Now that spring practice is over for the Trojans, it's time to begin looking forward to the regular season. USC returns majority of last year's team, including the nucleus on the offensive side of the ball that averaged nearly 36 points per contest.
This team will enter the season as favorites to win the Pac-12 and a candidate to reach the national championship game. The talent is there on both sides of the ball, and the schedule does the Trojans a ton of favors as well.
But before we can crown them conference champions, they still have to play the game and take care of business.
Key: Get off to a fast start.
The Trojans will likely open the season up as a top three team in the country. In order to stay at the top, they must get off to a fast start and treat every game with the same seriousness that they would against the Oregon Ducks.
Hawaii has never beaten USC, and loses a key weapon in dual-threat quarterback Bryant Moniz. The Warriors' scoring defense was ranked 80th in the country last year, which can't be a great sign playing a team that has NFL talent all over on offense.
I'm not too sure how Hawaii stands a chance in this game, and that's why it's important for the Trojans to just play USC football. Last year they got off to a slow start and nearly lost to Minnesota and Utah.
Take care of the football, move the chains and this game should be over rather quickly.
Key: Get off the field on third down.
Syracuse lost seven games last year, but were able to stay in games because of its 42 percent third-down conversion percentage. That was good for first in the Big East and 45th in the country. In last year's 38-17 victory, the Orange converted 8-of-15 third downs, which was a big reason the Trojans weren't able to pull away until late in the third quarter.
Syracuse is a team that struggled mightily on both sides of the ball last season, but they do return 12 starters, including the starting quarterback. With this game taking place in East Rutherford, it's important that the Trojans are able to stop the offense's momentum and help take the crowd out of the game.
Key: Generate pressure.
Just because Andrew Luck is no longer on the roster, doesn't mean that the Cardinal will be a pushover this season. They still return a 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor, a majority of their defense, a solid offensive line and a loaded recruiting class.
Stanford only allowed 11 sacks last season, which was second best in the conference and tied for seventh in the country. The problem is that when an opposing team was able to get to the quarterback, the Cardinal lost the game. (Oregon picked up three sacks, Oklahoma State sacked Luck twice)
The Trojans do have a few questions along the defensive line, but with a young quarterback leading Stanford, the mindset is clear: get to him and you win the game.
Key: Run the football.
Cal had a solid defense last year, including a rush defense that was ranked fourth in the Pac-12, allowing 128 yards on the ground a game. But when a football team rushes the ball against the Golden Bears, they win more times than not. In the last two seasons, Cal is 5-12 when a team carries the football at least 30 times a game.
Cal is a team that only returns five starters on the defensive side of the ball, and the Trojans have a 1,000-yard rushed in Curtis McNeal back on the field. Quarterback Matt Barkley proved last year that he doesn't need to have a monster game to beat Cal, as he only threw for 195 yards (second lowest of the year) en route to a 30-9 victory.
If the Trojans can get that running game going, they should win their ninth straight over the Golden Bears.
Key: Move the chains.
Utah returns the most starters of any team in the Pac-12, but I'm not sure that's a good thing when it comes to offensive production. The Utes were dead last in the conference in total offense, and their average of 310 total yards was good for 109th in the country.
Utah did have a solid defense last season that was ranked third in the Pac-12, but last season USC didn't get the memo as it dropped 413 yards and picked up 23 first downs in the 23-14 victory. Utah's defense may help them stay in this game for a quarter or two, but they don't have nearly enough weapons on offense to keep up in this game.
As long as the Trojans pick up first downs, they should once again earn another victory.
Key: Contain Keith Price.
Washington has the pieces in place to make this game very interesting as they return seven starters on both sides of the ball. If a defensive unit that allowed 36 points per game last season can improve just a little bit, the Huskies could be a huge surprise this season.
Washington quarterback Keith Price should be on everyone's Heisman radar, as he is a playmaker and gives his team a chance to win every game. When he isn't that effective in the game, the Huskies lose more times than not. Against the Trojans last season, Price threw for 125 yards, but couldn't put the ball in the end zone. The Huskies ended up losing 40-17.
Washington has an offense that can make things interesting this year, but if you shut down the main guy, the Trojans have already shown how that can turn out.
