USC Football 2011 Preview and Predictions: A Game by Game Breakdown
It's time to jump in with both feet as we suffer through these last couple of weeks leading up to kickoff on Sept. 3rd.
USC is cemented in the Pac-12 South but that doesn't mean there won't be the same old teams in the North knocking on the door and looking to take out the Men of Troy.
Taking an early look at the schedule, USC appears to have the advantage in nearly every game, but there is still room for analysis as the toss-ups loom.
The good news? We are in the last year of these long and painful post-season sanctions. The scholarships are due to hurt us this year and in the near future, but with an amazing offense and improved defense returning, The Trojans are looking pretty good coming into 2011.
The following slides will go game by game and try to focus on some of the non-traditional factors, outside of just X’s and O’s, as to why each game will turn out like it does.
So what are we waiting for? Lets take a look at the 2011 schedule and dream on things to come.
Sept. 3rd: Vs. the Minnesota Golden Gophers
Last Time: USC wins 32-21.
Analysis: This should be an incredibly easy win.
In reality, The Trojans took this one 32-14 last year but allowed a final touchdown with 11 seconds left on the clock.
But hey, why concentrate on the past when we're looking toward the future?
Actually, let's take one more look at the past. The Trojans haven't lost their first game since 1997 when they lost to Florida State. Even more impressive: in a majority of those victories over the last decade, USC scored 49 points or more on offense.
Revenge is always worth talking about. After all, The Trojans did whomp the Gophers on their home turf less than a year ago. Perseverance appears to be the only thing Minnesota has going for them, as the team itself is hurting bad.
Minnesota's biggest problem right now doesn't rely on the team itself so much as its leadership. With Tim Brewster being ousted after his 1-6 start in 2010 the Gophers have finally landed on a new head coach in Jerry Kill.
Kill has an impressive record (and one heck of a last name) but he always seems to need a little bit of time to get his programs going.
Kill started his career at Saginaw State in 1994, and in 1997-1998 he led them to back-to-back 9-2 campaigns.
After going 11-11 for two years at Emporia State he landed at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2001. By 2004 he took them to a 9-0 record.
I think you can see a pattern starting to form.
In 2007 Kill moved to Northern Illinois University but it wasn't until 2010 that he led the team to a 10-3 record before accepting the job at Minnesota.
It takes Jerry Kill an average of about 3 seasons to get things going for his football program and I don't see that being different for him this year.
He's moving to a new place and getting used to playing with a new system in a new conference. To be fair, eventually his methods will probably result in success. That success will not come in 2011.
And it will definitely not come against an experienced USC team in the LA Coliseum.
See you in September Jerry. Remember to drink water.
Predicted Winner: USC Wins
Sept. 10: Vs. the Utah Utes
Last Time: Utah wins 10-6.
Analysis: USC has played Utah nine times and holds the series lead with 6-3. 7 of those games were played before 1950.
So let’s face it, there's no real basis for how these teams are going to do against each other.
There is a pretty interesting factor, however, that could play a major role in this game's outcome. Utah QB, Jordan Wynn, had surgery to repair an injured shoulder late last year.
Wynn had the surgery in December and there is an estimated 6 months recovery time for this type of shoulder surgery.
Although the link above places him "throwing full speed" around last June, don't be surprised if Wynn is a little rusty as Utah starts gearing up for the regular season. Jordan Wynn has been Utah's lifeblood for some time now, so it will be interesting to see if we can get him at his best by September.
The only way we can try to compare these two conference foes is by analyzing their shared game from last year: Notre Dame.
I hate to even mention the ND game, and I'm sure you hate being reminded of it, but some good could come out of this. You know, kind of.
Utah went into Notre Dame and got destroyed 28-3 by The Irish which is a lot worse than we fared. Although we lost, we lost with style, keeping it close until the end of the game. And in all honesty USC should have won that game, but we’ll get to that later.
So what does that mean? It means that last year’s Utah offense/defense was probably worse than ours. And that's a pretty exciting point to make if you really think about it.
