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LOS ANGELES - Game day is here, and the countdown to the first Pac-12 matchup is down to just a few hours away.
USC sports reporter Aaron Fischman shares his insight of the Trojans as they prepare to take on their newest Pac-12 South Division foe, the Utah Utes, Saturday in the Coliseum.
You can read my Q/A with the Neon Tommy here.
What is the buzz around campus and the community about the matchup against the Utes?
Fischman: Everyone appears to be extremely excited about Utah's arrival. First of all, it's always great to watch two quality teams battle it out. As you well know, Utah football has experienced a tremendous amount of success in recent years. With each of these teams limping to victory in their respective openers, so much is riding on this game.
Utah would love to travel to Provo, Utah (to face their bitter rivals, the BYU Cougars) with a record of 2-0, on a high after beating USC.
USC would love to welcome the Utes to the conference by handing them a big fat loss.
Last, but certainly not least, most fans understand the historical implications surrounding the game. Utah is getting ready to play its inaugural Pac-12 game. So is USC. As storied programs, now as members of the same conference (and more specifically, the Pac-12 South), this match-up could eventually morph into a full-fledged rivalry. Only time will tell, but people here sure are excited.
In the inaugural Pac-12 season, what are Trojan fan expectations for the season?
Fischman: Well, because of NCAA penalty, the Trojans are banned from competing for the league title. With that said, the Trojan coaching staff as well as its players have worked tirelessly to improve the squad. Although, by most programs' standards an 8-5 overall, 5-4 conference record is very good, USC's is confident is can do better this season. With the exciting tandem of Barkley and Woods back together, and the defense is a little more experienced than a season ago, the Trojans truly believe they can do some major damage in the Pac-12 this season. While I can't speak for all Trojan fans, I expect a deep, competitive conference with Stanford and Oregon at the top.
What do Trojan fans know about the Utes? How familiar are they with Utah?
Fischman: Much of what Trojan fans know about the Utes comes from their postseason record, which has been nothing short of incredible. Trojan fans respect this degree of success. For some of us, it's hard to believe that the Utes have only lost one bowl game since 1996, especially considering they've made the postseason nearly every year.
What is something Utah fans should know about the game day experience in LA?
Fischman: Game-day weather figures to be in the mid-to-low 70s and partly cloudy, so the sun shouldn't be that bad. Sun-screen is always a smart choice, but for the most part, Utah fans can look forward to tremendous weather.
SC fans may heckle you, but for the most part, they are just having a good time. As long as they respect you, and you respect them, good-natured ribbing won't hurt anyone.
Utah fans, you will see a lot of red, but I'm sure you expected that.
If Coach Kiffin continues to be unsuccessful going for 2-point conversions, home fans will continue to boo, as they did in the season opener.
What has been learned about this USC team after their 19-17 win over Minnesota?
Fischman: Three main things were learned about SC after the opening win:
1) Matt Barkley and Robert Woods are capable of Heisman-like seasons. Their rapport is just out of this world.
2) USC still has a ways to go as an offensive unit, but Marc Tyler's return against Utah should help the Trojans get back to form. Tyler was the team's leading rusher last season.
3) The defense is already looking better than it did last season. If last week was any indication, this unit is very adept at getting to opposing quarterbacks.
What is the Trojans' biggest strength coming into the game?
Fischman: The Trojans' passing attack is their biggest strength. Matt Barkley's arm is strong and accurate, and he has a favorite target already. In just the first half of last week's opener against Minnesota, Barkley found sophomore Robert Woods in the endzone a whopping three times (Woods finished the day with 17 catches). Utah would be wise to pay a little extra attention to Woods until other SC receivers demand their attention.
What is the Trojans' biggest perceived weakness?
Fischman: Although it has improved in the early going, last year's Trojan secondary gave up the most passing yards of anyone in the conference, at 259.5 yards per game. It also surrendered a conference-high (or conference-low, if you will) 30 touchdowns through the air.
While the pass defense looked sharp in the first game, team discipline was a sore spot. SC was penalized eight times for a total of 75 yards. Careless personal foul penalties had a lot to do with it, as the Trojans were caught with their hands in the cookie jar on three separate occasions.
What are the keys to the game for USC to be successful?
Fischman: USC is at its best when it gives its opponents many different looks. This includes an abundance of variations of formations and play types. In order for USC to be successful, I think they'll have to run the ball better (and more often) than they did against Minnesota. A healthy rushing attack makes Matt Barkley's job a whole lot easier.
Oh yeah. If SC avoids turning the ball over, they should be in great shape to win. The Trojans have some very athletic running backs, who have not had too many collegiate carries. My advice to them: "hold on to the ball, young men."
Who do you think wins and give us a score?
Fischman: These teams appear to be fairly evenly-matched, but with USC playing at home, I give the Trojans the edge. In addition, the return of last year's leading rusher, Marc Tyler, cannot be underestimated. I'm going to say 34-24. By necessity, I think Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn will play more aggressively, but in the end, I don't think he will be able to keep up with SC's Matt Barkley. Mark this down for an incredibly entertaining game and let's do it again next year and the year after and the year after that.