Updated: Aug 24
This is probably one of the most anticipated kick-offs to USC Football since Pete Caroll's days. It has nothing to do with the opponent either. The Rice Owls haven't had a four-win season since 2015 until last year when they had to win their last game of the season to get to 4 wins. But, this year, the Trojans are entering an exciting new era with the arrival of a new coach in Lincoln Riley and a staff that looks solid. A lot of anticipation right now that the Trojan's new-look roster and staff are explosive and that the defense will be marginally better than in years past when it was the key weakness to the program moving forward. The Rice Owls are a very young team. They have a coach entering his 5th year that is 11-31 over his first four years, so he is definitely in a situation where if he shows he can beat the 34-point spread, he may call it a victory and a step in the right direction.
Small school, brilliant academics, tough requirements – it takes everything to work right for the program to succeed, and it’s been tough under 4-year head coach Mike Bloomgren to build this thing up.
The Rice Owl defense uses a lot of players. They are constantly exchanging, which does provide experience but seldom allows a unit to get in a rhythm and build that core confidence that we see develop over time. The experience is great unless you are getting pummeled week after week. The defense gave up 36 points a game and over 450 yards per game.
The top tackler was on the nose, Elijah Garcia; the defense relies on the line to make it happen. Former offensive lineman Izeya Floyd is a 326-pounder who moves over on the inside, and there’s more quickness in the interior from Ikenna Enechukwu – he’s the team’s leading returning sacker with 4.5.
Playmaking LB Antonio Montero left for Villanova, and Desmyn Baker took over for WKU. Aidan Siano got his feet wet last year and should work in the middle, but the D needs big plays from Kenneth Orji and Treshawn Chamberlain on the outside.
There weren’t a lot of picks from the corners, but Jordan Dunbar, Sean Fresch, and Miles McCord combined to make a whole lot of plays to go along with the rough days against the better downfield attacks. Sophomore S Gabe Taylor led the way with three interceptions and made 56 stops – he’ll be a bigger factor. This should be a field day for the talented WRs that Caleb Williams will target. Expect to see a lot of wide-open speed routes early.
On paper and statistically compared, this game is a 3-4 touchdown separation for the Trojans. On paper is always a bit of an anxious moment, although this game should not have the troubles of the past under the former staff. Lincoln Riley has shifted the culture quickly and continues to drive that "Win Now" spirit that drives everything about physically dominating players in all three game phases. I'm always concerned with big spreads like this one has already, so I'm saying it's a 4 Touchdown victory for the Trojans and will be smiling and not that surprised if I'm wrong, and Coach Riley unleashes the full tool kit in game one this year.