Although the two teams aren't scheduled to play each other, according to Pick Six Previews the Trojans and the Ducks will meet in Levi's Stadium on December 5th for the Pac-12 Championship game. That's right, while every other major website and publication is picking the crosstown rival, Pick Six Previews has picked USC to win the South division.
Why does this matter? It really doesn't. At the end of the day it's what happens on the field on Saturday that matters, not what some guys at a desk with a computer and a website think. But for all the Trojan fans eagerly awaiting the clock to strike 4:30 p.m. on August 30th, they can look at this as a good sign of what's to come.
Last August, while every other major publication was contemplating which L.A. team would win the South, Pick Six predicted Arizona State to rise as the victor, and they finished with a perfect Pac-12 South bracket.
The Trojans lost several key players from their roster, including 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee, they're undergoing a coaching change, and their depth is still suffering from the hit they took by the NCAA. So how in the world are they going to come out on top in a tight South division race?
When evaluating a team, most people look to the quarterback first. The offense lives or dies on the performance of the man behind center.
This is where USC takes a hit from most people. Cody Kessler is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in the Pac-12, there's no denying that. In a conference that features Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley, and Taylor Kelly, players like Kessler are going to be out-shined by the other stars.
However, Kessler is by far the conference's most underrated quarterback. He quietly threw for 2,968 yards last season, with 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. People tend to forget he wasn't named the outright starter until week three or that he had to undergo a midseason coaching change as a first-year starter. With a year of experience under his belt and some stable ground underneath him, the redshirt junior is primed for a breakout season.
However, the weight of the offense isn't resting on Kessler's shoulders. It's the running backs that have to carry that weight for the Trojans. Luckily for USC, running back isn't a position where depth is any concern.
Last August, Buck Allen entered the season with no one talking about him, and many not even knowing his name. This year is a little different. The 2013 MVP is on everyone's watch list for national awards. In addition to Allen, a healthy Tre Madden and Justin Davis make the USC running back trio one of the deadliest in the country.
Defense wins championships, and new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has a defense capable of doing just that. Led by arguably the best defensive player in college football in defensive lineman Leonard Williams, the Trojan front seven will be one of the best in the nation. The defense ranked in the top twenty nationally last season, and Wilcox's 3-4 scheme will improve its ability to slow spread offenses and bring the defense into the top five.
USC is a team loaded with talent on both sides of the ball capable of winning the Pac-12 South. However, the Trojans are a fragile team. Depth is still a major concern, and just a couple injuries could transform a team in shape to win ten or eleven games into one with four or five losses.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff will have to prepare for the season with caution as not to lose anyone else to injury, something that has slowly built up over the course of training camp.