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Staff Predictions: USC vs. UNLV

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The Conquest Chronicles staff share their thoughts on how USC’s season opener will go down.

Colorado v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Will:

USC v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

USC’s run defense last season ranked 66th overall in the nation and the one strength on offense that UNLV has to offer is rushing the ball.

With senior running back Lexington Thomas coming off a career-high year in yards and touchdowns, there is no question that the Running Rebels will look to give their workhorse an ample amount of carries early in the first half to create some momentum. In order for UNLV to keep this contest competitive, it’s going to look to get some points on the board on the team’s first drive. Thomas will play an integral role in helping the Rebels get off to the positive start and with the Trojans still dealing with some minor injuries that took place over Fall Camp, there’s a solid chance that UNLV will keep the game close in the first two quarters. Aside from Thomas and quarterback Armani Rogers, UNLV doesn’t exactly have the powerhouse USC has faced in previous season openers.

For that reason, the Trojans cruise to a 49-24 victory over the Rebels in true freshman quarterback JT Daniels’ debut.

Kenneth:

Arizona v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

I might be too enthusiastic.

Problem is, I think the Trojans will be too. Coming off a disappointing Cotton Bowl against Ohio State, USC will look to make a statement for the first game of the season. With a rough patch of the season ahead, and starters not fully entrenched, every player will be looking to dominate come Saturday. JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown will have a coming out party. Daniels will have over 300 yards passing and St. Brown will come just shy of 100 yards on the game. Given the relatively weaker competition, the ball will be spread around to every target, and every skill position player on offense will be given a shot at making a highlight play. The offense will come out like gangbusters, torching a porous UNLV defense that gave up seven 30 point games last season, six of them to non-Power 5 teams .

On defense, I expect the corners to be left on an island. In Armani Rogers and Lexington Thomas, UNLV boasts prolific runners at both quarterback and running back. Look for USC to stack the box and play the run, daring Rogers to make plays with his arm, rather than his legs.

The Trojans roll. 44-17

Nathan:

Stanford v USC Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Will JT Daniels live up to the hype? Will the loss of star quarterback/running back duo of Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones II severely impact the Trojans’ offense?

All these questions will be answered when the 15th ranked USC Trojans look to kick off their season with a dominate win against a non-ranked UNLV team. This however, may not be an easy accomplishment. The Trojans will start a true freshman quarterback, Daniels, a star recruit out of Mater Dei High School. While the UNLV rebels will start the 2017 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, dual threat quarterback, Armani Rogers.

As expected, both teams will come into the game with a lot of nerves. I think that the first half will be a low scoring affair with sluggish offense performances by both sides. So after a slow first half, USC’s head coach Clay Helton will offer an energetic pep talk in the locker room and the Trojans will come out into the second half with a new mind set to take total control. USC’s defense, led by Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, will contain UNLV’s senior running back Lexington Thomas and lead the Trojans to victory.

When all that said is done, Daniels will finish with three touchdown passes and become only the second ever true freshman quarterback to win USC’s season opener, leading the Trojans to a 34-14 win.

Matthew:

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Southern California vs Stanford Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

JT Daniels debut will be an interesting and exciting one to say the least, but don’t expect too much.

Finally we are here. I know many will see this as a tune up game, but don’t sleep on the UNLV backfield of quarterback Armani Rogers and running back Lexington Thomas. If they can get a few key plays and a good drive then things could get interesting. USC defense gave up 158.3 rushing yards a game last season and in some instances struggled against the run. A pair of redshirt freshmen will make their start in the secondary in safety Isiah Pola-Mao and cornerback Greg Johnson. On the offensive side of the ball true freshman Daniels has a chance to introduce himself to Trojan fans. Coaches have been high on him during camp and he has shown consistency as well. I expect Tee Martin to ease him into the playbook in an actual game.

I think this game will be respectable in the first half. UNLV will score on their first drive and have a few good drives, but come the second half we’ll see things get out of hand. The running game of the Trojans will wear down the UNLV defense in the 2nd half and the talent and depth will kick in to start the season off on a high note.

USC 45 UNLV 21

Dina:

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans have no lack of talent on their roster. With that being said I predict that the first quarter will be a nerve filled jumble fest. While the UNLV Rebels defense gave up a total of 458.7 yards last season, first game jitters will have USC’s offense slow to start for the first 15 minutes.

Running backs Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, and Vavae Malepeai will have trouble getting blocks to open up some running lanes for the first few series, though it will be short lived with Ware finding his stride and running for a career high of 150 yards and a few touchdowns to add to his collection.

The talk of USC’s offense is heralded true freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who would be playing in Mater Dei’s Friday night game against La Mirada if not for his reclassification. Once Daniels gets a few errant passes out of his system, I believe he will be able to read the Rebel defense like a fourth grade picture book and lead wide receivers Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. to two touchdowns a piece. Final yardage stat for Daniels: 250 through the air and 40 on foot.

Senior captain Porter Gustin will be back and ready to rumble, get ready for the Coliseum to shake. I predict Gustin will be flying all over the field, tying his career best of 13 tackles in a single game. Torn meniscus? Who’s she?

Gustin will be a force to be reckoned with and though UNLV Armani Rogers is the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year, the Trojan predator will sack him twice.

Final score prediction: USC starts slow but finishes with pure might in a 48-17 routing.

Kohryu:

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

This one should be a blowout from the start. Despite USC being extremely young on offense, UNLV has ranked as one of the worst defenses in all of college football the last four years. USC should have no problem scoring against an overmatched defense right from the start. Expect the run game, led by Aca’Cedric Ware, to guide the offense in JT Daniels first game.

UNLV does have a solid offense, with a good run game between quarterback Armani Rogers and running back Lexington Thomas. If USC's offense stalls early, and UNLV chews off clock with the run game, the score could end up being a lot closer than expected. But in the end, the Trojans have too much talent all around the field compared to a UNLV team that has failed to make a bowl game since the 2013 season, so UNLV controlling time of possession is unlikely.

USC 52, UNLV 13.

Jake

Pac 12 Championship - Stanford v USC Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Nearly ten years ago, USC started a true freshman quarterback from Mater Dei High School named Matt Barkley. Despite the ups and downs, most would consider his Trojan career as a success, especially considering he came in as the No. 1 ranked quarterback recruit. Fast forward to the present day, and freshman quarterback JT Daniels faces a very similar task. Daniels is the latest in a line of Mater Dei quarterbacks to don the cardinal red and gold, but will he live up to the hype?

There is no shortage of pressure on Daniels, and not just because he is a top ranked recruit starting as a true freshman. In addition to Barkley, Mater Dei also produced Matt Leinart, the former Heisman winning Trojan quarterback that nearly led USC to an unprecedented three straight BCS National Championships. He was able to claim two, and USC has yet to return to a BCS title game since then. With Daniels kicking off his college career tomorrow, there are many USC fans hoping that he can be the first quarterback since Leinart to return the university to national glory. While tomorrows game will not decide the national championship, it will certainly be an exciting start to a new era.

Prediction: USC 31 UNLV 20