The Utah offense has potential to get a kick start since this offseason as they acquired the former Trojans/Bruins Offensive Coordinator in Norm Chow to take over the play-calling duties for the Utes offense. Norm wasn’t exactly scoring 35 points a game with UCLA, so the chances of him helping Utah to any drastic offensive improvements are pretty unlikely.
USC's offense this coming year is outstanding. We finally have the talent and experience to really destroy opponents.
But a big question mark remains on our defense. How much better are the training camps now that we are finally tackling each other? Are we going to allow for the huge plays we let go last year? And will we finally get back to that physical nature that USC is known and feared for?
Our offense should destroy The Utes as the Trojans give a big Pac-12 welcome to our mountain-made friends. But ultimately it will be up to our defense to seal the deal.
Prediction: USC Wins
Sept. 17th: Vs. the Syracuse Orange
Last Time: USC wins 34-16.
Analysis: Three home games in a row? You shouldn't have.
We have to remember that we've only played the Orange twice, and back then they were still called the Orangemen. Are you, however, going to give up the chance at heckling the Syracuse visitors pre-game with "You know we're 2-0 against you right? Going on 3-0 tonight baby!"
I didn't think so.
The Orange are generally pretty bi-polar on wins and losses, but most 8-5 teams are.
Last year Syracuse was a one-trick pony, flashing Delone Carter every chance they got. This monster RB finished off the year with 198 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Syracuse bowl victory over equally bi-polar Kansas St.
The good news? Delone Carter is all sorts of graduated.
That leaves the starting RB duties to one of the Orange's two sophomores or the likely choice in senior Antwon Bailey.
Now, how were the Trojans at stopping the run last year anyway? That's right; we were mighty bi-polar ourselves.
This is nothing short of a huge advantage for the Trojans. They'll be working on a third straight home appearance and will be coming off likely victories over Minnesota and Utah.
Syracuse isn't going to be as easy as playing a I-AA team (or “FCS” for you pretentious folks out there) but they'll be pretty darn easy.
Quick Fact: USC has never played a non-Division I-A opponent. Ever. As of right now they are the only Division I football team to be able to say that. While the rest of the teams tack on FCS weaklings to improve their BCS chances, USC manages to only add I-A competition to their schedule.
Syracuse does have a returning Senior QB in Ryan Nassib, but his 56% completion rating, 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns don't look as impressive when you have Matt Barkley sitting on the other sideline.
This one should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway.
Prediction: USC Wins
Sept. 24th: At the Arizona St. Sun Devils
Last Time: USC wins 34-33
Analysis: *PHEW!* that...was...close.
It seems like every year there is some sort of epic quality to the annual USC vs. A-State battle. In the last six years we have seen games with scores such as 34-33, 14-9, 28-0, 44-24, 28-21, and 38-28.
That breaks down into the following pattern: Close, Close, Trounce, Trounce, Close, Close. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out what’s going to happen this year. The Trojans should go into to Tempe this year and wipe the floor with our pitchfork wielding foes.
That's not to say Arizona State hasn't gotten very good any fighting us at our own game. They have been consistently good at defending the pass-heavy West Coast Offense, picking off Matt Barkley twice this last year.
In fact, although I've taken the tongue-in-cheek stance that USC is going to mow over desert Devils, most sports pundits are calling for Arizona State to be the second best team in the Pac-12 South this year (behind the obvious choice for #1; USC).
And to add a little bit of insult to injury, they dominated us in this last game in the swing and screen pass department. They ended up with almost 300 yards through the air and 2 touchdowns passes that had a whole lot of YAC attached to them.
The big problem for the Devils lies with their borderline out-of-a-job head coach in Dennis Erickson. Dennis Erickson was meant to win multiple Pac-10 Titles by now after finishing the 2007 season with a 10-3 record. The Sun Devils have yet to see a winning season since then.
In fact, just recently a former ASU Wide Receiver (the teams previous leading WR) discussed how if the Sun Devils are going to try for the Pac-12 title this year, they'll need another man to fill Dennis Erickson's sopping wet and disappointing shoes.
While Arizona State has been a more than worthy foe in the past few years combined with their twelve solid recruits that will eventually help them in the coming seasons, 2011 is just not looking promising for an ASU victory in the desert.
