USC Football: Ranking the Difficulty of Each Road Game in 2012
Heading into the fall, USC is a trendy pick to be playing in the National Championship Game on January 9th.
While Lane Kiffin's squad appears poised for a great season, the road to Miami will not be an easy one.
The Trojans' most formidable opponent of the year, the Oregon Ducks, will travel to Los Angeles, but that doesn't mean USC will have an easy time of it on the road.
With that in mind, let's take a look at each of USC's games away from the Coliseum and rank their overall difficulty.
Syracuse: September 8th
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Even though this game is being played at neutral MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, it's still 3,000 miles from Los Angeles and certainly qualifies as a road game.
A year ago at the Coliseum, USC coasted past the Orange 38-17 in a game in which Matt Barkley threw for five touchdowns.
Syracuse went on to finish the year with a 5-7 record and failed to earn a bid to a postseason bowl.
Veteran quarterback Ryan Nassib is back for the Orange, but that is about all head coach Doug Marrone has going for him offensively.
Syracuse will have to find a replacement for Antwon Bailey, who rushed for 1,051 yards in his senior season. However, the more challenging task may be restocking the wide receivers, as five or Syracuse's top six wideouts are no longer with the program.
The Trojans will meet the Orange early in the year, and many of the questions surrounding Marrone's squad will likely be unanswered by the time the teams take the field in early September.
While it's never easy to travel across the country to play a game, USC is not the type of team that will wilt under the pressure of New York City.
Look for Barkley and company to roll against an overmatched Syracuse squad in the first road game of the year.
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Stanford: September 15th
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USC will follow up the cross-country trip to New York City with a much shorter journey upstate to visit the Farm.
Stanford has had the Trojans' number of late, winning three in a row and four of the last five against USC.
After last year's heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to the Cardinal, you can bet Lane Kiffin and his players have had September 15th circled on their calendars for quite some time.
Stanford may have lost back-to-back Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck to the NFL, but the cupboard is still full for David Shaw.
Stepfan Taylor is a fine running back who is capable of handling the bulk of the offensive load. Three starters still remain along an offensive line that lost potential first-round picks David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin to the draft.
Defensively, the Cardinal may have one of the best linebacking corps in the country, led by 2011 First Team All-Pac 12 selection Chase Thomas. The talented Shayne Skov will also be raring to go after suffering an ACL tear a year ago.
It appears as if Brett Nottingham is in line to take Luck's spot under center, but when the Trojans pay their visit to Palo Alto, the junior will have just two collegiate starts under his belt.
Stanford has given USC fits over the past few years, and this is the Trojans' Pac-12 road opener, which is never a breeze.
The Cardinal will certainly present more problems than Syracuse, but Stanford's inexperience at quarterback may be too much to overcome against the mighty Trojans.
And finally, Stanford's students won't even be in school yet, meaning the environment may not be as intimidating as it has been in recent years.
If this game was scheduled for later in the season, the difficulty rating would undoubtedly be higher.
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Utah: October 4th (Thursday)
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The game in Salt Lake City may be the Trojans' greatest road test of the year. Utah gave USC a run last year in the Coliseum, and if it wasn't for a Matt Kalil blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, the Utes may have pulled off the upset.
In 2012, Los Angeles native John White IV will again be the focal point of Utah's offense. White eclipsed the 1,500 yard mark in 2011 and also tacked on 15 touchdowns.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn will also be fully recovered from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, and he brings senior experience to the position.
On the other side of the ball, Utah may have the best defensive player in the entire conference in DT Star Lotulelei.
The reigning winner of the Morris Trophy, given to the conference's top defensive lineman, Lotulelei was the driving force behind Kyle Whittingham's defense a year ago and was a big reason the unit yielded just 20.2 points per game in 2011, 19th-best in the country.
Thursday night games have never been USC's friend. Who can forget 2008, when the top-ranked Trojans had their national championship hopes crushed by Oregon State on a Thursday night in Corvallis?
Utah will likely pose the biggest threat to USC in the Pac-12 South, and the winner of this game should be the favorite to advance to the conference's Championship Game.
With the whole nation watching during this nationally televised broadcast, USC better be on upset alert.
Difficulty Rating: 8 out of 10
Washington: October 13th
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A week after taking on Utah, it's right back to the road for the Trojans as they take on Washington in Seattle.
Similar to the Syracuse game, USC's matchup with the Huskies will be played at an NFL stadium as opposed to the school's home field.
USC finally got over the hump against Steve Sarkisian's squad, beating the Huskies 40-17 in 2011 after falling victim to the upset the two previous years.
The Huskies will be without tailback Chris Polk in 2012, who bolted for the NFL, but promising young quarterback Keith Price, a Los Angeles native, is back to lead an electrifying offensive attack.
The biggest question mark for Washington will be defense. The Huskies allowed 35.9 points per game in 2011, the 12th-worst total in the nation.
If the issues in the secondary aren't rectified by the fall, Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee will have a field day.
Still, Sarkisian always seems to give USC a spirited effort, and I don't expect that to change in 2012. Seahawks fans have shown how loud CenturyLink Field can be, and the Husky faithful will be out in full force to defend their turf.
The back-to-back road stretch against Utah and Washington will be a difficult one for USC, and even if the Trojans can get by the Utes, they shouldn't overlook a very formidable Huskies squad.
Difficulty Rating: 7 out of 10
Arizona: October 27th
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The Rich Rodriguez era is underway in Tucson, and the former Michigan and West Virginia head coach will look to right the ship for a program that finished with a lackluster 4-8 record (2-7 Pac-12) a year ago.
Rodriguez's first task will be retooling an offense that lost its leading passer in Nick Foles, its leading rusher in Keola Antolin and its top three receivers in Juron Criner, David Douglas and Gino Crump.
Since his West Virginia days, Rich-Rod has prided himself on his ground attack, but he will have his work cut out for him seeing as the Wildcats ranked 114th nationally in rush offense a year ago.
New gunslinger Matt Scott should have a solid grasp on the offense by late October, and Rodriguez's offense should be fully implemented, but Arizona simply has too many holes to fill to be competitive with a team of USC's caliber.
If the Trojans stick to their game plan, they should be able to exploit a weak Arizona front seven as well as the obvious depth issues the Wildcats will face.
Don't expect that trend to change in 2012.
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
UCLA: November 17th
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UCLA's resounding 50-0 loss at the hands of its crosstown rival won't soon be forgotten by Trojan and Bruin fans alike, but Jim L. Mora will have a chance to avenge last year's embarrassment in his first year as UCLA head coach.
The Bruins' main strengths are in the trenches, and the offensive line should be improved in 2012. Talented running backs Jonathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones should benefit from playing behind this unit.
UCLA's defensive line could potentially be one of the conference's best units if Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Datone Jones can come into their element under a new coaching regime.
However, the Bruins' Achilles heel for the past few years has been their quarterbacks, and it doesn't appear that will change in 2012.
Kevin Prince is the incumbent at the position, but he clearly isn't the future for UCLA. Mora Jr. should make it a priority to solidify his quarterbacks if he has any chance of remaining competitive in 2012.
This year's installment of the crosstown rivalry could take place with USC on the verge of a national championship bid, and the Trojans must be careful to avoid an upset similar to the one that occurred in 2006.
This one may not end in blowout fashion like it did last year, but USC still clearly has the upper hand over UCLA, and the Trojans should be able to handle the Bruins at the Rose Bowl before they head back home to take on another rival, Notre Dame.
Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10