… Marqise Lee handles the limelight. Last season Lee snatched two catches, 63 yards and a touchdown against Syracuse. It was his score as a Trojan and he’ll need more to help his team best Syracuse. Two catches won’t cut it, and it’s unlikely that the Orange will be able to hold him to that in any case (not with Robert Woods demanding his own attention). This Orange secondary gave up three passing touchdowns to Northwestern receivers and will be much more tested by Matt Barkley and USC’s air attack, which torched them for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns last year. However, Lee had a couple drops against Hawaii that could have yielded big gains. If he eliminates those mistakes and has another has a big game, it won’t be close.
… the Trojan defense can hold Ryan Nassib. The Syracuse quarterback put up impressive numbers against the Northwestern defense, finishing with 482 yards and four touchdowns. If damage can be done against USC’s bend-but-don’t-break defense, it’s through the air. Nassib is a veteran who will likely have some success moving the ball, however, Northwestern is not exactly the model when it comes to pass defense and there’s no reason to believe TJ McDonald and company can’t present more of a challenge. Still, with the explosive USC offense setting the pace, it doesn’t matter if Nassib gets another 400 yards passing. If the Trojan defense can force turnovers and prevent touchdowns, they’ll put Matt Barkley, Lee and Woods in a position to put the Orange away.
… the USC offensive line asserts themselves. If there was a negative to be picked out from the Hawaii victory it was that the Trojans failed to establish much of a running game. The offensive line had a sub par game in that regard and against a much more capable Syracuse defensive line it’s unlikely to get any easier. What’s more, this defensive unit will pose more of a threat rushing the quarterback – last year they ranked 28th in the nation in sacks, so the task of protecting Barkley will be more difficult. The good news is that last year the Trojan O-line ranked second in the nation in sacks allowed and has returned four of the five starters from that squad. USC also produced a thousand-yard rusher behind that offensive line in Curtis McNeal, so it’s not unthinkable to assume that the big guys up front will figure things out. If the offensive line can put in a performance like last year, there shouldn’t be an issue.
… being jumped in the AP poll lit a fire under the Trojans. When you’re the top dog and media darling, it can be tough to keep the competitive edge necessary to run the table. Complacency was the fear with this Trojan team, lauded as the best in the nation as the season began, hence the team motto: “Prep not hype.” However, things have changed since the beginning of week one and there’s a new top dog. After a 39-point victory, USC was demoted to second place behind the Alabama Crimson Tide and in the motivation category that’s great news for the Trojans. If playing at MetLife Stadium wasn’t enough to get men of Troy pumped up to play, then proving to the nation that they truly are the best should be all the motivation they need.