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#15 USC Trojans Preview – 2014

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USC Trojans Preview – 2014

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Reminder for first time readers: The CFBMatrix is built on simplicity. For predictions and previews I use only my trends and rankings of Talent, Location (schedule) and Coaching. T.L.C.

Talent:

I am really happy that no one is saying the cupboard was left bare at USC, after Lane Kiffin got fired. I hate that excuse as much as anything. I feel that for the most part, sans massive attrition after a new head coach is named, the cupboard is as full as it ever was it just takes time to sculpt a program. The better the coach and internal culture, the less the time it takes to get a program trending up. The Men of Troy return 83 percent of their offensive production, four of five offensive linemen and 63 percent of their defensive production from 2013. For the Trojans, I do not believe for a second that their 2-deep is not one of the best in the conference and the country. In the last 13 years, their worse ranked class is No. 14. There are 65 other FBS teams that haven’t pulled a class better than No. 14 this century. They have the No. 1 talent ranking in the Pac 12 and No. 9 in the country. This team has the talent profile of a national title contender today. If there was a team ready to pull an Auburn of 2013, it could be USC, but coach effect says no.

 

Coaching:

Coach Effect is not transferable from one program to another, but I need to use it as most times it does not change much from team to team. Coach Steve Sarkisian’s coach effect was a solid minus-1 game every season, except 2013 when he went minus-2. If he can pull that same feat off at USC, the hire will look great. Lane Kiffin was so substandard that a consistent 9-11 wins per year will suffice for most USC fans, even if I see it as under-coaching the top talent in the conference. Average coach effect will put USC around 9-10 wins per season. Sarkisian in his last five years was ranked No. 42 in total coach effect and last in the Pac 12 for coaches with over two years of experience. I will use his coach effect from UW and -1 extra game for a new head coach in 2014.

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Schedule:

USC has never been one to shy away from a tough non-conference schedule. That is a fault, not an asset, as this mentality has likely cost them wins and consequently berths in national title games. While Fresno State, Boston College and Notre Dame are a tough non-conference combo, these teams all have issues that play in favor of USC. The first is Fresno coming to the Coliseum. The Bulldogs got lucky in several games last year, lost their NFL-graded QB and got smoked in their bowl game against this USC team. USC will win the opener, before traveling to The Farm in Week 2

I am a bit shocked that such a huge conference matchup is happening in Week 2. USC has the talent edge, but a new coach who struggled on the road. Stanford has the coaching and field edge but is trying to break in a lot of new starters especially on defense. I am taking Stanford in this one as it ranks in my top 3 of best teams the Trojans face this year. The first three weeks before the bye wraps up at Boston College. The Eagles have the worst losses to experience in power 5 conference football and getting any tough team early is going to hurt. USC starts 2-1.

Six road games, including five in conference, is not a good schedule, but the middle of the schedule is against six teams that all recruit outside the top 40. This is a huge talent gap between USC and their competition. To give you a point of reference, the best recruiter in the SEC has six top 30 recruiters in its division and two top 10 recruiters. The only team in the Pac 12 South to fit in those two categories is No. 18 UCLA.

Out of the bye, it is back-to-back home games with Oregon State and Arizona State. While the USC players as still acclimating to the new schemes, Oregon State will be trying to settle their lines and ASU will be trying to find their defense. The home team takes both and moves to 4-1.

uscfootballThree of the next four games are on the road and all have solid coaching. If there was to be a stumble and lack of focus to create a loss for the Trojans, I feel it is somewhere in the combination of Arizona, Utah and Washington State. Rather than guessing which one I take them all and Colorado at home to go to 8-1. A lot of folks will point to the last one. The road trip to the Palouse to face the team that beat them last year to fuel a great run by Washington State. Martin Stadium can be an inhospitable place in November, but I feel there is too much talent on defense to take the up-tempo Cougars.

Their second bye is in Week 11, and out of it they get another home game. This time it is with Cal or as I’ve been calling them in every game “trap.” At this point, it will be nearly two full seasons under coach Sonny Dykes. I do not pick Cal or believe the Bears win this game, but with the division title on the line in Week 13, this is the team everyone could overlook in 2014 conference play. I have USC 9-1 at this point, but a strong lean to 8-2 with that unpredictable loss in the middle of the season. Regardless, I feel this game at the Rose Bowl is going to be for the conference championship game berth. USC has this one on the road, but UCLA has had a tough time beating any team with better talent. I took the home team to drop USC to 9-2. The last game is in the Coliseum against the traditional game with Notre Dame. As a fan I am really happy this relationship and annual matchup between these two programs has been maintained. However, this is a solid letdown spot for USC. Win or lose against UCLA, and this team can come out flat in the finale. I am taking them because it is at home. The pick would be flipped and will be next year in South Bend. 10-2 (I like 9.5) and in the top 15 is a tremendous start (even 9-3 and the top 25) in my opinion. Yes there is room for so much more as I feel the potential is there, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Dave’s Quick and Dirty CFBMatrix Preview:

The Trojans have easily out-recruited every team on their schedule, so their baseline win total is 12 games. No team is close enough in talent to have home field switch the pick, so the baseline remains 12-0. However, the coach effect drops 2 games and a new head coach is another minus-1 for nine wins. Focus on the best talent/coaching combinations, as the likeliest losses as well as road games where Sarkisian has shown the great odds for upset.

2014 Win Loss Schedule Pattern

W, L, W, bye, W, W, W, W, W, W, bye, W, L, W (-1 game Coach Effect for Sarkisian) 9-3 Finish 2nd in PAC-12 South

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