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USC vs. UNLV—Top Matchups to Watch in the Opening Game

The Trojans look to start the season on a winning note, but UNLV’s sneaky offense might just surprise some folks

Notre Dame v USC Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

After enduring a winter of heartbreak, a spring of uncertainty and a summer of restlessness, Trojan football is finally back!

There is a lot of uncertainty with this team as departure of guys like Sam Darnold and Uchenna Nwosu, there are certainly many holes that needed to be filled. Kicking off the season against the UNLV Rebels, USC will have a chance to answer many lingering questions, but not they can’t fall susceptible that what appears to be surprisingly good UNLV offense. Here are the matchups that can potentially decide how USC’s first game will be settled.

Christian Rector and Armani Rogers

NCAA Football: UNLV at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2017 season where he amassed 7.5 sacks, Rector will be the focal point of USC pass-rush with lots of uncertainty. USC led college football in sacks, but with most of those players gone to the NFL, a lot of the success for the front-seven will be reliant on the development of Rector. Whether or not he can get to and rattle Rogers will prove to be one of the more important battles of the game. More prone to run the football than to throw it, Armani Rogers finished 2017 with 780 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 146 attempts (only 43 less than his passing attempts). Rogers has great speed for a QB his size, 6’4”, 225 lbs. and he uses his large frame to stiff arm would-be tacklers and lower his shoulder to gain extra yardage. Rogers moving out of the pocket isn’t going to be surprising, it’s whether Rector can stop hi from doing any damage on the ground.

Cameron Smith and Lexington Thomas

NCAA Football: Utah State at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Smith returning for his senior season was a much needed for a Trojan defense that saw an exodus of talent leave for the draft. Battling through injuries last season, Smith preserved and captained this Trojan defense as he once again led the team in tackles. As far as opening games go, Smith will have his hands full right out of the gates trying to keep up with truly one of the slippery players in college football— running back Lexington Thomas. Standing a diminutive 5’9” and 175 pounds, Smith racked up over 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground as arguably UNLV’s best offensive weapon. Surprisingly powerful, Thomas has a knack for evading defenders and turning up the jets in a hurry for a breakaway score. For USC team plagued with missed tackles last season, it’ll be curious is surefire tackler Smith will be able to keep his hands on Thomas.

USC Offensive Line vs. UNLV Defensive Line

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be completely honest with you all, USC’s offensive is most likely going to always be included in these matchup pieces. Easily the team’s weakest unit from a year ago, the bevy of injuries and lack of paying time as a unit still makes the Trojans far from a sure thing on the offensive line. There is no shortage of talent on this line from stalwart and former five-star recruit Toa Lobendahn to incoming top 2018 center recruit Justin Dedich, but this line has yet to prove itself. UNLV defensive tackles Nick Dehdashtian and Salanoa-Alo Wily are 300-pound behemoths who will prove quite the challenge for this Trojan offensive line. With a true freshman in JT Daniels starting for the Trojans, consistent pressure up the middle will disrupt his rhythm in the pocket and ultimately trouble. If USC can show unity and progression as unit, it’ll be the best sign to start the season.