Schedule analysis: USC

We're reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, now focusing on the South Division.

Up next: USC

Breakdown: seven home (five conference games), five road (four conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3 Minnesota (3-9)

Sept. 17 Syracuse (8-5)

Oct. 22 at Notre Dame (8-5)

South Division games

Sept. 10 Utah

Sept. 24 at Arizona State

Oct. 1 Arizona

Nov. 4 at Colorado

Nov. 26 UCLA

Crossover games

Oct. 13 at California

Oct. 29 Stanford

Nov. 12 Washington

Nov. 19 at Oregon

Conference misses

Oregon State

Washington State

Key stretch: It's difficult to rate a "key stretch" for a team that is ineligible for the postseason, but if you look at last season you see the Trojans faltered late, losing two of their final three games. A strong finish in 2011 would send USC into the offseason on a high note, with the postseason back in play in 2012. After playing at California on Thursday, Oct. 13, the Trojans have extra time to prepare for a visit to Notre Dame, which is the first of six consecutive weeks of games, a run that include a pair of likely high ranked foes -- Stanford and Oregon -- as well as a grudge match with Washington (the Huskies have won two in a row versus the Trojans) and rival UCLA. Those games will be the measuring stick of the 2011 season.

Trap game: In the midst of that "key stretch," is a Friday night game at Colorado. What happened a year ago at night in Corvallis?

Sure thing: As usual, USC doesn't play any patsies -- all opponents are AQ programs. But it's a good bet that the home opener versus the Golden Gophers is going to end up in the 'W' column.

Analysis: This is a typically tough USC schedule, though it (again) lacks the marquee nonconference foe of past seasons. Notre Dame is expected to be a top-25 team, so that visit to South Bend won't be easy. The bye on Oct. 8 is followed by a Thursday game, so the break won't be as long as usual. Seven home games is good, particularly spending the first three weeks at home. The crossover schedule is not: Playing Oregon and Stanford; missing Oregon State (Beavers aren't as tough on the Trojans in LA) and Washington State. The home finale against UCLA probably will have significant say in the Bruins bowl prospects as well as coach Rick Neuheisel's future. The Trojans and coach Lane Kiffin can't afford to take a step back after finishing 8-5 in 2010. But are there eight or nine wins on this schedule?