Prediction: USC Wins
Oct. 1st: Vs. the Arizona Wildcats
Last Time: USC wins 24-21
Analysis: Another close call from another desert school.
The Arizona Wildcats stand to be another big threat to USC during the 2011 season. While everyone is busy breathing their sigh of relief from last year’s game, it's time to bring up that Nick Foles is coming back to once again challenge our sketchy secondary.
Foles put up over 350 passing yards on our team last time and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. One of his favorite targets in Terrance Miller (TE), who caught for 116 yards in the latest bout, also stands to make a return.
So does the Trojans D have what it takes to stop this massive air attack? As Sarah Palin would say: "You Betcha!"
In fact, this year's secondary is coming in about 400% more experienced than last year.
The reason the Trojans D let go of such huge plays through the air and allowed such giant holes on the ground in 2010 was due to massive inexperience. The defense was full of young freshmen and sophomores with a few upper class men scattered here and there to help fill some much needed leadership roles.
Well the student-athletes have become the teacher-athletes.
With an entire season of experience under their belt, this Trojans defense looks to be the strongest and meanest since Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews were on the same team.
And I'm not just talking linebackers: T.J. McDonald should be one of the best safeties in the Pac-12 this coming year. And while ol' McDonald might not have a plethora of seniors to help back him up, the seasoned juniors and sophomores with in-game experience are going to help make this USC defense as fast and scary as any in the country.
Not to mention at this point USC will be riding on a 4-game win streak with no signs of slowing down. Sorry Arizona fans, but 2011 is not going to be the year you want to travel to Los Angeles.
The weather in early October is looking gloomy at best and there's a good chance of a big Cardinal and Gold storm coming down on you.
Prediction: USC Wins
Oct. 13th: At the California Golden Bears
Last Time: USC wins 48-14
Analysis: It's not easy being Jeff Tedford.
For a long time, in a world where only victories over the Trojans counted for anything in the Pac-10, Jeff Tedford was king.
Where everyone else consistently failed game-in and game-out to beat the Trojans from September of 2003 to the BCS championship game in January of 2006, Jeff Tedford could continuously claim "I did it."
"I, Jeff Tedford, was the last man to take down the mighty football beast that is the USC Trojans."
It's been a long time since 2003, Jeff.
Only twice since that triple-overtime fluke has Jeff Tedford come within one touchdown of a victory over the Trojans. That means that a majority of the time that Jeff has had to face the likes of Pete Carroll or Lane Kiffin (and on occasion, both), USC has dominated every facet of the game.
We have 7 straight wins against the Bears, which ties for second longest in the history of the series.
If that's not enough, Cal isn't exactly pulling in home field advantage this year even though the game takes place in Northern California.
While Memorial Stadium undergoes renovations, the Golden Bears are moving across the Bay Bridge to AT&T Park (home of the MLB World Champion San Francisco Giants) for the 2011 season.
This is good news for the Trojans. Although Cal won the Emerald Bowl (now the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) there in 2008, USC came in the next year to with against Boston College in 2009.
Not only are the Trojans going to be familiar with the field, they are going to have a player returning at EVERY position that played on that Emerald Bowl Championship team. Every position except kicker, which would scare me if I thought this game were going to be decided by a field goal. Which I don’t.
Now Jeff Tedford might be ready by Oct. 13th, but as of right now there is a lot of hoping that junior QB Zach Maynard can get the job done for The Bears this year. His mix between run and pass has the ability to trip up a couple of opponents, but it's doubtful USC is going to be one of them.
Whatever happens to the Cal quarterback, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that USC is about to extend its win streak on the Bears from 7 to 8.
Prediction: USC Wins
Oct. 22nd: At the Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Time: USC loses 20-16
Analysis: It’s the game everybody has been dreading to remember.
It took weeks for the nightmares to stop, months for the memories to start fading away, and will take a lifetime to forget the feelings of losing to one of our most hated enemies.
The Irish got lucky, really lucky, and are going to try to prove it again as we roll into South Bend at the end of October.
It pains me to put down one of our hard working Trojans but Mitch Mustain was not ready for this game.
Now I like Mustain. In fact, I really like him. I even made a case for him to get a chance at the starting job last pre-season.
