The USC Trojans’ football season is fast approaching, and the new-look Trojans will be sporting a fresh signal caller in 2018.
A carousel that is Matt Fink, Jack Sears, and JT Daniels will clutch the attention of Trojan fans all summer long, while also impacting the early part of their schedule.
The majority of their toughest opponents come in the opening month of the season; exactly when one of these quarterbacks will have to find his sea legs behind center. The mix has potential to make or break USC from the jump.
With that in mind, here are the three challenges in their path.
Stanford Cardinal - September 8th, Game Two
UCLA will always be the Los Angeles rivalry, but Stanford vs. USC is the PAC-12 matchup with the bad blood for the Trojans.
USC has done most of the shellacking of UCLA in recent memory, going 14-4 since 2000 against the Bruins (yes, technically two wins were vacated, but the scoreboard still gave USC a victory in both if memory serves).
Stanford has gone 10-10 over the same span, with close tug-of-wars and blowouts delt by both sides. By the very nature of the rivalry, this is the biggest alarm ringing in the ears of Trojan faithful.
Compounding the issue, USC will be a pair of short weeks into one of two quarterback scenarios:
1. The Trojans walk the path Stanford walked at the start of 2016, testing multiple quarterbacks at a time through the opening month of the season.
2. USC is only their second week into a new quarterback who is still forming into a starter.
Both scenarios find the Trojans behind the eight ball to a Stanford team that has taken the last two season to unearth their leader in K.J. Costello, giving them a big edge over a USC team that will still be finding their footing. And that all is without even mentioning Bryce Love returning, who torched USC last year for 160 yards on 17 carries.
Texas Longhorns - September 15th, Game Three
Last season, the Longhorns were not a good team. The 6-6 record was not terrible for new head coach Tom Herman but in the process, last year’s star quarterback Shane Buechele fell apart. Injury and the uninspiring play was a hallmark for both Buechele and his incumbent Sam Ehlinger.
However this team still went on the road and forced a Darnold lead Trojans into a pair of overtimes before narrowly losing by three.
Now the tables will be turned, with USC having to head south for the second rematch of the 2006 Rose Bowl. Herman will have his team at home following an offseason of selecting the Longhorns next quarterback. This will be a massive earn-your-spot game for whoever is taking snaps under center for USC.
Arizona Wildcats - September 29th, Game Five
Clearly, September may be truly unfortunate for the Trojans. Plenty of people would have placed the Utah Utes or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish here, but Arizona could cause massive problems for USC.
As illustrated well in Matthew Lowry’s article on who can challenge USC for the PAC-12 South, Arizona holds one of the best shots at knocking them off their pedestal.
Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate did his best Lamar Jackson impression from October 7 to November 4, posting at least 100 yards by air and land during the stretch.
Not only will every team struggle against Tate, USC is potentially susceptible.
Last season, USC struggled mightily defending explosive, dual-threat quarterbacks. Against Notre Dame, USC lost 49-14 as Brandon Wimbush tossed for 160 yards and ran for 106, with four total touchdowns. Tate racked up 307 total yards and three scores last time he tangled with the Trojans. J.T. Barrett won the Cotton Bowl on 180 total yards, scampering for a pair of touchdowns.
Dangerously fast quarterbacks who also possess a deep ball have burned USC before and could again this season.