uscfootball.com/Tim Lutes

No place like home

Our focus here is on the home portion of a USC Top 10 schedule that will offer Trojans fans seven games at the Coliseum this fall. Should be fun.

If this indeed is to be the last chance to catch a game -- or a whole home season -- at the 93,607-capacity Coliseum before the great "re-seating" and maybe the last chance to see many of the five Trojan underclassmen the NFL.com has listed among its Top 50 college football players for 2017, well USC's seven-game home schedule gives people plenty of reasons to do just that.

As do those five Trojans: Sam Darnold (NFL.com's No. 3 player), Cameron Smith (14), Iman Marshall (16), Porter Gustin (28) and Ronald Jones (43).

Matching them up against a nonconference schedule that USATODAY has ranked as the second-toughest in the nation with two of those three games -- Western Michigan and Texas -- coming at home the first three weeks in September makes it even more attractive as this fall marks just the third time in the last 19 seasons USC will open with three home games.

In Pete Carroll's nine seasons, which included a record Coliseum win streak of 35 games, not once did his teams get the first three at home. Lane Kiffin did, once, in 2011. And Steve Sarkisian managed it in 2015. Needless to say, those back-to-back-to-back home games didn't exactly help either of the soon-to-be fired coaches.

In fact, the three home games -- and four of his first five in 2015 -- almost certainly made life more difficult for Sark, whose firing came three days after that fourth home game -- and second loss -- to Washington.

So playing at home is great if you do it right, the way Pete mostly did with a 39-6 Coliseum record. But if you do it the way Paul Hackett did, winning all three at home to start in 1998, you'd better figure out how to handle the rest of the schedule as well. Hackett would go on to be fired after the 2000 season.

But as we look at USC's 2017 schedule, it's hard to get past those trio of Coliseum games to start. Here's how we break down the home schedule as a whole, something we'll be doing in much more detail as the season nears.

*** WESTERN MICHIGAN, Sat., Sept. 2: Almost a perfect opener here. The Broncos are a Mid-American program you can't not respect, coming off a 13-1 Cotton Bowl season despite the loss of Coach P.J. Fleck to Minnesota, and NFL Draft picks -- WR Corey Davis and QB Zach Terrell. The new coach is Tim Lester and the run game will be "fantastic," according to one early preview. But then there's this: For those wondering whether USC could come in here looking ahead to the next two weeks, the Trojans don't even make WMU's projected top three games that the Broncos are looking forward to. Michigan State a week after the USC game matters more, we're told, and then the two finishing games against Northern Illinois and Toledo. So this should work out fine. And with the Rams probably already out of it after the pre-season by Sept. 2, big-game-loving LA football fans looking for excitement and wanting to get on the bandwagon for a team that should be ranked in the top three or four in the nation, we'd look for 85,000 or so in the Coliseum for this one.

*** STANFORD, SAT. SEPT. 9: Need we say more. As important as this game has been so often in recent seasons, this one matters exponentially more. Good time -- and place -- to start getting rid of the notion that Stanford is the model for USC to follow in terms of toughness, soundness of scheme, preparation and even talent. The edge in the latter category has to tip USC's way this year with Stanford losing top NFL Draft picks Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey and USC rolling out those five Top 50 guys. For Sam, who didn't get the chance to start in the Cardinal road loss last fall, it will be the Washington game from 2016 moved back home. For too long, USC has seemed to want to match up with Stanford. This has to be the time for USC to make Stanford try to match the Trojans' weapons. And stepping up here has to be a USC defense that did just that the last really memorable win over the Cardinal in 2012 under Ed Orgeron when Clancy Pendergast's 12-man defense shut down a third-ranked Stanford team. Looking for a sellout 93,607 here. Win this one and it's the start of a trend.

