Three takeaways from the Trojans’ revised football schedule

Schedule graphic for USC football in fall 2020.

Graphic of the Trojan 2020 football schedule.
Sami deNicola | Daily Trojan

The Pac-12 Conference released its 2020 football schedule Saturday, and the countdown is on: The Trojans will open the long-awaited season with a Nov. 7 matchup against Arizona State at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

USC will then hit the road to take on Arizona and Utah in Weeks 2 and 3 respectively before coming home to face Colorado and Washington State in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. The Trojans finish the regular season slate with a rivalry bout at crosstown foe UCLA. 

The seven-game conference-only schedule — rounded out by a to-be-determined matchup in Week 7, Pac-12 Championship Game or not — will be one of the most unprecedented in the history of college football. Here are some takeaways as to how it shakes out for USC at first glance. 

Week 1 will be historic, for better or for worse. It could also spell trouble for USC. 

The Trojans have been known to start slow over the last few years. Week 1 in 2016 was a 52-6 beatdown by Alabama. Week 1 in 2017 was a win over Western Michigan in a game that was tied entering the fourth quarter. Week 1 in 2018 was a win over UNLV in which USC led by 5 after three quarters. Week 1 in 2019 was a 31-23 win over Fresno State in a much closer game than it should have been, preserved by an interception with under two minutes to go as the Bulldogs threatened in the red zone.

If the Trojans come out of the gate rusty for the fifth consecutive year, Arizona State may make them pay. 

The Sun Devils arguably pose the biggest threat to USC’s Pac-12 South aspirations, and an offense led by sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels — who threw for 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions last year — could give USC fits. 

The Trojans and fellow sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis came out flying last year in Tempe, leading 28-7 after one quarter on the strength of 297 passing yards by Slovis. They slowed down from there, barely clinging onto a 5-point win as ASU outscored USC 19-3 in the final three quarters. 

Week 1 should be a similar dogfight. The Trojans can’t afford to start slow. 

The matchup will be the first FOX Big Noon Saturday game of the week in Pac-12 history, so Trojan fans will have to get up early to catch the season opener: Kickoff is set for 9 a.m.

Washington State is a disappointing Pac-12 North opponent. 

Each team is scheduled for six predetermined games in the regular season, with the last matchups still unknown (each team will play on championship weekend). In those first six, each Pac-12 school will play each team from its own division (North or South), plus one opponent from the other. In other words, USC’s Pac-12 South opponents were already set, but the one North foe was up in the air. 

USC ended up drawing Washington State, which is, to say the least, not ideal. Ideally, the Trojans would have faced a North opponent that could have provided them with an impressive win to bolster their bowl or College Football Playoff case. 

The Trojans weren’t expected to face Oregon, as that matchup is a common pick for the Pac-12 Championship Game, but USC could have landed Washington or even on-the-rise California and had a real shot to strengthen its resume. A Washington State matchup — especially at the Coliseum — doesn’t offer much for USC, limiting its chances to make an impression on voters come bowl season. 

The Cougars finished 6-7 overall last season, including 3-6 in the Pac-12. Unless Wazzu shocks college football fans early in the season, the Dec. 4 Week 5 matchup will give USC a disastrous loss at worst and an unimpressive cakewalk at best. 

A crosstown showdown in the regular season’s final week — as it should be. 

OK, technically, USC could wind up playing a regular season game against a different opponent in Week 7, should it miss out on the Pac-12 Championship. But Week 6 was the latest USC could have possibly been scheduled to take on UCLA, and that’s when the matchup will happen, bringing some sense of normalcy to this truncated season.

When the Pac-12 compiled its first conference-only schedule back in late July — before it was forced to abandon ship and put the season on hold — USC and UCLA were slated for a Week 1 contest, and while it made sense from a health and safety standpoint, it didn’t feel quite right. The Bruins have been USC’s final regular season opponent every year in the 21st century except for 2003 and 2009; now, that trend will likely continue.

The longtime rivals faced off in the regular season finale last year, with USC taking the Victory Bell back by a 17-point margin. 

Of course, the Trojans will be looking for a similar outcome in 2020. But either way, the scheduling will bring conventionality back to a season that will be far from normal.