Give your initial thoughts on the 2012 USC Trojans schedule.
The Trojans' schedule for 2012 sets up nicely for a team looking to make a run at a national title.
The season opens against Hawaii in the friendly setting of the Coliseum, where Matt Barkley and company will treat the home crowd to a hopeful preview of what is to come for the rest of the year (along with welcoming an old friend in Norm Chow). After that there is a trip to New York (actually East Rutherford, N.J.) for the Syracuse game, where Barkley will be the center of attention as everyone talks about a possible return to the Big Apple in December for a certain trophy ceremony.
A road game against Stanford is a chance to settle a score with a recent rival. Even the bye week is timed well. The Trojans had a bye this season after four games and used it to work on some pretty specific red zone defense issues that paid off over the remainder of the year.
The final stretch run of the season presents an opportunity for several showcase games, all within the confines of the Los Angeles area. Oregon is up first -- enough said on that one -- and Notre Dame finishes things off. You simply aren't going to get much of a better opportunity to prove yourself to the nation if you are Barkley and the Trojans.
The schedule, I believe, was one of the quiet, unstated reasons Matt Barkley came back for his senior season. It sets up perfectly, not only for a great BCS title shot for the Trojans, but for the ideal Heisman exposure for Barkley.
Right now, USC would be favored in every game on this schedule, including the one against Oregon, which it fortunately draws at home. To close it out with Notre Dame, on a probable Saturday night national TV game from the Coliseum, is, for Barkley, like a pitch right down the middle for Albert Pujols. You couldn't ask for more.
If you're looking for possible trap games, well, at Stanford early could be deceiving, although with Andrew Luck and a couple of those great offensive linemen leaving for the NFL, it's difficult to believe the Cardinal can outscore Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and company. The one I'd watch out for is Oct. 4 at Utah, just because mid-week games on the road bring back bad memories for the Trojans (i.e. Oregon State in 2008).
Overall, though, I think this is just about a dream schedule for Barkley and Lane Kiffin.
Knowing who the Trojans have coming back and the teams that will be circled on the calendars in Heritage Hall next fall, the recently released USC football schedule has to bring a smile to the faces of Trojans players and coaches.
Nothing stands out as overly easy -- say, nonconference games against Arkansas State or Tennessee Tech -- but there also aren't any short weeks or extremely tough back-to-back road trips. I'm taking the conference opener at Stanford as a positive, considering the Trojans will be as fired up for that game as any on the schedule and the Cardinal will still be breaking in a new quarterback and probably wondering just how good they are after games against San Jose State and Duke.
After that game, let's just fast forward to November, when a phenomenal slate awaits USC. If you aren't going to get a bye week to prepare for Oregon, the spread attack of Rich Rodriguez might be the best way to spend the previous weekend. After that, it's three teams that will surely have USC's attention to close the year. The Trojans won't leave Los Angeles for their final four games, which might allow them to put the finishing touches on what could be a special season.
On the surface, you'd have to say it's a challenging schedule, with eight bowl teams and six that had seven or more wins in 2011. However, the 2012 schedule to me looks tailor-made for a run validating all the reasons for Matt Barkley's return. The first couple games against Hawaii and at Syracuse grease the schedule wheel nicely, and you have to like that Cal and at Stanford come early, especially with the Cardinal breaking in a new quarterback. October does bring road challenges at Utah, Washington, and Arizona, but the Trojans should be reasonably favored in all three of those matchups. The Trojans did draw a lucky straw with a bye between Cal and the October back-to-back road games with the Utes and the Huskies. It will give Troy a chance to mend some injuries if needed.
The month of November gives the Trojans basically four home games (UCLA is at the Rose Bowl) and the order of things has the makings of some big opportunities. Opening November with Oregon in the Coliseum is naturally a real advantage, and for purists, you have to be excited with UCLA and then Notre Dame to close out the regular season like the good old days. Yes, the Trojans couldn't ask for a more advantageous regular season schedule in 2012, providing they take it one game at a time.
I'm not sure why some think that this is an easy schedule. USC still has to play Stanford and Oregon. Granted Stanford will be without Luck, and Oregon most likely will be without LaMichael James, but both teams will still be a very real threat to the Trojans. The one game other than these two that might give the Trojans some problems is the game up in Seattle against the Huskies. I think this is a manageable schedule. However, there are quite a few teams on it that could be dangerous if the Trojans take them lightly.