Mustain is a winner. He won in High School (a lot) and at Arkansas (a lot) until he was inexplicably benched and eventually he decided to transfer to USC. The problem is throwing a backup quarterback into a high tense rivalry game with no prior starting experience and expecting him to play well.
It’s not a stretch of anyone’s imagination to assume that Barkley would have fared a little better than 170 yards and an interception on the day.
As long as Matt can stay healthy over the first half of the season, there is no telling how badly we are going to hurt Notre Dame on their home turf.
It’s time to do what we should have done last year and then return the Jeweled Shillelagh to its rightful place at Heritage Hall.
Prediction: USC Wins
Oct. 29th: Vs. the Stanford Cardinal
Last Time: USC loses 37-35
Analysis: It’s time to put an end to The Cardinal.
They’ve upset us, they’ve crushed us, and last year they squeaked out an undeserved victory.
There’s no doubt about it that ever since Jim Harbaugh rolled into town, the nerds from the north seem to consistently have the upper hand. A big part of beating us has relied on Stanford’s explosive offense, which relied on the mastery of Stanford’s Offensive Coordinator David Shaw.
The good news? Harbaugh is gone. The bad news? Shaw is the new Head Coach.
But then the good news comes back. As most fans know, being a Head Coach in college isn’t like being a Head Coach at any other level of football.
In the NFL, for example, the Head Coach is able to disseminate the heavy lifting of offense and defense to his assistant and position coaches. He is also lucky enough to have a front office to help out with things like preparing for draft day. This gives the coach plenty of time to plan for and prepare strategy for each week’s game.
NFL clubhouses are a village of people that are great and working with each other.
Don’t get me wrong, both levels are beyond full time work, but the difference comes down to the type of work being done. In college football the Head Coach is stretched extremely thin with keeping track of how the offense/defense is doing, keeping up with player grades, preparing for weekly games, scouting and recruiting during the season, and the list goes on.
In order to be able to focus as much attention as possible to one thing (strategizing and winning games), the Head Coach needs to take an NFL approach and be able hand off duties to his coordinators and assistants. Jim Harbaugh is an offensive genius, but he still relied on Shaw every once in awhile to do the play calling while he took to other matters. This is where the good news comes back for USC.
David Shaw is now the Head Coach, which makes way for Stanford to start with a new Offensive Coordinator in Pep Hamilton.
For those of you unfamiliar with Pep, he has been an Offensive Coordinator one other time, and that was at Howard University from 1999-2001. After that he spent some time in the NFL, most notably as the Quarterbacks coach for the 49ers (2006) and the Chicago Bears (2007-2009).
Now look at those dates very carefully and try to remember who exactly he was coaching. That’s right, Pep Hamilton was directly responsible for the NFL QBs Alex Smith and Rex Grossman. You might remember Rex as one of the few QBs to ever have a 0.00 QB rating in an NFL playoff game.
Now we don’t want to downplay the Stanford offense too much. Andrew Luck still exists. The issue for this team is that they’ve lost their two main receivers, most of the O-Line, two-thirds of the D-Line, and their absolutely amazing Defensive Coordinator. This makes Stanford ripe for the picking this Halloween.
With the inconsistencies and introduction in the coaching staff along with the huge amount of players lost in this off-season, there doesn’t appear to be anyway USC will lose this thing.
But keep your fingers crossed, because we said the same thing in 2007.
Prediction: USC Wins
Nov. 4th: At the Colorado Buffaloes
Last Time: USC wins 40-3
Analysis: Speaking of coaching changes, The Buffs have a doozy.
Fresh out of the NFL, Jon Embree is about to embark on a journey nearly no man wants to attempt.
He has to take a below-average to terrible team and make them an above-average to good team. And The Buffaloes aren’t just bad, they are HISTORICALLY bad.
The last bowl win for The Buffs was in 2004 after a 7-5 regular season. Their last notable season was a 9-3 regular finish in 2002 which ended with a bowl loss to Wisconsin.
It’s even debatable that they won the only National Title to their name. In 1990 it is widely accepted that the 11-0-1 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are the real champions over the 11-1-1 Buffaloes.
