- Date: Saturday, October 7th
- Time: TBD
- Location: L.A. Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles, CA)
- TV Coverage: TBD
After a 1-3 start to the 2016 football season, the University of Southern California Trojans were in disarray. They were outclassed and outgunned by Alabama in a humiliating 52-6 blowout loss to open the season. And, although they won handily the next week against Utah State, they followed that up with dispiriting performances against Stanford and Utah as they tumbled from the Top-25.
Although few would have predicted it at the time, the October 1st game against Arizona State marked a turning point in the season. Starting that week, with a 41-20 thrashing of the Sun Devils, USC reeled off nine consecutive wins—including a defining triumph on November 12th in Seattle, as the Trojans upset the undefeated Huskies on their home turf, 26-13.
Following their victory against Washington, the Trojan’s kept rolling with big wins against crosstown rival UCLA and cross-country rival Notre Dame—setting up a traditional Rose Bowl matchup with Penn State.
If you missed this game, do yourself a favor and go back and watch it. USC stormed back from 17 down in the 4th quarter, to steal one from the Nittany Lions, 52-49. I can’t do the game justice here. Just go find it, and watch it.
So, taking a step back for a moment—what changed? What enabled the Trojans to improve from struggling 1-3 also-rans to arguably the best team in the country that doesn’t rhyme with Balarama or, uh, Lemcson?
Two(ish) words: Quarterback Sam Darnold.
Now that we’ve all watched the Rose Bowl—wait, you haven’t? Even after what I said above? Stop reading. Go back. Watch it. At least the highlights.
You’ll thank me.
Ahem. Now that we’ve all watched the Rose Bowl, you know most of what you need to know about Darnold. When he’s good: he’s as good as anyone. He’s a quarterback in the old-school gunslinger mode—more Brett Favre than Joe Montana.
He’s going to go number one in next year’s NFL draft. And he’s going to make a lot of teams look really, painfully, bad before he does.
But it’s not all rainbows and cupcakes with Darnold. There are some warts to his game. Remember the Brett Favre comp? You get the bad with the good with that. Darnold threw six picks over a four-game span last year. That’s too many for a team likely to be ranked in the Top Five to start the season.
The good news for USC is that Darnold was a freshman last year. That means some of those mistakes may not happen this year. He’s had an extra year in the system. The game will have—God help us—slowed down for him.
The other good news for USC is that they seem to have finally stumbled onto a head coach who can get them back to—near, at least—where they were under Pete Carroll. Clay Helton is not the flashiest, sexiest, coach in the game. That’s okay. USC will provide the sizzle, if he brings the steak.
The bad news for USC is what they’ve got to replace. They lost a lot of talent at the offensive skill positions—particularly at wide receiver—and on the defensive side of the ball. We’ll go into more depth in our full 2017 preview later in the year, as we see who begins to emerge for the Trojans. For now, though, with all the good comes some question marks for the Trojans. When all is said and done, they may or may not have a soft underbelly, but if they do, I’d look for it on the defensive side of the ball.
What To Expect
With that in mind, any success that Oregon State has against the Trojans is likely to start, as will so often be the case this year, with the ground game. Although USC needs to improve their pass rush, Oregon State may be a year or two out from having the kind of air attack needed to exploit any extra time they get against the Trojan DBs.
On the other side of the ball, Darnold will look to exploit a rebuilt Beaver secondary. If Oregon State can pressure him (not impossible against a patchwork, if talented, USC line), they may be able to limit him to underneath throws and slow the bleeding, particularly if no true deep threat emerges in USC’s fall camp.
In this scenario, the Beavers have a puncher’s chance—especially with the addition of a potential gamebreaker like Thomas Tyner to the backfield. If the game was played in the cold, damp, October of Corvallis, Oregon, you might convince me. In the L.A. Coliseum, though, where the Beavers’ have traditionally struggled, it’s a real long shot.
Look for the Beaver’s to keep it close for a half or so with a balanced running attack, before the USC passing game asserts itself.
Prediction: Oregon State 24 , USC 41