Football Fast Forward: USC
The Pac-12 Networks launch August 15 and will broadcast at least one game from all 12 teams in our first month of football. We can't wait -- each school's Networks debut game is previewed here, with an assist from SB Nation. See if you will get Pac-12 Networks from your TV provider by visiting the Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder. Answers to frequently asked questions are at support.pac-12.org.
For a Cal writer's perspective on this game, check out Football Fast Forward Bonus: California
Let's be clear for brevity's sake: USC expects to beat Cal. The Trojans haven't lost to the Golden Bears since 2003's triple-overtime kicking contest in Berkeley. Not to mention, in the last three meetings, 'SC has won by an average margin of 27 points.
So when Lane Kiffin and Co. host their northern division rivals at the L.A. Coliseum on Sept. 22 in the first televised conference game on Pac-12 Networks, they'll be expecting to, you know, beat Cal. But that, to be honest, is also what could trip the Trojans up. Will there be a letdown? Will they come out flat a week following their Bay Area trip to Stanford? This will be the primary question surrounding this contest because, after all, USC will be a top-five team facing a program that it's dominated for a near decade on its turf. It'll still be early in the season, week four to be precise. The hype should still be there. The talk about the "return of Troy" or "unfinished business" will hardly have subsided.
So the expectations are there.
It's also worth noting that against Jeff Tedford, who has been the Golden Bears' head coach since 2002, Pete Carroll went 7-1. And Kiffin, in two seasons, has followed up on his predecessor's success with two consecutive victories over Cal. Remember, there's familiarity for USC's third-year headman. Tedford was Kiffin's offensive coordinator while at Fresno State in the mid-to-late-'90s, and if there's any team that the Trojans' current coaching staff feels completely comfortable squaring off against, it's this one. By all accounts, this is a matchup that, on paper, favors the Trojans.
So for now, let's examine three factors that'll likely play a deciding role come Sept. 22.
Most casual observers have heard of the Trojans' receiving duo in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. But lesser known, perhaps, is Cal wideout Keenan Allen - though he might just as prolific. Allen finished with 98 receptions for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns a season ago, and against USC, he had a season-high 13 receptions for 160 yards. Should Cal prevail, it'll need a similarly strong performance from its top offensive playmaker.
If anything has served as a stumbling block for Cal in recent years against USC, it's been the turnover differential. In the teams' previous three meetings, the Golden Bears recorded a total of nine turnovers - an average of three per game - compared to just four from the Trojans, who have been much more careful when it comes to ball security. So, to come away with a road win, Cal will have to be a little less liberal with the football, particularly quarterback Zach Maynard, who had three of his passes intercepted against USC last October at AT&T Park.
The ground game
USC can score. Their list of playmakers goes on: Barkley, Woods, Lee, tailback Curtis McNeal, among others. Over the Trojans' final five games in 2011, they scored more than 220 points - an average of 45.6 points per contest. So Cal, as with many teams nationwide and in the conference, will be fronted with the challenge of slowing down that scoring machine. One possible method, though: Their own rushing attack. As has been well-documented, USC is replacing three starters from last season's defensive line in DaJohn Harris, Nick Perry and Christian Tupou, which gives Tedford even more incentive to give the ball to returning 1,000-yard rusher Isi Sofele to chew clock against an inexperienced front and keep the ball away from Barkley.
The script seems to suggest USC remains in an increasingly favorable position against Cal, but maybe the teacher (Tedford) has a trick up his sleeve against his former pupil.