If you’re a rookie head coach for a Division I football team, this isn’t exactly the team you were hoping to land in.
And that’s not the best part. Jon Embry has vowed to install a pro-style offense at Colorado, which is a lot harder than it sounds. And it’s even harder when you’re trying to implement it with the Colorado Buffaloes.
There’s a pretty high probability that the result of this year’s game will be similar to the USC-Colorado game from 2002. Our offense is amazing and our defense is ready to step up and start taking out its aggression on noticeably weaker schools.
There’s no point in painting a pretty picture here. USC is going to absolutely destroy Colorado.
Nov. 12th: Vs. the Washington Huskies
Last Time: USC loses 32-31
Analysis: It’s like Stanford but on a more personal level.
Now I don’t know about you, but I like Steve Sarkisian. I think he is an excellent head coach and want him to do nothing but good with his career up at UW.
In saying that, I would also like to mention my dream of absolutely destroying him in The Coliseum this year.
Sark was a Trojan, and he grabbed our Defensive Coordinator in Nick Holt when he decided to leave for bigger and better thing just a few short years ago. It’s like Washington has started transforming itself into our little Trojan brother with its sights set on killing its older kin.
The Sarkmeister has beaten us both times that this team has been under his charge, and it’s time to finally stop the bleeding.
Luckily for us, Jake Locker is getting ready to make his name in the NFL. That means he will not be using his talents to once again embarrass the Trojans on their home turf.
Now this isn’t to say we need to completely count the Huskies out. Their RB and WR corps are both very strong and their defense is only looking slightly shakier than ours. That defense also includes the possible loss of their starting CB Quinton Richardson who had a couple of big and crucial plays for the Huskies last year.
Does all of this mean we have to start yet another mini-rivalry with our Pac-12 brethren in the Pacific Northwest? Definitely not.
I believe when history looks back on the USC vs. Steve Sarkisian’s Huskies rivalry it will show games filled with great football as well as mutual respect.
But the biggest story for the year, as far as the Huskies are concerned, is how to fill the big void left by Jake Locker. Keith Price is the planned starter for 2011, but he was also hand-picked by a now jobless Tyrone Willingham.
Oh, I’m sorry, are we going with “retired”? Okay, a now “retired” Tyrone Willingham.
Price is going to have to step up big and start making his impact early on. Our goal will be to knock #17 to the ground which will depend on how #17 handles the beginning of the 2011 season.
But let’s make sure this game stays intense as well as civil. Even if some of our former coaches are resorting to slightly more childish antics.
Prediction: USC Wins
Nov. 19th: At the Oregon Ducks
Last Time: USC loses 53-32
Analysis: Judgment Day will come in November this year.
It has been a long and painful road for the Trojans vs. the Beaver State. Since USC lost in Corvallis to Oregon State in 2006, it’s been a downhill slide against both of the Oregon teams.
And Oregon is not looking too shabby this year either. Oregon, like USC, has gotten to the point where they no longer rebuild, they reload. And 2011 is no different.
LaMichael James is obviously the biggest threat, with his co-star in Darron Thomas coming back as well.
The Ducks aren’t going away anytime soon, and like a lot of teams on USC’s schedule they stand to put a big gold and green brick wall in the path of the Trojans resurfacing to the Pac-12 Elite.
Luckily for USC, Oregon is hurting as bad as we can hope for Oregon to hurt. That means there are some key holes on both sides of the ball for Oregon that we can try our hardest to exploit.
Ed Dickson, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis are all gone. This means Lavasier Tuinei has to step up and be Oregon’s go to guy while the unproven freshmen and sophomores on the team learn Chip Kelly’s blur offense.
The defense is looking even worse than the offense with only a few solid starters going into the season.
Anthony Gildon will start for the Ducks at cornerback with no clear #2 on the depth chart since Cliff Harris is indefinitely suspended. And the linebackers are probably the Ducks’ weakest unit with both Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger graduating last year.
This is good news for the Trojans, who will have an offense to be reckoned with going into 2011.
By the time we get to the Ducks near the end of the season both teams will have a lot of practice under their belt. Oregon’s shaky defense will have time to work out its kinks and the Trojans offense will have plenty of time to find out what’s working and what’s not.
