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USC Football: Who is the Trojans’ Toughest Opponent in 2019?

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USC’s schedule is filled with talented teams, but its toughest opponent is still pretty obvious.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans’ toughest opponent in 2019 is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and it’s not even close.

Yes, Utah and Washington are rising powers in the Pac-12, and yes Notre Dame’s last impression on the college football world was a 30-3 blowout to the eventual national champions in a College Football Playoff Semifinal game that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate.

With that being said, Notre Dame is still a very well-run football program, with an exceptional coaching staff led by head coach Brian Kelly, who also recruits exceptionally well. His recent track record of postseason performances has not been pretty, but that’s irrelevant in this discussion.

The reality is, Notre Dame is an excellent regular season team. The Fighting Irish come prepared to play every weekend, and their undefeated regular season in 2018 was no mere stroke of luck. Not to mention, the Irish have won their last 13 home games. To Kelly’s delight, this year it’s the Trojans’ turn to make the cross-country trip to South Bend for the annual battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh. Combine that with the fact that Notre Dame will suit up against Bowling Green the week prior, while USC will be coming off a bye week and two tough back-to-back Pac-12 games against the aforementioned Utah and Washington, and this could spell trouble for Clay Helton’s men.

With quarterback Ian Book returning for his senior season, the Irish will once again pose a dangerous threat to the Trojans. Notre Dame will bring back 13 of its 22 starters from last season’s 12-1 team, while the Washington Huskies have seven defensive starters coming back, along with only two offensive returners. Most importantly, Washington is looking to replace quarterback Jake Browning, who was the Huskies starter for all four of his collegiate seasons, and who recently departed the Huskies for a shot at the NFL Draft. Notre Dame will pose a greater threat to the Trojans, but the Huskies will certainly compete for the Pac-12 crown.

The Pac-12 is known for its incredible (and sometimes frustrating) parity, and this season will be no different. With Pac-12 football being as chaotic, unpredictable, and downright confusing as it has been in recent years, it seems like the Trojans can squeak out a win in their trip to Seattle if they play good football and a few things go their way. However, to get a win in South Bend, the Trojans need to play great football. Like virtually perfect. That’s the difference.

This is no knock against Utah or Washington. They’re both well coached programs who are tough to beat any given week. It just seems as if the Pac-12 isn’t on the level of the top powerhouses in the country right now. USC and Notre Dame shared a single common opponent in 2018, the Stanford Cardinal. USC looked inept for most of the game and was physically dominated on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame beat them by three touchdowns.

Like always, the Utah, Oregon, and Stanford games will be tough for the cardinal and gold, but the Washington and Notre Dame games pose tough road tests, which is why they were featured so heavily in the analysis. Will the Trojans enter these games on impressive winning streaks, or will they be looking to right the ship and save themselves from another humiliating season? Only time will tell. We’ll just have to wait and see.