A tough road ahead for the Trojans

It’s easy to see why USC comes into this college football season as the No. 1 team in the nation but there are several stumbling blocks on the road to a national championship. This week we take a look at five key concerns for the Trojans.

USC’s schedule this season is an interesting double-edged sword. It isn’t particularly hard (the Trojans start with non-conference games against Hawaii and Syracuse) and two of their biggest games (Oregon and Notre Dame) are at home. But the problem is they start the season with four of their first six games and five of their eight games on the road.

When November rolls around, USC will have only played three home games through the first two months of the season. If they can survive those first eight games unscathed they won’t have to travel again as they play for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. They finish the season with three home games and one more at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. They would also host the Pac-12 Championship game if they finish with the best record in the conference.

USC will have three Top 25 opponents in Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame on their schedule. Stanford is the only one they will have to face on the road, but even though the Cardinal are without Andrew Luck, USC has never fared well in their first conference road game. They are 1-3 over the last four years and 5-8 over the past 13 years. USC has also lost its last three games against Stanford.

Another difficult game that might not get as much national attention is the Oct. 13 game at Washington. USC has lost two of its last three games against the Huskies since former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian took over as the head coach and this will be Lane Kiffin’s first trip to Seattle to face his old friend. Pete Carroll, who will be coaching the Seahawks at home the next day, is expected to be in attendance. No one knows Kiffin better than Sarkisian as the two spent so much time together working on the offensive game plan at USC that some within the program nicknamed the duo “Sarkiffian.”

Perhaps the toughest road game will be USC’s Thursday night game against Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Normally coaches stay clear of talking about games outside of their season opener but during Pac-12 media day Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that Oct. 4 game against USC could, “very well be the biggest home game in school history.” It has all the makings of being one of those Thursday night games in Corvallis that USC has never fared well in.

It will be key in these road games for USC’s “bend but don’t break” defense to not give up big plays, which can make an already loud home crowd deafening. Stopping such plays has been a problem under Monte Kiffin. The Trojans have allowed 389 plays to gain 10 yards or more, including 284 10-plus yard passing plays the last two seasons. Only Tulsa has allowed more completions of 10-plus yards than USC over that time. USC, however, has only allowed 35 of its 389 yard 10-yard plays to go for touchdowns, resulting in their 24.6 points per game. If USC can hold opponents to around that point average this season, their offense should be able to make sure USC gets through this schedule unscathed.