The Trojans take part in an exciting opening weekend of college football as they take on the defending national champion and No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. Though there are some questions on the defensive line for the No. 20 Trojans, the offense is expected to be a thrill to watch.
Former Gatorade High School Player of the Year, redshirt junior Max Browne, leads the Trojan offense this year after receiving the nod to secure the starting quarterback position just over a week ago. Though Browne has minimal experience playing during the season, many, including teammates and coaches, have confidence that Browne can lead them to a more favorable season than last year. Browne is not only more mobile than his predecessor Cody Kessler, but has the ability to throw the ball deep down the field, something both Browne and the receiving core will look to exploit against the Alabama secondary.
Junior JuJu Smith-Schuster had a phenomenal season last year with 89 catches for a team-best 1,454 yards despite not being completely healthy. Smith-Schuster broke his hand against Cal, had surgery two days later and then completed the entire rest of the season. He is considered to be a legitimate contender for the Biletnikoff Award this season.
With the national spotlight on the preseason All-American candidate, it will be the responsibility of the other receivers to step up and contribute to the offense. Senior Darreus Rogers and redshirt junior Steven Mitchell Jr. must step into their roles as leaders this season.
Mitchell averaged 9.1 yards per catch last season but needs to expand his ability to be a threat down the field and force the defense to play honest.
Rogers has talent and great hands as a receiver who averaged 10.3 yards per catch last season but needs to take advantage of the single coverage Smith-Schuster’s presence on the field creates. If Rogers can step up on third down through plays he has shown capable of making, USC will be substantially more effective, especially in the red-zone.
Last season the Trojan offensive line was considered suspect, though it was an injury-plagued year. Regardless of reasoning, last season the offensive line allowed 38 total sacks — one of the highest in the country. This season, with so many players earning valuable experience last season, the offensive line is expected to be one of the most talented in the country.
At Friday’s press conference, Helton quickly pointed to the offensive line when asked what advantages the Trojans have going into the season,
“Three junior guards and three backups being juniors — it just feels like a lot of experience on the offensive line.”
The improvement on the offensive line will benefit an already talented backfield composed of senior tailback Justin Davis and sophomore tailback Ronald Jones II. Last season the Trojans rushed an average of 168 yards per game and look to increase the number exponentially this season. With improvements to the offensive line and experience and health on Davis and Jones’ side, they will look to test the talented Alabama defensive front.
The Trojans are a 10-point underdog going into the game. However, they have a chance to truly compete if the offense plays to the level they are able to. The game kicks off at 5:00 p.m. PST Saturday on ABC at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.