USC Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season
College football is still three months away, but with summer on the horizon, fans can start getting excited for what's to come in August.
For USC, the Trojans are looking to start Steve Sarkisian's inaugural season as head coach on the right foot, and to generate as much excitement at the start of 2014 as they ended with in 2013. The Trojans will have a decent amount of depth this season thanks to an influx of talent coming in later this summer, something they haven't had during these sanctioned years. USC has all the pieces to have a good 2014 campaign, and a pretty favorable schedule to work with.
Here's an early look at USC's 2014 schedule, with game-by-game predictions for each tilt.
Aug. 30: Vs. Fresno State
USC ended its 2013 season by facing the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl, giving fans a taste of what we can expect when they meet again to open the 2014 season. If last December's matchup is any indication, then the Trojan faithful are in for a treat: USC walloped Fresno State 45-20, flexing its defensive muscles and showing that Cody Kessler had finally come into his own as the starter of this team.
With the win, the Trojans proved that they had weathered the storm of that tumultuous season and should not be counted out in 2014.
The Trojans will have the chance to make a strong statement in their season opener when they face the Bulldogs once again.
Fresno State will be without former quarterback David Carr while USC returns Cody Kessler, though USC's offense could still have the training wheels on at that time. Still, the Trojans held the Bulldogs to just 253 yards of total offense, and former star wide receiver Davante Adams had just nine receptions for 73 yards, and one touchdown.
USC returns a stout defense, and that alone should help see the Trojans to an opening-game victory.
Prediction: USC 38, Fresno State 14
Sept. 6: At Stanford
USC/Stanford 2013 still replays fondly in the memories of Trojan fans, as a victory over the then-No. 4 Cardinal made up for the frustrating years brought on by the sanctions. It was a moment bigger than the actual victory itself, and it's one USC would like to repeat in 2014.
This time around, the Trojans will travel to Palo Alto to face the Cardinal on their home turf, and Stanford undoubtedly will be looking to reaffirm its stronghold on this series. Prior to last season's upset, USC had fallen to Stanford three times in a row at home, and in the past four tilts overall.
Looking at Washington's record with Sarkisian at the helm, the Huskies won just one game over the past five seasons. Clearly, Stanford has had both USC and UW's numbers recently, which could present trouble for Sark and USC.
This game will be the first test for the new head coach and the new-look Trojans, and a strong performance would be telling of what to expect from this team when it gets to the meat of its season in October and November.
USC and Stanford have given us quite the North vs. South matchup in recent years, and there's no reason to expect anything less than that in September.
Prediction: Stanford 24, USC 21
Sept. 13: At Boston College
The Trojans have never lost to Boston College in four total meetings, the most recent being a 35-7 win at the beginning of the 2013 season. This year, USC will travel back east to face the Eagles and the road trip shouldn't tax the Trojans too much.
That said, they will want to be careful because the following week USC hosts Oregon State. If the Trojans look past Boston College, this could end up being a good old-fashioned trap game.
USC has the competitive advantage talent-wise and it's pretty unlikely that Sarkisian and his staff allow the team to get comfortable enough this early in the season to look past an opponent.
Depending on how USC vs. Stanford goes the week before this one, we could see an inspired Trojan team playing with authority, or one still trying to figure it all out.
Either way, USC comes away with the win.
Prediction: USC 28, Boston College 3
Sept. 27: Vs. Oregon State
USC got its first victory in Corvallis for the first time since 2004 last year, and it was a big moment for the Trojans under then-interim head coach Ed Orgeron. It snapped a nearly decade-long drought in Oregon State territory, and catalyzed a strong run for the Trojans in the latter half of 2013.
This year, we can expect a similar result for the Trojans. USC hasn't struggled nearly as much with the Beavers when hosting them in Los Angeles.
That said, quarterback Sean Mannion returns for Oregon State, and we can expect a thrilling duel between him and Cody Kessler, as each has demonstrated an ability to sling the rock. Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013, getting 277 of those yards and one score against USC. He'll be looking to carve up the Trojans defense a second time, but a bolstered secondary should ensure that doesn't happen.
Prediction: USC 35, Oregon State 14
Oct. 4: Vs. Arizona State
Arizona State has given USC fits in recent history, but a depleted defense should help turn the tides in USC's favor.
The Sun Devils lost star defensive tackle Will Sutton, cornerback Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby, among others, to graduation and the NFL Draft. Those are some pretty big holes to fill, and the Sun Devils will want to do so before the Trojans and their own stout defense come to town.
This will be another early test for Sark and his team, as Trojan fans are still bitter about last season's 62-41 blowout loss.
But because USC returns a stellar defense and an offense with enough pieces to be formidable, the Trojans should be able to take this one. It'll be a good game, but one where USC comes away with the W.
Prediction: USC 45, Arizona State 38
Oct. 11: At Arizona
USC has won three of the past four against Arizona, including a closely contested 38-31 victory in 2013. But the Trojans have to travel to Tucson to face the Wildcats in 2014, where most recently the Trojans completely collapsed, losing 39-36 in baffling fashion.
No doubt Arizona fans haven't forgotten about it, while that's all USC fans want to do.
Sark will look to keep the pendulum swinging in USC's favor, but that won't come easy on the road.
