USC vs. Western Michigan Gameday Guide: Matchups, links, odds and more

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Head Clay Helton of the USC Trojans leads his team on the field for the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irishat the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2016. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Head Clay Helton of the USC Trojans leads his team on the field for the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irishat the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2016. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

No. 4 USC vs. Western Michigan

LA Coliseum | Los Angeles, CA2:15 p.m. Pacific | Pac-12 NetworkAll-time Series: 0-0Last meeting: N/A

Nine months after a spectacular comeback victory against Penn State in the Rose Bowl, Sam Darnold and the USC Trojans will finally be back in action on Saturday when they take on the Western Michigan Broncos.

USC vs. Western Michigan offers up some tasty story lines despite lacking a marquee place on the opening weekend of the 2017 college football season.

The Trojans enter the season ranked No. 4 in the nation with expectations as high as they could be. Darnold is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Head coach Clay Helton is seeking legitimacy after guiding USC to their first Rose Bowl victory since Pete Carroll’s in 2009. And the Trojan defense is looking take the next step from promising to elite in Year 2 under Clancy Pendergast.

On the other side of the equation, the Broncos are in transition. Despite a program-record 13 wins in 2016, the departure of head coach P.J. Fleck and a host of other key figures has the 2017 WMU squad on uneven footing heading into the new season.

Can USC live up to expectations and take care of an upset-minded opponent at the Coliseum?

Or will new head coach Tim Lester, a Western Michigan alum and former Syracuse and Purdue assistant, have enough tricks up his sleeve to spoil the Trojans day?

The answers are coming down the line.

Game Day Links:

Preview Podcast:

The game preview episode for USC vs. Western Michigan features co-hosts Michael Castillo and Alicia de Artola breaking down the match up between the Broncos and Trojans. As a bonus, the RoT Crew welcomes Robin Hook, the longtime radio voice of WMU, for the inside scoop on the Broncos.

LISTEN: USC vs Western Michigan Preview

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USC Injury Report:

  • Out for season: LB Tayler Katoa (knee), CB Jonathan Lockett (hip), S Isaiah Pola-Mao (shoulder)
  • Out: LB Matt Bayle (undisclosed), OLB Hunter Echols (hip), DL Liam Jimmons (ankle), OT Nathan Smith (knee), OL Alijah Vera-Tucker (hamstring)
  • Doubtful: WR Michael Pittman (ankle), WR Keyshawn “Pie” Young (hamstring)
  • Questionable:  CB Isaiah Langley (quad)
  • Limited: CB Je’Quari Godfrey (knee), TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe (hip)
  • Suspended: LB Cameron Smith (1st half)

Western Michigan Injury Report:

  • Out for the season: N/A
  • Out: N/A
  • Questionable: DL Steven Clark (eligibility)
  • Probable: N/A

When USC has the ball…

The Trojans will field a veteran lineup on offense, but questions remain at wide receiver and along the offensive line.

After losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler and Damien Mama to the NFL, USC will turn to upperclassmen like Steven Mitchell, Jalen Greene, Chuma Edoga, Toa Lobendahn and Chris Brown to keep the Trojans trending upwards on offense.

With Darnold at quarterback, USC is sure to field a dynamic offense, while running back Ronald Jones II may be the most underappreciated star running back in the country.

Across from them, the Broncos will look to exacerbate an early-season lack of sharpness with an aggressive defensive scheme designed to make the quarterback’s life difficult.

A trio of three senior returning starters at linebacker headline the Western Michigan defense, including Robert Spillane, whose talents include tackling, sacking and intercepting in equal measure.

While there are gaps to fill on the defensive line, particularly at nose tackle and defensive end, the Broncos return nearly their entire secondary, most notably cornerback Darius Phillips, whose three interception returns for touchdowns last year set a MAC record.

Click here for a more in-depth look at how the WMU defense matches up with USC.

Projected WMU Defense

LE Antonio Balabani #58

DT Andre Turner #5

NT Nick Matich #55

RE Eric Assoua #33

WLB Robert Spillane #10

MLB Caleb Bailey #8

SLB Asantay Brown #6

CB Darius Phillips #4

FS Davontae Ginwright #9

SS Justin Tranquill #2

CB Obbie Jackson #24

When Western Michigan has the ball…

The unenviable job of replacing a WMU program legend in quarterback Zach Terrell falls to Jon Wassink, who will be making his first career start for the Broncos on Saturday.

Wassink has a touch of Kirk Cousins to his game, but his ability to keep calm under pressure could be the key to the game with Trojan outside linebackers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu ready to announce themselves on the national scene.

Western Michigan is also replacing nearly the entirety of their potent receiving corps from last year, including No. 5 overall draft pick Corey Davis. New and inexperienced starters D’Wayne Eskridge, Keishawn Watson and Anton Curtis will face a baptism by fire going against two former five-star cornerbacks, Iman Marshall and Jack Jones.

The one area the Broncos have no worries is running back, where the “three-headed monster” Jarvion Franklin, Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy will be called upon to take pressure off Wassink and the WMU passing attack. Trojan middle linebacker Cameron Smith’s first half suspension because a targeting ejection during the 2017 Rose Bowl could give Western Michigan a slight edge early in the contest.

Click here for a more in-depth look at the WMU offense and how the Trojans can stop it.

Projected WMU Offense

WR Anton Curtis #2

WR Keishawn Watson #13

LT Chukwuma Okorafor #77

LG Curtis Doyle #67

C John Keenoy #52

RG Luke Juriga #59

RT Zach Novoselsky $75

TE Donnie Ernsberger #85

WR D’Wayne Eskridge #7

QB Jon Wassink #16

RB Jarvion Franklin 31

Odds (USC -27):

The Trojans enter the game against Western Michigan as a significant favorite. Sports Book Review gives USC a 27-point advantage over the Broncos.

If the Trojans managed to cover that line, it would be their biggest win at the Coliseum since besting Utah State by 38 last year.