June 1, 2009

Tough schedule could stand in way of history

Success can be measured a number of different ways. In the business world, it could be quantified by profit margins. On the football field, it's wins that matter.

And by that standard, USC has been really, really good under Pete Carroll.

The Trojans enter this season with a chance to build on a standard of excellence built with hard work, sweat and oodles of competition in Carroll's tenure as the Trojans' head football coach.

USC ended last season with the highest winning percentage over a 90-game stretch, going 82-8 in a stretch going back to 2002. The Trojans went 82-8 during their last 90 games - putting USC one game up on Miami teams that went 81-9 from 1985 to 1993.

The Trojans will have another shot at history during the 2009 season. If USC begins the season with 10-straight wins, it would pass Oklahoma for the best stretch of 100 games. The Sooners went 89-8-3 between 1947 and 1956.

But before USC can send Oklahoma rushing out of the top spot, USC will have its hands full with some difficult tests. Here's an early look at the obstacles in the way of 92-8.

Sept. 12 at Ohio State

USC's first challenge of the season will likely be the biggest obstacle to a 10-0 start. Whichever quarterback exits fall camp as the No. 1 will be making his first road start for the Trojans in one of college football's most hostile environments - Ohio Stadium.

The Horseshoe will be rocking after the Trojans' embarrassed Ohio State last season in the Coliseum, and even though the Buckeyes' suffered heavy losses, quarterback Terrelle Pryor will be much more mature than when he took the field against the cardinal and gold last season.

Pryor is a dual-threat quarterback, the kind of run-and-pass threat that's historically given USC problems. If USC can get out of Ohio State with a win, 10-0 becomes a much more real possibility.

Oct. 17 at Notre Dame

Another non-conference road game, Notre Dame will also be looking for revenge after a stretch of embarrassing losses to the Trojans. Charlie Weiss' job is likely on the line in 2009, and the owner of the "schematic advantage" will need to get all his X's and O's right to upset the Trojans in front of a growingly impatient home crowd.

The Trojan secondary could be tested if Jimmy Clausen begins to play with more consistency and poise. Notre Dame will have a pair of talented receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, and both are capable of making the kind of big plays that can lead to wins.

Oct. 31 at Oregon

A late start on Halloween at Autzen Stadium should make some of the conference's most rabid fans licking their green and yellow chops. USC lost at Oregon in 2007, and if the Trojans are going to leave Eugene with a win, it'll have to handle a pair of the conference's top returning weapons.

After being decimated by injuries, Jeremiah Masoli emerged as the Ducks' best quarterback and shined in Oregon's offense. Flanking Masoli in the backfield, LaGarrette Blount is one of the league's most physical runners.

Last year, the Trojans kept Blount from getting any traction. But this defense is built more on speed than last year's, and Blount could be too strong for some of the Trojans.

Nov. 14 vs. Stanford

After a hellish stretch where USC plays six-of-eight games on the road, the Trojans return to the Coliseum with a chance to put an even bigger stamp on history.

Stanford and head coach Jim Harbaugh won't be intimidated by playing USC with plenty on the line in the Coliseum, and like Oregon, the Cardinal have a big, physical back.

If Toby Gerhart gets going, Stanford could control the ball and pull off the upset. Something tells me that Carroll and the Trojans won't be surprised if Stanford comes to town and gives USC a game.

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