The USC Trojans were 8-5 in 2010 (finishing third in the Pac-10), but only three plays and a Stanford time clock operator from an 11-2 season.
Not bad for a team with a new coaching staff and only 71 scholarship players after NCAA sanctions allowed junior/senior players to transfer without sitting out a year.
The Trojans had the eighth-toughest schedule in the nation according to the highly respected Sagarin ratings, and that included seven road games.
In spite of the harshest NCAA sanctions since the 1987 SMU death penalty, Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff realized a top-four recruiting class with 30 new athletes for the Trojans in 2011.
No other college has had this success after similar NCAA sanctions and it reflects the top academics, football tradition, NFL pipeline status, location, and the hard work of the USC coaching staff.
USC is now poised for its best season since 2008, although the Trojans may not be allowed to play in the Pac-12 championship or bowl game if the NCAA appeal is denied as expected.
If USC can achieve a 9-3 season or better, then the stage will be set for a possible national championship run in 2012 when there is no bowl sanction.
But will the schedule cooperate?
USC's revamped 2011 football schedule incorporates revisions made to accommodate the expanded Pac-12 Conference.
As a member of the Pac-12 South division, the Trojans will play every Pac-12 South opponent in 2011, as well as Pac-12 North foes California, Stanford, Oregon and Washington. USC will not face Pac-12 North teams Oregon State and Washington State in 2011.
The Trojans play the first three games of 2011 at home and seven home games.
USC spring practice begins March 22 and concludes with the spring game on April 23 at the Coliseum.
Here's a game-by-game look at what lies ahead for the USC Trojans.
P.S. Rick McMahan published an excellent article on the five USC road games this season including travel information.
Here are changes made by USC to improve the game day experience courtesy of Michael Lev of the OCR.
Eskridge DeLeon and T.J. McDonald
When: September 3
Time: 12:30 p.m. PT (ABC)
Noteworthy: The Gophers played well against USC in 2010, losing only 32-21 early in the season. Minnesota finished the season with a 27-24 upset over then-No. 24 Iowa Hawkeyes. This is a great way to start the season against a Big Ten team with a new coach. This should be a good opportunity for the Trojans to show their talent especially on defense, although the new OL may limit the offensive production in early games.
When: September 10
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT (Versus)
Opponent's 2010 record: 10-3, including a 26-3 Maaco Bowl loss to Boise State.
Noteworthy: This is the first Pac-12 game, and Utah is one of two new teams. It will be an early test for both teams. This could be a matchup between good quarterbacks, Utah’s Jordan Wynn and USC’s Matt Barkley. Wynn had shoulder surgery and will miss spring practice. It will also be an opportunity to showcase the USC receivers and the USC defense to show an improvement against the pass. The Utes may have to change to a new offensive system because new coordinator Norm Chow prefers a pro-style scheme over the hybrid version of the spread under coach Kyle Whittingham. The defensive secondary also has to be rebuilt. Utah has a huge schedule advantage over other teams because they do not play Oregon or Stanford. So, all they need to do is knock off USC and ASU and they are in the "Pac-11" championship game.
When: September 17
Time: 5:00 p.m. PT (FX)
Opponent's 2010 record: 8-5, including a 36-34 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Kansas State.
Noteworthy: Once a power in college football, Syracuse has fallen on hard times in recent years. New coach Doug Marrone led an improved team in 2010, getting to a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Syracuse also played USC in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in 1990.
P.S. Due to the ridiculous denial of the USC appeal by the NCAA, there is a possibility that this game could be moved to December 10 (the last day for a regular season football game) and played in a location like Shanghai, China. The Trojans have been deprived of the opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship or bowl games, so Pat Haden has said they are looking into other ways to reward the team who weren't at USC when any violations occurred.
When: September 24
Where: Tempe, AZ
Time: 7:15 p.m. PT (ESPN/ESPN2)
Noteworthy: Arizona State lost four games in 2010 by four points or less including to Wisconsin (No. 11 at the time), Oregon State, USC and Stanford (No. 6 at the time). The USC game was a thriller for Trojan fans because USC picked up a two-point return and a field goal to hang on for a 34-33 win. The Sun Devils are expected to battle USC for the South Division’s best record. Arizona State must continue to make progress at quarterback. Senior Steven Threet will miss spring practice due to concussions last season, and junior Brock Osweiler started the last two games of 2010, both wins. The Sun Devils need to be more physical with their rushing attack. USC needs to play very physical and take the fans out of the game to win this one.
When: October 1
Time: 12:30 p.m. PT on Fox Sports Net
Opponent's 2010 record: 7-6, including a 36-10 Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
Noteworthy: USC just beat the Wildcats 24-21 in Tucson in 2010 after recovering an onside kick in the last minute. Arizona lost its last five games in 2010 after winning seven of the first eight, including against Iowa (No. 9 at the time). However, quarterback Nick Foles decided to return for his senior year and that will create headaches for the USC defense. The Wildcats have to rebuild their offensive line with four new starters. USC has to replace three starters. Arizona needs two new starting ends and two safeties. This is a "trap" game where the Trojans have to defend the Coliseum.
