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Friday, June 10, 2011
First, first look: Arizona State

By Pedro Moura

There are 9 weeks until fall camp begins for the USC football team the first week of August. During each of those in-between weeks, and traditionally later in the week, we'll offer up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began with Minnesota, continued the next week with Utah and added Syracuse last week. We now present Arizona State, who the Trojans will face in their first road game on Sept. 24:

Arizona State hasn't beaten USC since 1999.

But this might be the year, with all the pieces appearing in place for a potential Sun Devils win over the Trojans in Tempe. It almost happened last year, USC sneaked off with a 34-33 home win after ASU's Thomas Weber had a PAT attempt blocked and returned for two points and then missed another potential game-winning field-goal attempt.




Weber's gone this time. And a few of the key players from that game, including Sun Devils quarterback Steven Threet and USC linebacker Malcolm Smith, are gone too, but this will in large part be a repeat of 2010.

Here's a compartmentalized look at the USC-Arizona State matchup this September:

Past history: USC and Arizona State have matched up 27 times in their histories -- 26 if you don't count the 2005 game that was removed as a result of NCAA sanctions.

The Trojans have won 17 of those 26 games, including the last 11. USC actually lost five of the first seven times it played ASU, starting in 1978. Some of the best games in the series' history include last year's contest, the two-overtime game in 2000 that USC won 42-38 and another two-overtime game in 1996 that Arizona won 48-35.

Offense: Threet's gone, as mentioned, but not because of graduation or the NFL draft. He voluntarily retired this offseason because of worries that his four college concussions are catching up to him and warnings that more could make it even worse.

In his place will likely be Brock Osweiler, the 6-8 Montana native who has legitimate experience already under his belt backing up Threet in the past, including in his freshman season against the Trojans in 2009. He subbed in for starter Danny Sullivan in that game and had an OK day, throwing a third-quarter TD pass but doing little else.

Joining Osweiler as returnees on the offense are running back Cameron Marshall and receivers Mike Willie and Gerell Robinson, plus a potential All-American at center in Garth Gerhart. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was deemed a success in 2010, his first season with the squad, and a lot of experts seem to think his style will go perfectly with Osweiler's.


How so? Both are go-for-it types, taking chances whenever possible.

Defense: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the star of this defensive unit, with defensive end Junior Onyeali coming in a close second -- but not that close. Burfict is a dominant player, although he does tend to let his emotions get the best of him on the field at times.

Other defensive standouts include linebacker Brandon Magee and safety Eddie Elder. Cornerback Omar Bolden obviously would have been on this list, but he tore his ACL earlier this offseason and will miss the season. Defensive end Jamaar Jarrett, the likely starter opposite Onyeali, is another talent on the line and a good complement to Onyeali as a 6-5, 260-pound run-stopper.

Defensive coordinator Craig Bray's specialty is defending the run, and his ASU defense has been the best at that in the Pac-10 each of the last two years. Interestingly, USC's other challenging opponent early on in the 2011 season, Utah, is more of a pass-first defense, so the Trojans will get two entirely different looks within their first four games that both promise to be tough.

Special teams/special circumstances: Junior punt returner Jamal Miles is a true talent on special teams and a threat to take both punts and kicks back to the house. New punter Josh Hubner was one of the top junior-college punters in the nation a year ago and enrolled early at ASU to get a head start. He's also set to hold.

Bobby Wenzig, who filled in for former Lou Groza award-winner Thomas Weber when Weber missed a month last year, transferred to Cal Poly, so ASU has no incumbent at the position. Three freshmen are candidates.

That's it for this week. Next week comes a look at the Arizona Wildcats.