The No. 24 USC Trojans look to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season when they travel to Hawaii to face the Warriors at Aloha Stadium on Thursday night in college football’s season opener.
USC entered the 2012 season as the top-ranked team in the nation, but finished unranked with a 7-6 record. With multiple Heisman Trophy candidates, the Trojans failures left many wondering how a roster so loaded with talent could fall so short of expectations.
The quarterback situation is USC’s main storyline entering the 2013 season. Following the departure of Matt Barkley to the NFL, head coach Lane Kiffin has decided to use both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek at quarterback to start the season. Both arrived at USC in the fall of 2011 with speculation over who would eventually replace Barkley, and now they are engaged in a one-on-one battle for playing time.
“We're not going to put anything set in stone about plays, or quarters or series,” said Kiffin, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We'll get a feel for how the game is going and make decisions as we go."
The last time USC played alternating quarterbacks was 1995 with Brad Otton and Kyle Wachholtz, and the Trojans ended up winning the Rose Bowl. In that 1995 season, the Trojans had perhaps the most explosive wide out in college football with Keyshawn Johnson lighting up defenses and moving onto the NFL where he was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft.
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The Trojans once again have a prolific wide receiver, as high hopes surround star Marqise Lee. The junior caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012 to win the Biletnikoff Award for college football’s top wide receiver. Kiffin has maintained his belief that Lee will be regarded as the best wide receiver in USC history.
Lee, who has been limited in practices by a right shoulder injury, says he is “100 percent,” and is expected to play an even larger role in 2013 with the departure of wide receiver Robert Woods to the NFL. The Trojans expect to have plenty of receiving options with sophomore wide receiver Nelson Algohor, true freshman wide receiver Darreus Rogers, and fourth-year junior tight end Xavier Grimble.
Silas Redd, USC’s leading rusher in 2012, has not made the trip to Hawaii, as the senior tailback is still recovering from knee surgery last spring. Third-year sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Justin Davis are expected to fill in for Redd.
The injury-plagued Trojans will have star pass rusher Morgan Breslin available despite a foot injury that limited the senior in training camp. Breslin was a pleasant surprise for USC in 2012, and is on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, an honor given to college football’s top defensive end. He is expected to be a major contributor in 2013 for new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and his 5-2 system.
The Warriors enter the game with hopes of rebounding from a difficult season. Hawaii finished 2012 with a 3-9 record, but defeated their last two opponents of the season. Second-year head coach Norm Chow, who served as the USC offensive coordinator under head coach Pete Carroll from 2001-2004, fired his new offensive coordinator, and now takes over the position’s duties.
Quarterback Taylor Graham, a transfer from Ohio State, replaces Sean Schroeder, who missed the entire spring training with a back injury. Graham has never thrown a pass in college football and will likely look to senior Chris Gant. The wide out caught 22 passes for 232 yards, but was limited due to a collarbone injury.
Hawaii will be without returning starting wide out Billy Ray Stutzmann, who has been unable to practice at full strength due to injuries suffered in a car accident. The senior led all receivers with 35 receptions for 447 yards.
The running game is a question mark for Hawaii with leading rusher Will Gregory no longer with the squad after being expelled for disciplinary reasons, and Joey Iosefa out with a fractured foot. The junior rushed for 463 yards on 125 carries in 2012 and is expected to play a major role for the Warriors offense. Newcomers Diocemy Saint Juste, Marcus Langkilde and Steven Lakalaka should see plenty of carries this season, as well.
On defense, Hawaii will need to improve on a unit that struggled for nine of their 12 games in 2012. Linebacker Art Laurel returns after posting four sacks last season, but Hawaii will need new players to emerge in 2013 if they expect to be competitive.
Last year, USC defeated Hawaii at the Coliseum, 49-10. The Trojans have won 16 consecutive season openers.
The game starts at 8 p.m. Pacific Time, and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. A live stream of the game can be viewed the CBS Sports Network Web site, according to multiple sites.
Betting Odds: USC favored by 23
Prediction: In three years under Kiffin, the Trojans have struggled to put away weak opponents in the early going. With a rather depleted squad due to injuries, their season opener against Hawaii will likely be no different. There is plenty of talent on this USC roster but it should be a challenge to click on the road with new quarterbacks and with a rather inexperienced backfield. Hawaii will stay in the game a little longer than most people think, but expect the Trojans to eventually find their rhythm and cruise to a victory.
Final Score Prediction: USC over Hawaii, 33-14