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USC-Syracuse Preview: What To Watch For

Sep 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) takes the snap against the Hawaii Warriors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) takes the snap against the Hawaii Warriors at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Quarterback Matt Barkley passed on an opportunity to play in the NFL.

He'll get a chance to play in an NFL stadium this weekend, though, as No. 2 USC travels to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. to face Syracuse.

For the second consecutive year, the Trojans square off against the Orange. Last season, Barkley led USC to a 38-17 victory over Syracuse at the Coliseum, torching the Orange secondary for 324 passing yards and tying a then-school record with five touchdown passes.

During Monday's Big East teleconference call, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone wasn't shy about expressing his feelings about Barkley returning for another season.

"I was one of a couple people that was hoping he'd go on to the NFL," Marrone said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm happy he's back."

The Syracuse secondary will also have to deal with USC's talented wide receiving duo in junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee.

Lee earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after notching 10 receptions for 197 yards and a touchdown, along with returning a punt 100 yards for another score against the Warriors last weekend.

Though much has been noted about the Trojans' offense, Syracuse's offense is no slouch, either. Fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Nassib broke a couple program records last weekend against Northwestern, completing 45 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns. Despite his performance, the Orange still lost 42-41. But they were without top wide receiver Alec Lemon, who notched a school record 68 receptions last year.

With Nassib at the helm of Syracuse's prolific passing attack, the Trojans' will certainly have a tall task on the road.

Here are five burning questions to watch as USC takes on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium.

1. Can USC's other cornerback step up?

Other than USC's defensive line, its other weak spot in the defense has to be the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey. Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham and Kevin Seymour all were challenged and Hawai'i found some success throwing the ball wherever Robey wasn't occupied. Torin Harris, who started four games last season before missing the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, is expected to play on Saturday. Nassib's performance in Week 1 has been noted above, and if Lemon plays, then Syracuse's passing attack becomes much more lethal. Will the other cornerback be effective enough to contain Syracuse's wide receivers on the outside?

2. Will the Trojans be able to generate enough pressure on Nassib?

USC did record four sacks against Nassib last year, but only forced one turnover. As noted in our Q&A with Sean Keeley of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, Nassib struggled with decision-making in the pocket last year. In the Orange's seven losses, he totaled eight interceptions. In their wins? Nassib totaled just one. He did throw one pick against Northwestern, but that was out of 65 passing attempts. If USC can get to Nassib as they did last week against Hawai'i's Sean Schroeder, then it will relieve a lot of pressure off the Trojans' secondary.

3. Is Dion Bailey 100 percent?

Bailey was seen leaving the locker room on crutches after the Hawai'i game, according to Michael Lev of the OC Register.

If Bailey cannot go, coach Lane Kiffin and his staff still have to be pleased with the play of redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao, who filled in for Bailey and recorded four tackles and one sack. If Bailey is unable to go again, Sarao will likely step into the weakside linebacker spot again, with Hayes Pullard manning the middle.

4. What is the status of both Wes Horton and Lamar Dawson?

Horton didn't play a single snap in the home season opener against Hawai'i. Instead, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin started in place of Horton and notched five tackles and one sack. Along with Breslin, Kiffin rotated in redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr. and freshman Leonard Williams along the defensive line. As for Dawson, Sarao started in his place, but as noted before the Hawai'i game, Dawson was slated to start. He ended up not playing, though. Both Horton and Dawson did miss time in fall camp, but either their injuries are more serious or USC is just trying to be cautious.

5. Can USC establish a consistent run game?

Curtis McNeal recorded just five carries for 10 yards, while Silas Redd had nine carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. For Redd, though, 31 of those yards came via his touchdown run. Take that away and both co-starters combined for just 35 yards on 13 carries. D.J. Morgan logged seven carries for 25 yards, but he just underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. As noted in the our preview before the Hawai'i game, this will be an interesting development to watch as the season progresses. It is paramount that the Trojans develop a consistent ground game to complement their passing attack.

USC-Syracuse kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be televised live on ABC.

Follow Trevor on Twitter @Trevor_Wong.