Trojan football faces most difficult schedule in nation

first_imgWith the opening game of the 2016 football season against defending champion Alabama less than a month away, the Trojans must prepare for not only their tough season opener, but also the most difficult schedule in the nation. Additionally on the schedule for the Trojans are eight of the 10 Pac-12 teams who made a bowl game last season.Ranked 17th in the preseason USA TODAY Coaches’ Poll, USC will not have easy games early in the season with three of their first four games coming in road games against Alabama, Stanford and Utah.The Trojans may put up a solid fight with the Tide as Alabama loses star running back and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Derrick Henry. This could put a serious strain on the Tide’s emphasis on a run-the-ball offense, forcing the new quarterback, likely Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett, to throw the ball.The key for a USC victory in the opener is to be able to break through the offensive line and put pressure on the quarterback while covering senior Alabama tight end O.J. Howard.“We want to keep defenses off balance by being balanced offensively,” head coach Clay Helton said. “We believe we have the personnel to run the ball effectively and physically and to be explosive in the passing game. At the end of the day, though, we know that we must be able to run the ball and not turn it over.”In the weeks to follow, the Trojans can expect tough road games as they play conference rivals No. 7 Stanford and Utah in weeks three and four, respectively. Again, their defense will have to control two primarily running offenses, particularly Stanford with the return of Heisman runner-up and AP Player of the Year junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who is predicted to lead the Cardinal to another strong season.Midseason, USC faces Arizona State, Colorado and Arizona, with a week eight bye. Arizona’s junior quarterback Anu Solomon, ranked fourth in the school’s passing yards history, will test the Trojans’ receiver and tight end coverage while Colorado continues to improve its pass rush defense.The final weeks, will continue to be challenging as the Trojans face Cal and No. 23 Oregon at home in weeks nine and 10 respectively before hitting the road to face No. 18 Washington and No. 24 UCLA the next two weeks before finally hosting No. 9 Notre Dame at home for a timeless non-conference matchup.The Fighting Irish have had the upper hand against the Trojans, having won the most recent matchup 41-31. Notre Dame features two quarterbacks — senior Malik Zaire and junior DeShone Kizer — on the 2016 Maxwell Award Watch List, who combine to become a  deadly duo for passing and rushing yards at quarterback. However, the Irish have lost key offensive players such as wide receiver Will Fuller, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and running back C.J. Posise.But the Trojans have the advantage over their crosstown rival, leading the series 46-31-7. The main area of concern for the Trojans is the Bruins’ defense. The 2015 season marked a free fall in UCLA’s “Linebacker U” reputation with linebacker Myles Jack out for the majority of the season due to a torn meniscus. Despite the loss, UCLA sees potential in rebuilding their defense this season with returning senior linebacker Jayon Brown, who recorded 69 tackles in the Bruins’ last seven games.Despite a formidable schedule ahead, Helton and the team are ready to tackle the challenge head on.“I, along with our coaches and players, understand where the bar is set, and we welcome the high expectations,” Helton said. “Our goal will never change here at USC. We are about winning championships and all of us will work tirelessly toward that goal.”last_img read more