USC faces big test in first road game

LOS ANGELES -- WeAreSC's panel of experts discuss USC's first road game of the year Saturday against Arizona State and also give their thoughts on the Pac-12's decision to stick to a 12-team conference in this version of the Thursday Roundtable:

What will be the key for a Trojans victory Saturday in Tempe?

Garry Paskwietz: This is the kind of game that Lane Kiffin has been waiting for to prove that he is ready to take that next step as a head coach. How does Kiffin do that? By not getting too cute with the offense and by using his playmakers. This is not the game to try out new gimmicks or wrinkles. This is the time to play to your strengths and keep your foot on the gas for the entire four quarters.

Steve Bisheff: The Trojans' defensive line has been the team's most consistent unit so far, but it will have to take its game up another notch in Tempe. For USC to win, it has to put consistent pressure on ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler, the tall, strong-armed kid who can be very dangerous when given time. Illinois didn't give him much, sacking him six times, intercepting two passes and causing a fumble, and it still barely won. Matt Barkley and the offense seem to be improving, but you don't want to get into a shootout on the road. That won't happen if the Trojans blitz enough and their pass rush keeps the heat on Osweiler for four quarters.

Greg Katz: In my opinion, the key for the Trojans to come away with a victory in hostile Sun Devil Stadium will be to avoid turnovers. Barkley cannot throw interceptions, the running backs and the receivers cannot fumble, and the Trojans must also avoid costly penalties on both sides of the ball.

Which unit or player has been the biggest surprise so far this year?

Garry Paskwietz: I'm going to say the linebackers. The two redshirt freshmen on the outside have been really solid, although it's safe to say they will be tested this weekend as never before. Bailey is a little more of a ballhawk, and Pullard is a little more physical; they make for a real nice combination. Chris Galippo has been everything you could have asked for in a senior middle linebacker.

Steve Bisheff: For my money, DaJohn Harris has been the biggest surprise. Somewhat under the radar and maybe somewhat in the doghouse with Pete Carroll, Harris has emerged as a major playmaker at defensive tackle through the first three games. Every time you look up, he's in the middle of whatever is going on, stopping the run or rushing the passer. Suddenly, he looks like a serious All-Pac-12 candidate.

Greg Katz: The unit that has been the biggest surprise to me has been the linebackers. Galippo is doing a fine job for the most part in being the defensive quarterback, and you have to give recognition to the young outside linebackers, Bailey and Pullard. Each game, they have been getting better and better. I like that there is some depth behind them, like Shane Horton on the outside and Lamar Dawson and Will Andrew in the middle. I just wish this unit had already had one road game to get ready before the ASU game in Tempe.

Thoughts on the Pac-12's decision to say "no" to expansion?

Garry Paskwietz: I was certainly shocked to first hear the news, but now after hearing how the big obstacle Texas was, in being unwilling to share equally in the media pie, there really was no other decision for the conference to make. The Pac-12 went all-in with the equal sharing of media rights last year, and it worked with a landmark deal -- to give in to one school after so many others had bought in would not have been a good thing. Of course, this game of musical chairs is simply in pause mode, there is another round left to be played, and the Pac-12 could still find itself dancing with Oklahoma and Texas before all is said and done.

Steve Bisheff: I'm happy the Pac-12 has decided not to expand, but I don't think for a minute [Pac-12 commissioner] Larry Scott did it to establish some sense of normalcy back to college football, as some are speculating. He did it because he couldn't get Texas' assurance to share all that TV money its getting. If the Longhorns had gone along with a revenue-sharing deal, Scott would have said yes quicker than an Andrew Luck pass release. Now he's talking as if he's completely satisfied with his 12-team conference as is. Sure he is.

Greg Katz: Three cheers for the Pac-12 and Larry Scott. This seems to be a case of "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Texas is all about Texas, and team play isn't what these Longhorns are all about. There was a lesson to be learned for all on the first Texas flirtation. For the good of the inaugural Pac-12 season and credibility for all, leaving Texas at home, as well as the other Big 12 possibilities, was a positive sign of Pac-12 solidarity. In my opinion, this decision places the Pac-12 as No. 1 on the ethics rankings. Fairness and equality for all, even with all the money potential, still has its place. The Pac-12 and Big 12 are different worlds, and there is no reason to believe it shouldn't stay that way for the present.

Kyle Williams: So where does an 800-pound gorilla sit? Well if you're Texas, it doesn't look like it's in the Pac-12. As I mentioned last week, Texas seems to be too big for anyone but itself. It has a new $300 million television contract and right now isn't willing to share the revenue from it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it just doesn't fit with how the Pac-12 works. While Texas wants to bolt to greener pastures, it might be the green they're now making that keeps them from leaving. Unless they want to share, which at this moment doesn't seem to be the case.