When: October 13 (Thursday)
Where: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Time: 6:00 p.m. PT (ESPN and ESPN 3D)
Noteworthy: This is the first-ever Bay Area "mid-weeker" due to ESPN TV at the baseball stadium where 42,000 tickets and hotel rooms will be expensive and difficult to get. Cal had a disappointing 2010 season, losing four of the last five games. USC had its best game against the Golden Bears, leading 42-0 at halftime before subbing most of the second half. The Bears have to improve play at quarterback, come up with a pecking order at tailback, rebuild the defensive line, and find two new starters at LB and in the secondary.
P.S. If the San Francisco Giants make the playoffs and do well this game could be moved to another location.
When: October 21
Where: South Bend, IN
Time: 4:30 p.m. PT (NBC)
Opponent's 2010 record: 8-5 including a 33-17 Hyundai Bowl win over the Miami Hurricanes
Noteworthy: Notre Dame snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Trojans last November in one of the worst games that USC played all season. Both teams will be improved but don’t expect the Trojans to play poorly again. For many fans this is a bowl game, and there is no question that the Trojan ticket allotment (and then some) will be sold out. Scalpers are already asking well over $1,000 per ticket. The 7:30pm ET kickoff is a first for this game in South Bend.
P.S. Here is the likely reason that Notre Dame changed the time of the game to 7:30pm ET. The Notre Dame contract with Comcast/NBC is for six home games and one neutral site game a year. Rumors are that Notre Dame was having trouble getting BCS conference schools to play in South Bend unless it was a home and home arrangement. After September all BCS schools are in conference play. So, Notre Dame and Comcast/NBC agreed that moving the USC game to Saturday night would result in three times the viewing audience than going against SEC, Big-12 and Big Ten afternoon conference games. In return for the time change, Comcast/NBC agreed to reduce number of home games to five plus the neutral site each year of the remaining contract. The USC at Notre Dame Saturday night trend will likely continue through the current contract.
When: October 29
Time: 5:00 p.m. PT (ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)
Opponent's 2010 record: 12-1, including a 40-12 Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Noteworthy: Stanford had almost a perfect season in 2010 losing only to Oregon after a big lead in the first half. Of course, it took a Stanford employee clock operator to generate enough extra time for the Cardinal to kick the game-winning field goal over USC in the last second. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers and took three coaches. However, quarterback Andrew Luck passed up about $50M from the NFL to return for his junior year. The Cardinal have to rebuild an offensive line that lost three starters. The defensive line, linebacker and cornerback need some tweaking. This is the battle of the Andrew Luck-Matt Barkley top NFL Draft prospect quarterbacks. Both teams will be fired up for this game!
When: November 4 (Friday)
Where: Boulder, CO
Time: 6:00 p.m. PT (ESPN2 and ESPN 3D)
Noteworthy: Colorado is likely to have a rocky 2011 in the Pac-12. The Buffs need to improve to get back to their glory days including an AP national championship in 1990. Colorado has to adapt to new coach Jon Embree's system. They bring back two stars in QB Tyler Hansen and RB Rodney Stewart, but it is a stretch to get them to learn the new system and improve from 2010. They lost both starters at CB and that could be a problem with the Pac-12 quarterbacks. ESPN got its way and moved this game up one day and make it more difficult for Trojan fans to attend. Weather good be an issue for this game.
When: November 12
Where: Home (USC Homecoming)
Time: 12:45 p.m. PT (FX)
Opponent's 2010 record: 7-6, including a 19-7 Holiday Bowl win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Noteworthy: Washington has to replace quarterback Jake Locker, who helped beat USC 32-31 and finished with a great game against Nebraska. USC has been upset by Washington the past two seasons. The Huskies also have to restock at LB after losing a lot of talent and experience. UW gets to play USC for the second year in a row at the Coliseum but expect USC to defend the home field much better this time.
When: November 19
Where: Eugene, OR
Time: The game time is dependent on Oregon vs. Stanford result on Nov. 12. Ducks win: 5:00 p.m. PT kickoff. Ducks lose: 7:15 pm PT (ABC).
Opponent's 2010 record: 12-1, including a 22-19 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game loss to the Auburn Tigers.
Noteworthy: USC was leading in the third quarter against Oregon in 2010 when everything fell apart on the way to a 53-32 loss with only 71 scholarship players. This was the Trojans' third loss to Oregon in the last four years. Oregon is the Pac-12 favorite. This will be USC’s toughest game, especially since it's in Eugene and the weather will favor the Ducks. The offensive line needs to replace four senior linemen with three vacant spots. This is the key to their fast-paced, high-scoring offense. The Ducks also need a new go-to receiver to replace Jeff Maehl. There will be five new starters in the defensive front seven, and tackle could be a problem spot. Do not expect the much deeper USC to tire out in the second half in this game.
When: November 26
Time: 7:00 p.m. PT on FSN
Noteworthy: UCLA had an up and mostly down season in 2010. Upset wins over Houston (No. 23 at the time), Texas (No. 7 at the time) and Oregon State were highlights. Everything else was not so good. The current turnover in coaching staff and poor recruiting for 2011 does not bode well for the Bruins. UCLA must develop an offensive identity after averaging 20.1 points per game to rank 104th last season. The passing attack was awful and the Bruins pass defense was among the most porous in the country. UCLA's defense will be better this season but still will have trouble containing the Trojan offense. The much improved Trojan defense will contain the Bruin offense though.
When: December 3
Where: Home site of the division champion with the best overall conference record
Noteworthy: First-ever "Pac-11" conference championship game since USC is excluded due to the NCAA. The Pac-12 championship will start in 2012 and this time the Trojans will not only be eligible but favored to win it.