The early lay of the land

2012 might be special year for Trojans, but landmines exist on title quest

Updated: June 5, 2012, 8:35 AM ET
By Garry Paskwietz | WeAreSC

With the 2012 season set to start in less than three months, here's a look ahead at some of the key storylines for each of the games on USC's schedule.

Sept. 1: vs. Hawaii
It seems somewhat fitting that Norm Chow's first game as a head coach will be in the Coliseum -- a place where he saw so much success as a USC assistant -- as he leads the Warriors against the Trojans. Of course, this will be the debut of the highly anticipated 2012 USC team and it stands to reason that Lane Kiffin will be looking to make a statement out of the gate. Don't expect this one to be close.

Sept. 8: vs. Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
The Trojans invade the Big Apple and the spotlight should be intense. There will be a ton of focus on Matt Barkley with stories being written about how this New York visit could be a precursor to a December visit for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The Orange are hoping to rebound this year behind quarterback Ryan Nassib but the Trojans should have too much on this national stage.

Sept. 15: at Stanford
A huge early test for the Trojans. Stanford has won three in a row against USC, although all three of those victories came with Andrew Luck at quarterback. Luck is gone now to Indianapolis and the Trojans will be looking to reverse the losing streak and avoid an early pitfall. Stanford coach David Shaw will be looking to prove that his program can succeed despite the loss of Luck and beating the Trojans would go a long way in proving that.

Sept. 22: vs. California
It's a rare home game sandwiched between a pair of road trips for the Trojans. The Coliseum home crowd should be treated to a big game from the Cardinal and Gold as the Trojans look to extend their winning streak over Cal to eight games. Golden Bears quarterback Zach Maynard had a hand in five turnovers last year against the Trojans.

Oct. 4: at Utah
Watch out for this one. The Utes are a physical team who played the Trojans to a tight finish last year and they also have a veteran senior quarterback in Jordan Wynn who is capable of leading an upset. Utah junior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was projected as the No. 1 pick in Todd McShay's initial 2013 NFL mock. The game will also be a rare Thursday night one for the Trojans.

Oct. 13: vs. Washington at CenturyLink Field, Seattle
This could be the proverbial "trap" game. It will be the fourth road trip in five games, including long trips to the East Coast, Utah and Washington. The game will not be played in the familiar Husky Stadium setting. It will be at the Seattle Seahawks' stadium, as Husky Stadium is being remodeled. Steve Sarkisian's squad will also be looking for revenge after losing to USC last year and have a talented quarterback of its own in Keith Price.

Oct. 20: vs. Colorado
This game should offer a bit of a respite for the Trojans, as they come home to the Coliseum to face a team that will likely be towards the bottom of the conference. One of the Buffs top offensive weapons -- wide receiver Paul Richardson -- suffered a knee injury during the spring and is out for the season.

Oct. 27: at Arizona
This will be the first look at Rich Rodriguez in charge of the Wildcats program and things figure to be exciting. Rodriguez has a new quarterback in Matt Scott who should be a good fit in the Rodriguez offense, so the USC defense will need to come prepared. This game will mark the final time the Trojans will play outside of the state of California during the regular season.

Nov. 3: vs. Oregon
Many people have this circled as the game of the year in the Pac-12 Conference and there's no reason to doubt that right now. Both teams are the preseason favorites of their respective divisions, which means it's entirely possible they could meet up again in the conference title game. The Ducks lost some veteran firepower in the backfield but the replacements -- quarterback Bryan Bennett and running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas -- are talented.

Nov. 10: vs. Arizona State
The Sun Devils figure to be in a transition stage this season with a new coach and quarterback. Todd Graham didn't name a starting signal-caller at the end of spring ball between the trio of Michael Bercovici, Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, which means that nobody has stepped up yet to claim the job.

Nov. 17: at UCLA
Here's another game against a new coach with an unsettled quarterback situation. Jim Mora Jr. takes over for the Bruins amid optimism in Westwod. What remains to be seen is who will be at quarterback. Will it be Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut or the start of the Brett Hundley era? Whoever it is, they will look to improve upon last year's point total against the Trojans.

Nov. 24: vs. Notre Dame
This could set up to be one of the truly great settings in college sports, as this will possibly be a rivalry game with a lot on the line. Both teams figure to be playing for postseason bowl games and it should be another classic battle. This will be the last time that Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o goes against the Trojans and his old friend Barkley, former recruiting pals who will now play key roles in the latest chapter of this rivalry.

Garry Paskwietz | email

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