1. The running back battle: It's unusual, but it just might work. It appears the Trojans are purposely refraining from naming a starter at running back to motivate the three competitors for the position and confuse Minnesota, too. But who's going to get the most carries? At this point, the most astute guess would probably be D.J. Morgan, the redshirt freshman ex-track star. He's the hottest hand of late, running harder than ever and running with good vision. Outside of that, it's hard to predict -- but we do know now that freshman standout Amir Carlisle will likely sit out and thus won't be a part of the race.
2. Step one for the defense: How does that phrase go? The first step is always the hardest? Well, this is step one for the Trojans' defense in attempting to reverse their fortunes from a horrible 2010 season. They've been better in camp this fall, but they've only been tackling themselves. Tackling somebody else is a whole new challenge. It starts on the defensive line, where the fearsome fivesome of Devon Kennard, Wes Horton, Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris and Nick Perry have the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the unit, with George Uko helping out too. The linebackers and defensive backs have clear strengths and clear weaknesses, so it'll be interesting to take note of how and what Minnesota chooses to attack.
3. Can the offensive line hold up? In terms of interest, this thing to watch doesn't rank all that high. But in terms of importance, it might deserve to be No. 1. A weak guard tandem of Jeremy Galten and John Martinez could end up the Trojans' downfall this season -- not necessarily on Saturday but at some point in the near future. Quarterback Matt Barkley will never even sniff a Heisman campaign this year if his inexperienced line doesn't at least give him a couple seconds to deliver the ball. Luckily, he has one of the best left tackles in college football in Matt Kalil and one of the smartest players in the nation in Khaled Holmes at center.
4. Willie Mack Garza's absence: Remember how Lane Kiffin had "NO DISTRACTIONS" painted in white just outside Howard Jones Field to remind his players to focus during practice? Maybe he should've done it upstairs in Heritage Hall, too -- because the Thursday resignation of Garza, USC's secondary coach, serves as one sizable distraction heading into kickoff. There will be questions asked about it afterward, but the immediate effects will be on the field, obviously, where Garza's young unit will face its first test without their position coach. (Sammy Knight will probably take over temporarily and potentially long-term). One good part about it: If there was one game this year to be without a secondary coach, this might be the one , because Minnesota's simply not going to throw the ball very much.
5. Stopping MarQueis Gray: USC hasn't been very good against running quarterbacks in the past, and this guy Gray is a legitimate 1,000-rushing-yard candidate as a signal-caller, a rare caliber of athlete for the position. Kiffin compared him to Vince Young earlier this week, and it makes some sense, although Gray has much, much less quarterbacking experience than Young did when the Trojans saw him. This'll be his first collegiate start at quarterback. On the field, it's important that USC's young outside linebackers and extra defensive backs don't overcommit to Gray when he fakes to take off running, because there are plenty of examples of Gophers coach Jerry Kill's last quarterback, Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish, doing that and then pulling back to deliver an on-target pass.