The Trojans won't say it in so few words, but this much is clear: the team they're facing Saturday in the first-ever Pac-12 game, the Utah Utes, is a heck of lot better than the Minnesota squad they barely squeaked by last week in their season opener.
Lane Kiffin hinted at it by saying, flat-out, that his team wouldn't win Game 2 playing the same way they did in Game 1. Left tackle Matt Kalil went for the physical descriptions, saying the Utah defensive line was a "lot bigger," "a lot stronger" and a "much bigger challenge." Monte Kiffin said his defense would "really be tested" against the Utes.
It's clear that this game is USC's first real evaluation period -- win, and the Trojans will gain back some national respect they lost by beating the worst team in the Big Ten by two points. With a victory, they'll also probably find their way back into the AP Top 25, which they dropped out of this week.
But if the Trojans lose, this becomes maybe a seven-win team and one that will probably be the underdog in its first road game in three weeks in Tempe, Ariz. And Utah has the talent to make that happen, starting with experienced junior quarterback Jordan Wynn and juco transfer running back John White IV.
One thing you'll notice with the Utes: A ton of their players hail from Southern California. Wynn's from Oceanside, White IV grew up in Torrance and went to L.A. Harbor JC and left tackle John Cullen, who was recruited by USC, grew up in La Mirada. And the list goes on, with former Freshman All-American Brian Blechen hailing from Moorpark and receiver Dres Anderson a Riverside John W. North product.
That's one of the biggest advantages to this game for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. If he could get that many recruits from the area without playing in L.A., imagine how many will come to Salt Lake City once the Utes have an opportunity to plant their seed at the Coliseum.
And Whittingham, for his part, seems geeked about this opportunity. He made a point of mentioning in his weekly conference call with the media this week that he saved some stuff in his offense for the USC game, and he said his players won't be in awe of the Coliseum.
But the Trojans, the Utes' coach said, will be a tough opponent. They have team speed, he said, that "very few teams in the country have," and they utilize it well.
"One thing is evident on tape: they've got talent on their entire team," he said.
What else did Whittingham take away from the tape of the Minnesota opener? One more thing: The Trojans' passing attack was essentially an "extension of the run game," he said. Matt Barkley's short passes to Robert Woods were low-risk and quick and he knows his Utes will have a hard time stopping them.
"They get a lot of mileage out of those plays," said Whittingham, whose offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, called a lot of short passes in their opener too. "They did great with it."