Top five games to look out for on USC’s 2021 schedule

Kedon Slovis holding a ball in his right hand in a game against UCLA.
Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis has 47 passing touchdowns and is averaging just over 300 passing yards per game in his first 18 games at USC. (Daily Trojan file photo)

USC football’s schedule for the 2021 season was announced Tuesday, featuring a 12-game campaign that has the Trojans set to play nine conference games and three non-conference games. The Trojans are coming off one of their more promising seasons in recent memory, just one win away from being Pac-12 champions and having an outside shot at a College Football Playoff spot. Looking forward, here are some of the most important matchups USC will face in its quest for its first conference championship since the 2017-2018 season.

Oct. 2, Week 5 at Colorado 

USC and Colorado didn’t end up facing each other during the 2020 season because of coronavirus complications, but the matchup was set to be very influential in determining the Pac-12 South champion. The Buffaloes definitely have the offensive firepower to put up a fight against any opponent next season. Their running game was strong in 2020, with sophomore running back Jarek Broussard rushing for about 162 yards per game. The Trojans only had one game last season where they allowed under 100 rushing yards, so they’ll need to make improvements in the run game before this matchup.

Since Colorado is a Pac-12 South team, a win over the Buffaloes would be an extra boost toward USC’s conference championship game aspirations. 

Oct. 23, Week 7 at Notre Dame 

This rivalry game didn’t take place last season because of the Pac-12’s abbreviated, conference-only schedule. Since 2000, USC has enjoyed an edge in this matchup, but Notre Dame has won the last three times the teams have met. The Fighting Irish are fresh off of yet another College Football Playoff appearance, although it was an unremarkable blowout at the hands of eventual champion Alabama. The Irish will also be without stars on both sides of the ball thanks to the NFL Draft, such as quarterback Ian Book and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a unanimous All-American.

A trip to South Bend will certainly be a challenge, as Notre Dame posted a perfect home record last season with a marquee win in overtime against then No. 1 Clemson.  

Nov. 6, Week 9 at Arizona State

The last iteration of this matchup was a nail-biter, as USC completed a fourth-quarter comeback in the first week of the 2020 season to win 28-27 over the Sun Devils. The Trojans scored two touchdowns inside the game’s last three minutes and sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis completed 40 passes for a total of 381 yards. ASU’s sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels will be a returning threat both as a passer and a scrambler. 

Herm Edwards’ team will look to improve on last season’s 2-2 record (three of ASU’s games were cancelled due to coronavirus complications). Edwards and company did close out the season with two wins, one of which was a 70-7 thrashing of Arizona. The Sun Devils and the Trojans matched up well last time out, so expect 2021’s iteration to feature some fireworks as well.

Nov. 20, Week 11 vs UCLA

The importance of this game needs no explanation, especially after last season’s 43-38 Trojan win, capped off by a USC game-winning drive with less than a minute left. 

UCLA is coming off of a disappointing 3-4 season with losses to Colorado, Oregon and Stanford. Returning quarterback junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be the focal point of the offense, and his main weapon will be redshirt sophomore Greg Dulcich, who was second in the country for tight ends last season with 73.9 receiving yards per game. He had 167 yards and a touchdown in the game against USC. 

Not only are bragging rights on the line, but a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game is likely to hang in the balance. If UCLA outperforms its record from last season, the Bruins might be playing for their first appearance in the Pac-12 championship game since 2012. Even if it’s another disappointing season for the Bruins, they’ll have every reason to ruin their crosstown rival’s season. 

Nov. 27, Week 12 vs BYU

BYU will come to the Coliseum in an interesting matchup to end the season for the Trojans. The Cougars went 11-1 last year with their only loss being to Coastal Carolina. They will be without star quarterback Zach Wilson, who is a projected first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

Wilson threw for nearly 3,700 yards and 33 touchdowns last year, and BYU might have a tough time replacing that kind of production. Nevertheless, the Cougars will be a formidable opponent for USC, as evidenced by their 30-27 win over the Trojans in 2019. This season’s matchup will serve as a final test for USC before bowl season.