*** TEXAS, SAT. SEPT. 16: USC owes the Longhorns one here in a rematch of that 41-38 2006 Rose Bowl loss that will live forever in Trojans fans' nightmares. Could also mark a return of ESPN's College GameDay to the Coliseum along with new coach Tom Herman and some really talented Texans that make you wonder what in the world happened in UT's 5-7 record last season. Heisman-mentioned QB Shane Buechele and All-American linebacker Malik Jefferson make up a bit for the loss of big-time running back D'Onta Foreman, who left early for the NFL. But as much as we look for the USC defense to set the tone in the Stanford game, we're looking for Sam & Co. to be on fire against a Longhorn defense that just does not seem anywhere near capable of shutting Sam down. Again, looking for a 93,607 sellout here that could also send a message to those saying a 77,500-capacity Coliseum in 2019 will be plenty big enough. One question for USC to answer here is how do they handle the next game after a physical Stanford. We should find out here.

*** OREGON STATE, SAT. OCT. 7: After two weeks up north, the north comes to the Coliseum in the person of a Beavers program trying to work its way up from the bottom of the Pac-12 under well-respected Gary Andersen. Don't know much about the Beavs except they have the top big running back in the Pac-12 in 235-pound bruiser Ryan Nall. Not much else to say for an OSU team that like USC, will be coming off two straight road games -- only OSU's are at Washington State and Washington, a tougher road than USC's Cal-WSU trip. And the trip to the Coliseum will be the Beavs' third straight game away from Corvallis. And if OSU can't contain the run any better than it did a year ago, this game could put smiles on USC's running back group. And as little anticipated as this game might be from this far out, after two weeks on the road, an all-winning Trojan team fighting for one of those four College Football playoff spots could attract 80,000. But that's only for an unbeaten USC team.

*** UTAH, SAT. OCT. 14: If, and we say if, this is the midseason game that could decide the Pac-12 South, as it certainly seems like it might be, this is another potential sellout. And as with the Stanford and Texas games, another one of those "revenge" games fans circle on their calendars. Although we're guessing the person who will have this one circled on his own poster schedule is Sam Darnold since the only college start he's lost was to the Utes in an error-prone but still upbeat first game for him last September in Salt Lake City. But again, we're looking for the USC defense to step up here in ways it couldn't in the final quarter in that last-second loss at Utah last fall. This is also the game where USC fans send the Trojans off on their final regular season multiple-game road trip starting in South Bend the next weekend.

*** ARIZONA, Sat. Nov. 4: It's a Wildcats team that at least could have an actual quarterback in the game this year, not a converted tight end still wearing his tight end number and having been converted in pre-game. But otherwise, Rich Rodrigues' guys, having lost 12 of their last 13 Pac-12 games going into this season, will face a tough challenge to survive what could be a slightly subdued Coliseum. Although if USC is still rolling along unbeaten with a playoff and Pac-12 title shot, not terribly so. And then there's this: For the Trojans, this will be the only chance to play in the Coliseum over a four-week period. And if Arizona isn't any closer to coming up with any defensive stoppers, this could be a nice test for the new scoreboards. Come in unbeaten and USC could draw 80,000 for Homecoming here. Alums love unbeaten teams.

*** UCLA, Sat. Nov. 18: Early finish for the Crosstown Rivalry game, USC's 12th straight game in 12 weeks. The bye comes the next week when USC fans hope the Trojans will be preparing for the Pac-12 Championship Game the following week. And there could be some nostalgia here. This could be the last 90,000-plus crowd, or even 80,000-plus, at the Coliseum for the nation's biggest intra-city rivalry that USC plans to downsize for 2019 here. How do we see this one going? Who knows about the re-tooled Bruins? Who saw 4-8 happening last season? Who knows how Josh Rosen bounces back for Jim Mora's Bruin team that lost a good bit of talent despite that record. They'd better be able to run the ball and we're not thinking USC wil cooperate much there. And who knows how their new coaches work out in this first season? Who knows how UCLA handles a tough 2017 road sked that has them at Stanford, Utah and Washington before they head crosstown to the Coliseum.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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