deaths in the desert, we're guessing. This is when you hope and pray for a night game. And for USC fans, you hope there's no second-week road falloff after the Notre Dame trip.
This is the home stretch of a season where USC sets itself up to win the South. Another game where USC fans can easily get here. And where they can make a difference.
*** At COLORADO, Sat. Nov. 11: Sure it's late in the season and you'd think that one year, USC would not have to hit town when Trojan fans could for once forget their skis and bring their golf clubs. But at least this one is on a Saturday unlike recent trips to this mile-high place where the winter air is mighty dry. At least there's a chance it won't be at night as it has all three trips here since the Buffs joined the Pac-12. and every game has that "Cold" note in the media guide. It's not on a Thursday or Friday, at least, so that's all good.
So is the Colorado campus. Even when it's cold, this is a beautiful place. As for Folsom Field, it's a classic middle-of-campus older stadium with some private box updates attached to an old fieldhouse with an older press box that's just perfect. Get here early, we always recommend, and watch Ralphie warm up. Best mascot in college football. Love it.
Again, it was the Colorado win that decided the South a year ago and that could be the case again. USC got a taste of Colorado's new quarterback, Steven Montez, last fall and he's pretty talented. Not sure the Buffs haven't lost too much on defense but Mike Macintyre has gotten things turned around here and in the final road game, USC should be ready to get it right when it means so much.
But the road shouldn't end in Boulder. If things work out the way USC hopes, there will be three more weeks away from the Coliseum starting with a trip to Levi's Stadium two weeks after Colorado for the Pac-12 championship game and then a first-round College Football Playoff game, hopefully at the Rose Bowl. The finish a week later would involve a trip to the the heart of SEC Country -- Atlanta -- and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the title game.
If you thought you were stoked after last season's away-from-home finish at Washington and then two trips to Pasadena, if USC finishes up with that trifecta, try to imagine what it would be like to be there for all three.