The USC Trojans kick off their 2013 season against the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, with the hopes of redeeming themselves after a tumultuous 2012 effort. With new coaches, new talent and a new quarterback under center, the Trojans have grown substantially over the past month in fall camp, though they still have a long way to go.
In addition to opening its season, the Trojans are celebrating 125 years of athletics in 2013, and are certainly looking for a win to set the year off right.
USC could not have asked for a better opponent for its two green quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek to debut against. The Rainbow Warriors and the Trojans have clashed eight times since 1930, and USC has emerged the victor each time. And USC hasn't just won—it's won big. The Trojans have beaten the Warriors on average 49-14, and 49-10 in their most recent tilt in 2012.
This season the Trojans have yet to cement a starting quarterback and in addition to that minor problem, their leading rusher Silas Redd will miss the season opener as he continues to heal from a torn meniscus sustained in spring camp. The secondary is loaded with talent, though largely inexperienced at the collegiate level. For Hawaii, the Rainbow Warriors are fielding a team with many returners, though whether or not they can hang with the Trojans has yet to be determined.
But first, the vitals:
KICKOFF: 8:05 p.m. PT
PLACE: Aloha Stadium
TV: CBS SPORTS
Radio: 710 ESPN
Spread: USC (-21.5) at Hawaii
USC enters this game as the far superior team. With that in mind, all they have to do to win is remember K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Despite the fact that the quarterback situation remains uncertain, the Trojans field an incredibly talented offense, and a new defensive scheme peppered with outstanding talent. WR Marqise Lee leads the aerial assault, but expect strong showings from rising star Nelson Agholor as well as newcomer Darreus Rogers, who has earned a lot of praise through fall camp. On the ground, expect Justin Davis—another member of USC's recruiting class of 2013—to showcase his soft hands and power running style as he fills in for the injured Silas Redd. Aside from him, we could see Buck Allen and/or Ty Isaac get time on the field, and with the penchant USC has for favoring the running game in season openers, we will likely see them often.
When USC last faced Hawaii, the Trojans shredded the Rainbow Warriors for 475 total yards, 197 of which came from Lee through the air alone. The Warriors displayed no real ability to impede the Trojans, and that will largely be the case this time around as well. Though they do field a team returning 16 players who are battle-tested against the Trojans, USC is bringing enough offensive weapons to give the Warriors defense fits.
Defensively, USC needs to contain Hawaii's passing attack. An inexperienced secondary can make this difficult, but the new 5-2 scheme should aid in stifling big passing plays. Last year, the Trojans surrendered over 200 passing yards, and defensive breakdowns of that magnitude will not serve the Trojans well in their first appearance of 2013.
Ultimately, the Trojans just need to play their game—utilize the wide receivers, pound the rock up the middle, take care of the ball and lock down opposing receivers—and they will walk away from their season opener with a W.
For Hawaii to serve the Trojans a huge upset in the very first game of their season, the Rainbow Warriors need to shut down Marqise Lee, a task much easier said than done. Beyond that, Hawaii needs to fluster the offense as a whole, especially on 3rd downs, something they succeeded at in 2012. USC only converted on 4-of-14 third down attempts—while Hawaii converting 7-of-16 themselves—which allowed them to crawl back slightly from a 35-0 halftime deficit.
Hawaii is bringing new QB Taylor Graham to the table, and his experience from his former college, Ohio State, could serve the Warriors well in terms of leadership against a top competitor like the Trojans.
The Rainbow Warriors also have the benefit of being coached by Norm Chow, a former colleague of Lane Kiffin. Chow knows Kiffin's tendencies from having worked with him and also having coached against him, and that could help the Warriors in their quest to knock USC off its game in their season opener.
WitteKessler: Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will both be getting time against Hawaii, with Kiffin declining to publicly announce who will get the start. Because the Trojans have the luxury of treating this game as a "preseason" affair, consider this the final audition of these two signal-callers. Kessler was considered by many the favorite going into Fall Camp, but an incredibly compelling month by Kessler changed the game, and has forced Lane Kiffin to deliberate on this decision much longer than expected. Whichever quarterback has the most impressive performance will undoubtedly be the starter and the new face of the Trojan football program.
Justin Davis: Davis is a member of USC's recruiting class of 2013, and you should get to know him now, as you will likely be hearing his name A LOT in Troy over the course of his career. He brings a powerful, dominant running style to USC's stable, and has some of the best hands on the team besides Marqise Lee. Davis could emerge as THE guy for USC's ground game, should Silas Redd continue to slowly return to form. Even if he only maintains a supporting role to Redd, he leads the bevy of talent that USC has to shore up its running back corps, one that could return USC to its vaunted status as Tailback U.
Nelson Agholor: Agholor stands primed to serve Marqise Lee as Lee served Robert Woods, and gives USC the best wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12. We saw glimpses of him in 2012, most notably against Oregon when he caught six passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, including one 76-yard play in which he split two Duck defenders before taking it to the house. Agholor will be a huge problem for opposing defenses, as he is just as deadly a threat as Lee is. Look for him to have his breakout season in 2013, starting against Hawaii.
Su'a Cravens: Cravens is the most promising talent in the young USC secondary and he will probably earn a starting spot before the season is over. Before he can get there, he will make his debut against Hawaii as a part of a group of defensive backs who will rotate throughout the game, as the secondary is another position of note that the Trojans have yet to cement going into the season. Almost of more import than the quarterback situation, the secondary has been USC's biggest liability for the past few seasons, so establishing capable starters soon is critical. Though Cravens suffered a minor meniscus injury in spring camp, he returned in the fall and has turned many heads along the way.
Check out USC's full depth chart here.
Taylor Graham: Graham comes to Hawaii from Ohio State, where he spent two years being groomed in a powerhouse system before Urban Meyer took over the program. Graham was a Top-20 quarterback out of high school according to Rivals, and his pocket-passing abilities should allow him to flourish in Norm Chow's system. Look for him to record his first start against the Trojans, which could set the bar for how he fairs in his first season as a starter.
Check out Hawaii's full depth chart here.
Hawaii has dropped 16 of its last 19 games against ranked opponents, including all nine matchups against non-conference foes by an average of 25.7 points. — ESPNLA
The Trojans have not lost an opener since 1997, they haven’t dropped a non-conference road game since 2006 and they’ve never fallen to Hawaii in 8 encounters (USC has averaged nearly 50 points in each of those meetings). Troy also has a near spotless record against current Mountain West Conference opponents. And the Trojans have lost just once on the island of Oahu (in a bowl). — USC GAME NOTES
"We're excited to see both of them play," he said. "We look at it as an opportunity for two guys to play great, just like when you're excited for two guys to play tailback." — Kiffin on Using Two QBs
"The national championship, that's where we wanted to go last year," said reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee. "After we got our second loss and we could see we couldn't make it, we kind of bugged out a little. This year, we've just got to stay focused on the games when we play them, and not start thinking about the national championship or anything else. — ESPN
USC wins, 42-17. Despite the fact that a number of positions are still in flux on both sides of the ball, the Trojans are in the better position to win. Not only have the Trojans absolutely dominated the Rainbow Warriors in the series history, they are seeking their 16th straight season-opening victory.
Hawaii's defense will be hard-pressed to contain Marqise Lee and the bevy of talent USC boasts on offense, and ultimately it will be too much for them to handle. For USC, it will be an expected win, but one that will instill confidence in the team—and more importantly, the quarterback chosen as starter—which is extremely critical going up against conference foe Washington State in week two.