So the big question mark is the defense for USC.
We’ve talked pretty extensively about the USC defense up to this point and how they are definitely improved, but we can’t be unrealistic in our expectations in our defensive output.
Oregon has proven game in and game out that it doesn’t matter who the players are, their offense is going to blow teams away.
LeGarrette Blount was great and LaMichael James stepped right in to take the title of greater. Jeremiah Masoli ran that offense to borderline perfection, and when he left the team for violations Darron Thomas took over without skipping a beat.
What this means is it’s going to be a lot easier for Oregon to click on offense then it will be for the Trojans to click on defense.
USC is going to have to match Oregon’s offense play for play and touchdown for touchdown in order to win this thing. Both our offenses our great and both our defenses are questionable.
So do I think USC finally has a chance to make things right and topple and Oregon team in Oregon?
Do I think that USC will do that this year?
Prediction: Oregon Wins
Nov. 26th: Vs. the UCLA Bruins
Last Time: USC wins 28-14
Analysis: Does anyone ever get tired of just completely whipping the smug nonsense out of UCLA?
I mean, I would like to be nice and neighborly except these frauds aren’t even our neighbors.
Newsflash Bruins fans: your school is located in an area called “Westwood”. Our school is in an area called “Los Angeles”. When you practically have to take a small plane to get from downtown to your school in under an hour, you don’t get to pretend that this is “your city”.
I’m glad we cleared that up.
Either way, UCLA has a few more problems than just location holding its school back from greatness.
Besides the fact that Rick Neuheisel is about to be fired faster than you can say “Bracketology”, the QB situation is still completely up in the air for the Pasadena preps.
Essentially it’s more or less decided that if Kevin Prince does well in practice all week he should be the starter for the season. So far he has met Coach Rick’s expectations the week, for whatever that’s worth, but there is still doubt about how he will do in live football games.
The QB battle is between Prince and Brehaut, and of the two Prince has had more time to consistently under-perform in live situations. That may ultimately hurt Prince throughout the season which will be good for us come game time.
Not that UCLA hasn’t been doing this off and on for the last three years, but the decision for who will be the starting QB in 2011 will be made week by week for the Bruins. Even if Prince does start the season, there’s no guarantee we will play him come December.
And that’s not the least of UCLA’s issues.
Injuries have been plaguing the team over the past few weeks, although none of them sound serious enough to keep the major players out for the season.
The D-Line, which gave up more than 100 yards to opposing RBs for the final eight games, is looking terrible at their best.
The WRs, according to a team report, are finally learning to “catch with their hands”. If that doesn’t scream trouble I don’t know what does.
The LBs look terrible, the Kickers have reportedly been abysmal in practice this whole week and the only really bright spot for the whole teams is the return of RB Jonathan Franklin with his 1,127 rushing yards from last season.
And let’s face it: If we can’t stop one guy in powder blue we probably don’t deserve the win.
I don’t see any reason to drag what will surely be an old-fashioned public flogging any longer.
Prediction: USC Wins
So what do you think?
I’ve got USC going 11-1 and challenging for the Pac-12 Championship even though, as we all hurtfully remember, we aren’t allowed to play in the championship game at the end of the season.
This is the year USC returns to the spotlight. We need to make sure the sanctions aren’t felt and we need to show all of Division I football that no matter what unjustly happens to us we aren’t going anywhere.
Are there toss-up games in there? Sure. Stanford isn’t exactly a pushover and Arizona State is favored right behind USC to win the Pac-12 South. Even if USC loses those games they would finish 9-3 with something to build on next year.
After all of that it’s going to come down to masterful convincing by our coaches and staff bring Matt Barkley back for one more season. That alone could help us get back to being National Championship contenders.
It’s going to be a great year, I can feel it Trojans fans. Fight On!
Bradley Lord is writes for Bleacher Report every-so-often and plans to kick it up a notch for 2011. He currently resides in Las Vegas, NV with his wife and two dogs. His two dogs, Hank and Spencer, are pretty much the cutest things you’ve ever seen. Message him on Bleacher Report to talk about football or request pictures of his dogs.