The jerseys may say Utah State, the conference might align in the Mountain West, but USC players and coaches understand that nothing about this team smells an easy non-conference victory.
"I don't think people have any clue how good this team really is," head coach Lane Kiffin said about his next opponent on the schedule, the 2-1 Utah State Aggies. "Look no further than the Utah game last year"
In that contest last season, Utah State pulled out the 27-20 OT victory, thanks in large part to a 301-yard performance breaking a 12-year losing streak against their in-state rivals. Following that performance, the underdog squad traveled to Big-10 Champion Wisconsin and lost in the closing seconds by missing a game-tying FG in regulation.
"Your concern always in a game like this is your players not understanding how good the other team is," Kiffin warned, after evaluating the film on a club that has won 18 of their last 22 games.
With an all-important match up in Pac-12 play looming off in the distance on the road at Arizona State, the Trojans are working to maintain focus to close out the three-game home stand in grand fashion. Coming off three-straight seasons with near monumental upsets, Utah State will certainly catch the Trojans eye with their impressive pedigree.
"I think it's the case of reality versus perception," said Kiffin while stacking up his odds for this weekend, adding "If you watch Utah State on film there are some really good players, and they are coached really well."
The Aggies come in with plenty of momentum following their 70-point offensive fiesta against Weber State, and will have their hands full with the top-ten ranked USC defense in seemingly every defensive category. In what could ultimately make or break this heavyweight battle, the Trojans are gearing up for some fast paced football.
"We show em how good these things are, scoreboard from other games," Kiffin said about his intense preparation for facing Utah State. "They see great players, guys who play their tails off, and these are very talented group of players."
While the biggest challenge surfaces around containing quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the Trojans are not taking the tempo and style of play that will be fired their way Saturday afternoon rather lightly.
"They've started really fast," Kiffin said about watching first-year head coach Matt Well's offense on film. "You look at first quarter scoring last year, this is a team that's really started games fast."
Following their best victory of the season last week against Boston College, the Trojans now shift their sights to an identity-defining game that could help rectify this program back into the national conversation. A challenge that stems on both sides of the ball, not just for the Trojans elite defense that rides top-ten rankings all across the field.