Key: Get off the field on third downs.
Colorado has never knocked off the Trojans and is a program that's won 11 combined games in the last three seasons. Last year they did almost nothing right and had a scoring offense and scoring defense that was ranked 109th in the country.
Despite returning six starters on both sides of the ball, it's hard to imagine the Buffaloes pulling off an upset in this matchup. The key to victory for the Trojans would include preventing third-down conversions on defense. Colorado was 11th in the Pac-12 last year, converting just 35 percent of third downs. In its three victories, that percentage shot up to 47.
If USC can finish the job off defensively, the Buffaloes should be no problem in this matchup.
Key: Don't get caught looking ahead.
USC has won nine of the last 10 meetings against the Arizona Wildcats, although last year’s 48-41 victory was a little too close for comfort. With that said, things shouldn't be that competitive this time around as Arizona loses its starting quarterback and main wide receiver. It also lost six players on the defensive side of the ball.
This game will be played in Tucson, so the Wildcats do have something going for them, but with many holes to fill and a new head coach, it seems the only way USC loses is if they beat themselves. The Trojans must not get caught looking ahead to the big matchup against the Oregon Ducks. If they focus on the task at hand, USC should be perfectly fine.
Key: Get physical and contain De'Anthony Thomas.
We know Oregon is one of the more explosive offensive teams in the entire country. You blink for a second and they could have already scored three touchdowns. But with all of that speed on the roster, it's more of a finesse team that can't handle defenses that bring physicality to the table. We saw it in the 2010 national championship game and last year against the LSU Tigers.
When the defense lays out those big hits and shows them that they're going to pay a price for picking up those first downs, Oregon simply isn't the same team.
Containing Thomas is also a main key for the game. He's the X-factor for the Ducks' offense and is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the football. In last year's loss, he only had the ball a total of six times, and averaged one yard per rush.
If USC can slow down that production once again by getting physical with the Ducks offense, I see a second victory over Oregon for the first time since 2005-2006.
Key: Keep Cameron Marshall in check.
Arizona State is going to look like a completely different team as it only returns eight starters from a year ago. But there is one player that remains and that's running back Cameron Marshall. Yes, the same guy that ran for 141 yards and scored three touchdowns in last year's victory over the Trojans. He also had over 100 total yards in the 2010 meeting as well.
Marshall is a solid running back and has a chance to become one of the best the Sun Devils have ever seen. But there's truly no reason that a national championship-caliber team is letting somebody run all over that defense.
In five of the Sun Devils' seven losses last year, Marshall failed to rack up 100 rushing yards. The defense must step up to the plate and keep the senior running back in check this time around to win the 12th game in the last 13 meetings against the Sun Devils.
Key: Last year, same results.
It's hard to come up with a key for a game when you have no idea how this UCLA team is going to be this season. Sure, the Bruins were absolutely terrible last season, finishing with a 6-8 record, but they do return 14 starters, have a talented recruiting class coming in and a new head coach taking over the program.
The best way to win for the Trojans to win this game is to play exactly how they did last season. Produce 50 points and over 500 yards on offense, win the turnover battle and hold the Bruins to zero points on offense.
Does it truly get any better than that?
I think if USC can play like that for the entire year, it would be safe to bet your life savings that this team would run the table. Lane Kiffin should just show game film of last year's meeting and tell his team to follow their own example.
Key: Force turnovers.
We should all know Notre Dame isn't where it would like to be right now and has yet to improve under head coach Brian Kelly. It's not because a lack of talent, it's simply because the Irish have turned the ball over a combined 53 times in the last two seasons. You could have an All-Madden team as your actual team, and you still won't win many games coughing the ball up that many times.
In last year's loss to the Trojans, Notre Dame turned the ball over three times. The Irish ended up winning the matchup in 2010, but kept USC in the game by turning the ball over four times. In their eight victories last year, Notre Dame gave the football away 10 times; in five losses, the amount was nearly doubled as they turned it over 19 times.
It really doesn't get any easier than that, win the turnover battle and there's a great chance you're going to beat the Irish for the 10th time in 11 meetings.