Countdown to 2014 – No. 3 – USC

Note … This is the tenth in a series of previews for the 2014 season, ranking CU’s opponents from the easiest to most difficult.

Previously posted … No. 12 Massachusetts; No. 11 Hawai’i; No. 10 California; No. 9 Colorado State; No. 8 Utah; No. 7 Oregon StateNo. 6 Arizona; No. 5 Washington; and No. 4 Arizona State.


“Our long national nightmare is over”.

These words, spoken 40 years ago next week, are from former President Gerald Ford, speaking to the nation after assuming the presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

They could just as easily have come from USC athletic director Pat Haden this summer, as the NCAA sanctions against the Trojans finally came to an end. USC will still have to put up with a 75-man (instead of 85-man) roster this fall, but can recruit a full recruiting Class this season. The Trojans will begin their ascent back to the top of the college football world from a good starting point, as the Trojans posted a 10-4 season even though USC had no fewer than four head coaches in 2013.

And leading the Trojans back to the promised land of national dominance will be … Steve Sarkisian.

The former USC assistant under Pete Carroll has returned to Los Angeles after a five-year stint in Seattle with the Washington Huskies. Sarkisian’s 34-29 overall record raised the eyebrows of some of the Trojan faithful, who thought interim coach Ed Orgeron or Boise State coach Chris Petersen would have been a better fit.

Rather than conform to accepted Trojan practice, “student-body right” out of the I-formation is being replaced by an up-tempo, no-huddle offense.

A new offense and a new head coach will usher in the post-sanction era at USC.

Time will tell if Sarkisian will prove to be the right choice to lead the charge.

2013 Season

USC got off to a slow start to the 2013 campaign, opening with a lackluster 30-13 win over Hawai’i on the islands. The Trojans then returned to Los Angeles for an early season conference opener, taking on Washington State on September 7th. Instead of taking care of business against the Cougars, the No. 25 Trojans were shocked at home, 10-7, by the Cougars.

Non-conference wins home against Boston College and Utah State (the latter by an uncomfortable score of 17-14) gave the Trojans a 3-1 record, and a modicum of momentum heading into a showdown against Arizona State.

Instead of redemption, however, the Trojans found Kiffin’s Waterloo. An embarrassing 62-41 loss left USC with an 0-2 record in Pac-12 play … and without a coach. USC had now given up 62 points twice in the span of ten games (dating back to the Oregon game in 2012) after never having given up 62 points in a game in school history.

Ed Orgeron was installed as the interim coach, and the Trojans held on to defeat Arizona, 38-31, in their first game without Lane Kiffin, before falling to rival Notre Dame, 14-10, on the road.

With a 4-3 (1-2) record and without a known coach for the future, the Trojans could have played out the remainder of the season with little emotion. Instead, USC rattled off five straight conference victories, including a surprising 20-17 win over No. 5 Stanford.

A disappointing 35-14 setback at the hands of No. 22 UCLA left the Trojans with a 9-4 (6-3) record … and again in search of a coach. Ed Orgeron resigned rather than coach the team in a bowl game after Steve Sarkisian was hired, leaving the Trojans with their third head coach of the season, Clay Helton.

USC was invited to play Mountain West Conference champion Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Again faced with adversity, again the Trojans responded, with a 45-20 win.


Junior quarterback Cody Kessler returns, he of the 2,968-yard, 20 touchdown season in 2013.  Kessler will not lack for offensive weapons, as USC, as usual, is loaded.

Javorius Nelson was the surprise team MVP last season. The junior running back had only 27 carries in the first half of the season, but finished the year with 135 attempts for 785 yards and 14 touchdowns (145 yards and three of those touchdowns came against Colorado).

Gone are two star wide receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, but this is USC we’re talking about. Nelson Agholor, who had 918 yards and six touchdowns receiving in a supporting role, returns, as does talented tight end Randall Telfer, who will be utilized more often in Sarkisian’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense.

The question mark for the USC offense is the offensive line. Three starters have to be replaced, and several potential starters were out this spring with injuries. In the last season of the 75-man roster, the Trojans are perilously thin up front.


The good news for Trojan fans is that eight starters return from a defense which ranked in the top twenty nationally in rushing defense, total defense, and most importantly, scoring defense.

The problem is figuring out where to play everyone.

Last season, USC utilized a 5-2 defense. This fall, under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Trojans will employ at 3-4 base defense.

One player sure to be on the field is defensive end Leonard Williams. An All-American as a sophomore, Williams had six sacks last fall, and will likely cement his status as a likely top ten NFL draft pick with his play this season.

Linebacker Hayes Pullard was the Trojans’ leading tackler last season, and leads a deep and talented linebacker corps. The question for USC on defense is the secondary. Three starters return, but overall the unit remains young and relatively inexperienced.


USC fans will be able to measure the status of their team under their new head coach fairly early on this fall.

The Trojans open against Fresno State, the same team they beat last December in the Las Vegas Bowl by the score of 45-20. The Bulldogs were 11-2 last season, but lost all-everything quarterback Derek Carr.

Assuming USC can get past Fresno State, the first road trip of the season comes a week later … at Stanford. The Trojans upset the Cardinal last season at home, derailing Stanford’s bid for a national championship berth. The USC/Stanford rematch will be one of the more interesting games played on September 6th.

Before getting into the teeth of its Pac-12 calendar, the USC follows Colorado to the northeast, but instead of playing UMass, the Trojans will face a more formidable Boston College team (7-6 last fall).

After a bye week to settle things down, USC gets to play three of its next four games at home, with the final game of the set coming against Colorado. Home games against Oregon State and Arizona State will be followed by a trip to Tucson to face Arizona. Then, on October 18th, the Trojans take on the Buffs in the Coliseum.

Any hope of the Trojans looking past the Buffs?

Not really.

After the CU game, USC goes out on the road to face Utah and Washington State … not exactly huge games in the eyes of the Trojans, who will be much more interested in the last two games of the regular season. After a home warmup against Cal, the Trojans travel cross town to face UCLA before finishing the regular season at home against Notre Dame.


USC is one of two teams in the Pac-12 (the other being Arizona State) which Colorado has never beaten. The Buffs are 0-8 all-time against the Trojans.

And 2014 will likely make it 0-9.

Colorado gets to play a USC team with a new coach … but seven games into the season, probably eliminating much in the way of any “adjustment” period.

Colorado is USC’s only home game between October 4th and November 13th … so the Trojans will be well motivated to enjoy their homecoming patsy.

While at Washington, Steve Sarkisian had little trouble against the Buffs, beating Colorado by the scores of 52-24, 38-3, and 59-7 … an average score of 49-11.

The Buffs will likely fare better against Sarkisian’s first Trojan team than 49-11 …

But not by much …


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