The Trojans have that chance Thursday against Hawaii, a game that based on recent history – not to mention the three-touchdown point spread – should have the East Coast snoozing by the time the late local news is over, if not for the uncertainty that was magnified by the sanctions handed down by the NCAA in the Reggie Bush case.
"I think at the first kickoff, there'll be a sense of relief," first-year coach Lane Kiffin said. "And then there's going to be a ton of questions. The head coach has questions about his team."
That ruling included the unintended consequence of allowing upperclassmen to transfer without penalty. Factor in the release of two recruits from their letters of intent and USC starts the season with just 71 scholarship players.
Said Kiffin: "I'm sure people watching (are wondering) how are we going to play in our new systems? How are we going to tackle? How are we going to take care of the ball when we have not done that for the most part at all with this team?"
That lack of tackling is especially troubling for a secondary that will start two sophomores and a true freshman and also use a redshirt freshman in its nickel package against an aerial attack that, as assistant head coach Monte Kiffin put it, "can make you look silly."
Hawaii finished third in the nation in passing offense last season, averaging 337 yards per game with its shotgun-based run-n-shoot. Wide receiver Greg Salas led the way with 106 receptions for 1,590 yards and eight touchdowns.
"They know what they are doing. They brought in Mouse Davis over the summer, who knows this spread offense as well as anyone," Monte Kiffin said.
"The ball comes out quick, hard to get the rush to them. They are really good, I'm not just saying it."
The concern for Hawaii and its coach Greg McMackin will be providing adequate protection for quarterback Bryant Moinz. The offensive line has struggled in recent scrimmages and McMackin is very familiar with USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, having worked together at Miami.
"There's no better guy to get guys up on the field (than Orgeron)," McMackin said. "We definitely take him into account."
Orgeron was a key component in developing the attitude of Pete Carroll's USC teams, but that doesn't seem to be an issue now. The Trojans are no longer the kingpins of the Pac-10, Carroll is back in the NFL, the NCAA is on their case and for the first time in a long time, they can play the role of underdog.
Said sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley: "We've come a long way, worked really hard this offseason and it's about executing. Put away everything that happened and just play football."
"There's a lot of motivation for these guys," Lane Kiffin added. "They've been through a lot. I've said it before, the wrong people are being punished. You've got all these players getting on a plane to Hawaii that can't play in a bowl game that had nothing to do with this, that weren't even here. But it is what it is. They can't control that."
What they can control is having the same goal we always have – win every game that they allow us to play."
Ed Orgeron will have the defense fired up on Thursday night.
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