Even with the loss, the Trojans fully expect to compete for the BCS championship in December. There's no doubt it will be tough, but USC has the talent and experience to get there.
The Trojans need big performances from key players every game from here on out, but right now it starts with Cal. Here are three players who need to perform.
Matt Barkley was thrown around like a rag doll in Palo Alto. Center Khaled Holmes, even with an injury, needs to make sure the Cal game isn't Round 2.
It's still unknown whether Holmes is playing this Saturday. Coach Lane Kiffin no longer discusses injuries with the press, so his status is a huge mystery at this point.
Yet all signs point to him playing coming off an extra week of rest. He suited up against Stanford, and looked like he was prepared to give it a go, but didn't feel quite right before the game.
However, Holmes is battling a bad foot injury and can't possibly be as effective as he normally is.
This could create huge issues for USC's offense, just like it did against Stanford. Barkley got inadequate blocking the entire game, getting sacked or pressured in seemingly every play.
While Stanford's pass rush is much better than Cal's, Barkley needs protection from the blitz—not only to give him time in the pocket—but to also keep him healthy.
If the Trojans get burned on defense this Saturday, it will be the product of big plays from Cal's star WR Keenan Allen.
Allen is coming off a 1,300-yard season, and is one of the most explosive playmakers in the entire country. Cal fans swear that he's good enough to earn Heisman candidacy by season's end.
However, Nickell Robey is not impressed. As arguably the Pac-12's best CB, Robey is capable of shutting down the big play, and limiting Allen's effectiveness throughout.
The Cal offense is reliant on Allen, so if Robey can shut him down, the Trojans will leave the Coliseum with a win.
While nothing went right during the Stanford game, the sole bright spot was the emergence of Nelson Agholor as the team's third WR option.
The true freshman looked like an upperclassman out there, compiling 77 yards, including a 49-yard reception.
Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are going to get their catches, and USC is probably good enough to win with the two of them alone.
However, Agholor is going to be huge later this season. If the Trojans plan on establishing themselves as the best offense in the country, Agholor needs to emerge as a reliable threat.
This weekend's game is a great time to continue his emergence and improvement.
While the Trojans don't need a 100-yard performance from Agholor to pull out a win, another breakthrough performance would pay huge dividends down the road.
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