Going into 2012 as the No. 1 team in the country, USC was expected to win a national title and even go undefeated. Now, following a 7-6 debacle and a flare out in the Sun Bowl, the Trojans have a different sort of expectations going into 2013. How many games should the Trojans be expected to win in Lane Kiffin’s fourth year? We sat down for a roundtable.
Matthew Moreno: Without knowing who will be the starting quarterback, I still believe USC manages to win 11 games this season (not counting a possible Pac-12 championship game or bowl game). Maybe I’m reaching, but the schedule sets up favorably for them as their first four games are all very winnable. Like in 2011, they’re first big test will come on the road against Arizona State on September 28. I think they’ll end up going 3-2 in their tougher games (@ ASU, @ ND, @ OSU, vs. STAN, vs. UCLA). After an appearance in the National Championship game last season I know some may consider a win over Notre Dame a long shot, but the Irish will presumably be playing with Tommy Rees at quarterback and he’s had his fair share of troubles. Lane Kiffin and the coaching staff seem intent on returning to physical football and dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. This should bode well in trying to upset the likes of Stanford and rectifying the troubles that the Trojans have had in Corvallis.
Michael Castillo: I honestly can see this season playing out a lot like 2011 in ways, and Matthew is onto something with the tiers of difficulty. Given USC’s history in Pac-12 road openers, it’s safe to assume that the Trojans will struggle at Arizona State in Week 5. Taking into account how good ASU is, and it’s easy to see that it’s going to be an extremely difficult game for the Trojans in a hostile environment, while playing a BCS-caliber defense. And the next week, USC hosts Arizona on a Thursday night. A split in those games wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Trojans and is perhaps likely. Trips to Notre Dame and Oregon State won’t be much easier. Then there’s the home games to rivals Stanford and UCLA. I think that the Trojans take advantage of a somewhat manageable schedule, drop the automatic Pac-12 opener to ASU, lose to Stanford or UCLA at home and will falter in Corvalis, while beating Notre Dame. Ten wins and a trip to the Holiday Bowl seem possible, but there are tough games against Washington State, Utah State, and even a late November trip to Boulder that could be more difficult than they appear.
Alicia De Artola: I can see USC realistically winning ten games this year. Looking at the schedule, the Trojans have a shot to enter the October 19th game against Notre Dame at 6-0. It is hard to gauge where the Irish will stand at that point and a win is not out of the question. The trap game before then is against ASU in USC’s Pac-12 road opener, a game that has traditionally presented problems. Oregon State on a Friday night in Corvalis to start November also has red flags all over it. It would be a major upset to topple Stanford, though the game will be at the Coliseum. UCLA will be another major test at home, with that game likely poised to send either team to the Pac-12 championship game. The key for USC going into this season is seeing if the revamped coaching staff will have the desired effect. The additions of Mike Summers, who has brought a much needed toughness to the offensive line, and Clancy Pendergast, whose aggressive 5-2 defense should get more out of the athletes USC has, could put the Trojans well beyond where they struggled in 2012. Ultimately, I think USC will lose to one of ASU and OSU, one of Notre Dame and UCLA, with the third total loss coming against Stanford. A tricky game at Cal the week before Stanford could drop the win total to nine.
Josh Webb: I think this Trojan team is capable of winning 8-10 games, depending on who runs the offense. I think the defense will anchor this team and they will function a lot like the Buckeyes or Irish did last year. Defense is going to win this team a couple games Whether it’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler, there are too many weapons on this team for them not to be in full stride by the time the season winds down. For all the drama surrounding the position, both of these guys are four-star guys. Trojans will start rolling as the season continues, but don’t expect a miracle season.