Senior quarterback B.J. Denker left for the NFL after the 2013 season, which is a good thing for USC. Last season, he threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns against the Trojans. Cody Kessler had an impressive outing as well, carving out 297 yards and throwing two touchdown passes of his own.
The lack of an experienced play-caller should give the Wildcats some trouble contending with USC, which could tilt things in the Trojans' favor.
If the past few season are any indications, this is going to be another nail-biter in the desert.
Prediction: USC 35, Arizona State 28
Oct. 18: Vs. Colorado
USC faces Colorado at the midpoint of the season, and the timing couldn't be any more perfect for the Trojans. They'll have to kick it into high gear with the slate of games that follows this one, but this matchup will serve as a prime opportunity for the backups to get quality reps.
The lowly Buffaloes have been no match for the Trojans since they joined the Pac-12 in 2011, and this year will be no different.
USC hosts Colorado in the Coliseum, another aspect of the game that will work in the Trojans' favor. A win here will close out the first half of the season on a good note, and will allow USC to go into the latter half feeling confident.
And the Trojans will need it, because back-to-back road trips to Utah and Washington State await them, and those could prove to be a real challenge.
Prediction: USC 50, Colorado 21
Oct. 25: At Utah
The Trojans travel to Salt Lake City to challenge Utah in the last game of October, and this could prove to be a tough matchup for USC.
Unlike with Colorado, USC has only narrowly beaten the Utes in the three times they have clashed since Utah joined the Pac-12. The most recent time USC played there in 2012, the Trojans won by just 10 points.
Quarterback Travis Wilson elected to return for his senior year, but repeated shoulder injuries have kept him from being the stud that he once looked to be. Furthermore, the medical staff at Utah discovered a preexisting medical condition last season that sidelined him for most of 2014, so he's got a lot of ground to cover if he wants to provide a challenge to the Trojans.
It's likely that USC succeeds here once again, though the hostile road atmosphere will surely be a factor.
Prediction: USC 31, Utah 14
Nov. 1: At Washington State
Another tough contest, Washington State has the upper hand after having upset USC at home in 2013.
Beyond that, the Cougars have been no match for the Trojans, and they weren't really one for Sark and the Huskies either. Save for a 31-28 overtime loss in 2012, Washington has bested Washington State in four out of the last five games.
USC has the talent advantage here, and it should propel the Trojans to a victory in what will be another hostile environment.
Prediction: USC 35, Washington State 7
Nov. 13 (Th.): Vs. California
The Trojans absolutely routed the Golden Bears in 2013, 62-28, in another victory that helped boost USC's stock for this upcoming season.
USC will be looking for the decade sweep when they face California in November, having beaten the Golden Bears nine straight times.
Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff returns to lead Cal, and he had a pretty impressive freshman year in 2013. He threw for 3,508 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, getting 260 of those yards and three touchdowns (though a couple of them came in garbage time) against USC.
He will be even better in 2014, but there's no question that USC's defense has his—and the entire Golden Bears'—number.
USC should win this one with ease, but looking ahead to UCLA the next week could get them into some trouble if they aren't careful.
Prediction: USC 50, California 7
Nov. 22: At UCLA
These next two games are critically important to Sark, as the outcome of them will largely determine how USC fans feel about him going forward as he closes his first season as head coach. There's nothing that Trojan fans hate more than to lose to their rivals, UCLA, so they've been pretty upset these past two seasons.
The Bruins have dominated the Trojans since Jim Mora Jr. came to town, and it's important Sark stems that tide this year. UCLA is an increasingly threatening team, thanks to the efforts of rising junior quarterback Brett Hundley. He often beat USC's defense with his legs, but also found ways to exploit the Trojans' weaker secondary to UCLA's advantage.
USC travels across town to face UCLA this year, and there's no doubt this will be one of the most unfriendly atmospheres they play in all season.
At the outset, this one looks like it really could go either way, depending on how composed USC is by this point in the season. Because USC still has some pretty serious depth concerns, injuries to key players could curtail the Trojans' ability to bring home the victory this week. But if there are enough healthy, experienced bodies available, this could be one of the best rivalry matches to date between these two schools.
Prediction: USC 28, UCLA 14 (or the other way around, if we are being 100% honest)
Nov. 29: Vs. Notre Dame
Facing your rivals in back-to-back weeks is tough, and it's important that Sark and the Trojans get at least one victory out of these matchups. Like UCLA, Notre Dame has gotten over on USC the past two years, and Trojan fans are still bitter about it.
Both games have been close, and USC has ultimately handed the victory, thanks to some small mistakes, to the Fighting Irish.
Because Sark has coached at USC before, he knows exactly how important this game is, and he knows how to contend with Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish might have the upper hand quarterback-wise if former starter Everett Golson is granted the opportunity to start again, after missing the entire 2013 season because he cheated on a final exam the previous spring. He fared well against the Trojans in 2012, the year he led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship game.
That said, we also saw Notre Dame get absolutely crushed in the face of strong defensive competition, something we know USC brings to the table.
Without any compelling tape to go on of USC's new scheme and Notre Dame's look for 2014, it's hard to say how this game will go.
But because the Fighting Irish have just managed to squeak by the Trojans in the recent past, USC will have to play a mistake-free game to turn the series back in its favor.
If Sark can lead the Trojans to victory on their home field this weekend, it will send him into the offseason with lots of good vibes from Trojan fans.
Prediction: USC 14, Notre Dame 10