Our game-by-game preview of the 2016 Oregon Ducks football schedule is nearing a conclusion as we enter November with the first of four final games of the season. On Saturday November 5, the Ducks head to Southern California for a stern test with the Trojans of USC.
The Trojans actually won the Pac-12 South title last season, but it was more from deficiencies of others rather than USC dominating the conference. 6-3 in the Pac-12 and 8-6 overall was enough to grab a crown for the mediocrely inconsistent Trojans. But, the men of Troy were a dismal 1-5 against ranked opponents last season.
Cody Kessler has since left the program, but for his short time in So Cal he was somebody the coaching staff trusted. For that, Kessler rewarded them with six conference wins before his ascension to the next level. Overall, USC scored a middle-of-the-pack 475 total points for the season, averaging 33.9 points per game.
For the USC Trojans to be successful in college football, they need a steadfast running back that can carry the load alongside a quarterback that has the potential to be great. Unfortunately for the Souther Cal faithful, those criteria barriers have been few and far between over the last few years.
Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and many others have had the honor of leading the Trojans out onto the field on Saturday. Yet, this season USC will venture into unchartered territory with inexperience at the signal caller position. However, that may be the only position on the USC offense that isn’t swarmed with talent.
NEW COWBOY IN TOWN:
Head coach Clay Helton certainly has his work cut out for him entering 2016. Nevertheless, the program has always had plenty of talent to work with, therefore his job has already been made easier just by signing on with the Trojans.
Much of the Pac-12 conference this season is waged in quarterback battles, namely the Ducks, California, Arizona State and now Southern California. Replacing a three-year starter is no easy task, especially when the next in line refuses to grab the opening decisively.
Entering the season, junior Max Browne was presumed to overtake the quarterback position but a mediocre spring has left the underclassmen without a major. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold has made a strong push this offseason and quite possibly could be the starting quarterback with mass upside come September.
WHEN USC IS ON DEFENSE:
Clancy Pendergast has taken over as defensive coordinator and it could not be welcomed more by those in Trojan circles. Pendergast led the charge of the 2013 USC defensive unit and is looking forward to bringing the heat moreover in 2016.
A truly meaningful rehabilitation is that of linebacker Cameron Smith. He is a next level playmaker that will be the center of the USC defense come November when Oregon strolls into town. Yet, he is still in recovery mode so there is still a great deal of ground to make up before the season gets underway.
The USC defensive front four has been a major concern in the land of Troy. Losing defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow in March due to an ACL tear was a devastating blow for a defense that lacked great depth at most of their tier positions. A great deal of pressure is already being placed on young guns Noah Jefferson, Rasheem Green and Jacob Daniel to shine almost immediately.
WHO TO WATCH:
JuJu Smith-Schuster certainly made a name for himself last season with little talent around him. The superstar future National Football League flanker went off to the tune of 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 total touchdowns, including an incredible 16.3 yards per catch. No matter who is under center, JuJu is going to get loose early and often.
It will be incredibly interesting to see how Cameron Smith responds to his ACL surgery from March. It seems like just a short time ago he was under the knife, and now he is recovering at a ridiculous rate, setting him up for a huge junior year come kick-off. Smith is not only the best talent on the defense, but he is also their leader.
No Kessler, no problem? Not so fast Oregon, especially at the LA Memorial Coliseum in Southern California. Last season was a cake walk for the Ducks, cruising to a 20-point 48-28 victory in Eugene.
Yet, this season will not be nearly as easy as the Trojans are extremely difficult at home, evidenced by their 5-2 record at the LA Memorial Coliseum in 2015. However, Oregon will still come out victorious as they will cling to a 27-24 slugfest win in Cali. Buckle your seatbelt for a fist fight amidst two teams relying on their running game to milk the clock.