The weeks are counting down until fall camp begins for the USC football team the first week of August. During each of the in-between weeks, we've been offering up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began with Minnesota, continued the next three weeks with Utah, Syracuse and Arizona State, and added Arizona last week. We now present Cal, who the Trojans will face on the road on Thursday, Oct. 13:
History: USC has lost to Cal only once in the last 10 years, that memorable triple-overtime thriller at Memorial Stadium in 2003 when the Bears won 34-31. USC's current streak of seven straight wins is tied for the second-longest in the history of the matchup.
And, in the last three matchups between the two teams, the Trojans haven't just beaten the Bears -- they've dominated them. 2008 saw USC win 17-3 at the Coliseum, 2009 was a 30-3 Trojans' road victory, and 2010 was a 48-14 USC home win.
The Trojans have won just about two-thirds of the games all-time, with a record of 61-30-5, not counting the vacated 2005 road victory.
Offense: Zach Maynard won the quarterback job in the spring in a six-man competition after the much-maligned Kevin Riley graduated, and he'll be interesting to watch as a player with starting experience, but at a significantly less-challenging level.
He started for Buffalo as a sophomore in 2009 but transferred to the Bears when coach Turner Gill left to Kansas. He's a left-hander and a running threat, having carried the ball 87 times for the Bulls while totaling 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In an interesting note, Cal's top receiver, sophomore Keenan Allen, is his half-brother -- so that should make for a nice built-in connection between the two.
The Bears have another true threat at receiver in senior Marvin Jones, a Fontana native. In Jones and Allen, Cal coach Jeff Tedford has arguably the best one-two tandem of pass-catchers in the conference.
That said, the Bears have very little returning at running back with Shane Vereen gone to the NFL. Junior Isi Sofele was a capable backup to Vereen a year ago but is too small (5-7, 188 pounds) to carry the every-down load. Tedford does have two four-star freshmen coming in at running back who are expected to compete for carries right away.
Mitchell Schwartz has arguably been Cal's best offensive lineman for two years running now, but the Bears don't have much in proven quantities on the line other than Matt Summers-Gavin, a real talent who has been bothered by injuries in the past. Schwartz could play left or right tackle.
Defense: Senior linebacker Mychal Kendricks led the Bears defense in 2010 with 8.5 sacks in 2010 and could approach double-digits this season as the unit's star player. Another senior linebacker, D.J. Holt, a two-year starter, is a big player who's been stout against the run in the past.
Clancy Pendergast, the defensive coordinator, has a ton of NFL experience and is considered an innovative mind. In his first year with the Bears last season, the defense finished in the top 25 nationally in pass defense and total defense (by yardage). His unit was also 13th in the nation in sacks per game, a testimony to his ultra-aggressive mindset of playcalling.
Other players expected to thrive in 2011 include senior safety Sean Cattouse and senior defensive lineman Trevor Guyton. The secondary looks very suspect, with intriguing talent like speedy corners Steve Williams and Adrian Lee but no depth at all at corner and only one set starter at safety.
Special teams/special circumstances: There are some interesting scheduling circumstances at play here. The game's on Thursday night, which traditionally makes for a shortened week for competing teams.
Not this time, although USC retains the rest advantage because of a bye week leading up to the game, whereas Cal has a brutal away game at Oregon the prior Thursday.
As for the Bears' special-teams units, punter Bryan Anger is the class of the new Pac-12 at his position and could easily end up a 2012 NFL draft pick. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is no slouch either, possessing a strong leg with range out to the mid 50's and touchback potential on every kickoff. Both players are seniors.
Cal will have to replace Jeremy Ross at the returner spots.
That's it for this week. Next week comes a look at Notre Dame.