Since NCAA sanctions ended a decade of dominance rarely seen in the history of college football, USC has seemingly been on the cusp of being "back" as an elite program every August. The pressure is once again building for Steve Sarkisian to get over the hump in 2015 and take the Trojans back to the top, but he will have some major challenges to get it done. Here are the five (ish) games on their schedule this season that USC has to win to truly be "back" as one of the best teams in college football.
5) @ Arizona State, September 26/Arizona, November 7
The Pac-12 South has run through the state of Arizona the last two seasons with the Sun Devils and Wildcats winning the division title. Both programs are still on the rise and played USC tough in 2014 with a four-point loss to ASU in the Coliseum and a two-point win against Arizona in Tucson. If the Trojans hope to win their first Pac-12 South Division title, they need to take care of the upstarts in the desert.
4) Stanford, September 19
While the fire of this rivalry has faded just a bit since the Carroll-Harbaugh showdown, it is still a marquee matchup in the Pac-12. Stanford's physical style of play has given the Trojans trouble in the past and they will provide a serious litmus test for USC with their matchup coming in Week 3. Losing to the Cardinal would kill any momentum the Trojans might have heading into the conference schedule and further the argument that the South is still trailing the North in Pac-12 supremacy.
3) @Notre Dame, October 17
No season would be truly a success for USC without a win over Notre Dame. The Trojans have lost two of their last three games against their biggest non-conference rival, including a 14-10 loss in 2013 the last time USC went to South Bend. Both USC and Notre Dame are historically elite programs looking to make a run at the College Football Playoff in 2015 so winning this game should be a major priority.
2) @Oregon, Novebmer 21
Perhaps no program has taken advantage of USC's recent struggles more than Oregon. When the Trojans were hammered by the NCAA, the Ducks rose to national prominence, playing in two national championship games (losing both times). To return to the elite ranks of college football, USC has to retake the Pac-12 from Oregon. Working in USC's favor is the fact that the last time the Trojans were in Autzen Stadium in 2011, they walked out with a 38-35 win.
1) UCLA, November 28
Perhaps even bigger than taking the conference back from Oregon, however, is taking back Los Angeles from UCLA. Since HAMMERING the Bruins 50-0 back in 2011, the Trojans have lost three straight to their cross-town rivals and have never beaten Jim Mora. During the height of their dominance, USC owned this rivalry and retaking the upper hand this season would be the final hurdle to the Trojans truly being "back" as the premier program on the West coast.