One year ago, USC entered the season as the No. 1 team in the country in the AP poll. National expectations for the program are on a completely different level as the 24th-ranked Trojans get prepared for their 2013 opener against Hawaii.
The silver lining for USC is the lower preseason ranking is accompanied by less pressure. That's important for a team making the transition from Matt Barkley to Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Lane Kiffin said both quarterbacks will play, reports Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports.
USC will take on a Rainbow Warriors squad that's coming off a disappointing season of their own. They finished 3-9 in Norm Chow's first season leading the program. That included a 49-10 blowout loss to the Trojans in last year's season opener. They will want to show signs of progress.
What's your prediction for the opener?
Luckily for both teams, the slate has been wiped clean after frustrating 2012 seasons. Let's take a look at all the important viewing information for the opening week matchup, followed by a preview and a prediction for which squad will get the new season started on a high note.
Where: Aloha Stadium in Halawa, Hawaii
When: Thursday, Aug. 29 at 11 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS Sports Network
Spread: USC -22.5 (via Vegas Insider)
USC Injury Report (via USA Today)
Doubtful: Silas Redd (knee)
Questionable: Victor Blackwell (knee)
Probable: Dion Bailey (hip), Marqise Lee (shoulder)
Hawaii Injury Report (via USA Today)
Out Indefinitely: Haani Tulimaiau (knee), Joey Iosefa (foot)
Probable: Diocemy Saint Juste (hamstring)
USC Player to Watch: Marqise Lee
Lee is coming off a monster sophomore campaign. He ranked in the top five of all three major receiving categories, including a nation-leading 118 catches. The dynamic wideout faces a couple hurdles as he looks to replicate that success, however.
The most notable one being the loss of Barkley. While the Trojans fought several issues last season, the combination between those two was one thing the team could always count on. He must quickly develop similar chemistry with Wittek and/or Kessler.
Another issue Lee will have to deal with is the departure of fellow wideout Robert Woods, now a member of the Buffalo Bills. Lee's huge stat line was in part due to Woods keeping defenses honest. Without that support, it will be interesting to see how Lee responds.
Hawaii Player to Watch: Scott Harding
Although there weren't many positives for Hawaii to take from last year's meeting, Harding at least walked away with a memorable moment. He caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to get Hawaii on the scoreboard in the second half.
The Rainbow Warriors sorely lacked a dynamic playmaker on offense last season. Harding showed flashes of assuming that role, grabbing a 51-yard touchdown against New Mexico and averaging nearly 16 yards per catch, but he wasn't consistent enough.
If the Hawaii offense is going to take a couple step forward, the junior receiver needs to take on a bigger role. The USC secondary should provide a good test once again. Moving forward, the Rainbow Warriors need him to contribute week in and week out to succeed.
Key Matchup to Watch: Trojans' running game vs. Rainbow Warriors' defensive line
Redd hasn't been able to fully recover from a knee injury, which opened the door for other players to pick up the backfield slack. Tre Madden and Justin Davis are the other top options. They should both see plenty of action against Hawaii.
Which RB will shine for USC?
Establishing the run game is critical for USC during the early stages of the season. Eventually, the Trojans will have to figure out the quarterback situation because it's hard to see a rotation working flawlessly for three months. Until then, there's an onus on the backs to lead the way.
They go up against an experienced Rainbow Warriors defensive line. Hawaii held USC to less than four yards per carry last year. If they can match that effort this time around and pair it with the Trojans' uncertainty in the passing game, they should be able to post a more respectable scoreline at the least.
USC 35, Hawaii 17