USC Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule
A new era begins for the Trojans as they welcome Steve Sarkisian as the top dog to lead the men of Troy in 2014 and beyond.
Circling back to his roots, Sarkisian takes over a program that finished 10-4 last year, a season that was as tumultuous as any in recent memory.
Now Sark and company prepare to embark on a new journey, and people are waiting to see exactly how USC fares this year.
This slideshow will look at obstacles that face the men of Troy in 2014 and how that schedule shapes up in terms of how difficult the road is in front of them.
Can USC improve on last year's record?
Here is what they have to surmount if they hope to do so.
Note: Rankings are based on the quality of the team scheduled, the venue and the number of returning players. The slideshow is rated from easiest to toughest opponents.
Colorado (Saturday, Oct. 18)
Colorado has struggled since its inclusion in the Pac-12, and while the Buffaloes are slowly improving, don't expect much to change this year.
The Buffs were very young last year, and with the experience of 2013 under their belts, they should be more competitive, but not nearly enough to win this game.
California (Thursday, Nov. 13)
Cal continues to struggle under Sonny Dykes, and that won't change anytime soon unless it finds some solid defensive players.
In 2013, the Bears couldn't stop anyone, and since then, transfers have only hurt Cal on that side of the ball.
However, Dykes has some talent on offense. Record-setting first-year quarterback Jared Goff should be even better in 2014, and he will have some help with running back Khalfani Muhammad returning for his sophomore year after doing very well as a freshman last year.
Still, this group is at least a year away from making any noise. At home, USC should cruise.
@ Boston College (Saturday, Sept. 14)
After winning fairly easily against Boston College in 2013, the Trojans travel to Chestnut Hill to take on the Eagles, who finished 7-6 last year with a loss to Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
The Eagles say goodbye to record-setting running back Andre Williams but welcome former Florida Gator quarterback Tyler Murphy, who started six games for Florida in 2013.
Boston College is a good team on the rise, but the Trojans should get a win on the road in this one.
@ Washington State (Saturday, Nov. 1)
USC will travel up to Pullman in early November and try to pay back the Cougars for an embarrassing loss that Washington State handed the Trojans at the Coliseum in 2013.
In a game that Trojan fans want to forget, the Cougars won a low-scoring game when USC quarterback Cody Kessler threw a pick-six at the end of the first half en route to a 10-7 loss.
The Cougars are improving under head coach Mike Leach, and a road game at Martin Stadium isn't going to benefit the Trojans. However, look for USC to get some revenge when all is said and done.
Fresno State (Saturday, Aug. 30)
The Trojans open their 2014 season with the team they beat to end their 2013 campaign.
Fresno State's marvelous season ended with a thud after USC dominated in last year's Las Vegas Bowl.
Now the Bulldogs will try to reverse last year's result. Unfortunately, they will have to do it without record-setting quarterback Derek Carr and several of their playmakers who have now since departed.
Unless Fresno State has some sleepers waiting in the wings, this game should find the Trojans starting the year 1-0.
Oregon State (Saturday, Sept. 27)
Quarterback Sean Mannion will be back to lead the Oregon State Beavers in 2014. Unfortunately for Mannion, he won't have wide receiver Brandin Cooks to play catch with anymore.
With Cooks' departure to the NFL, look for head coach Mike Riley to run a more balanced offense that features a run game that was largely absent in 2013.
The good news for Trojan fans is that they get the Beavers at home, which is far better than rolling the dice at Oregon State's Reser Stadium. Despite the fact that USC won there in 2013, historically, winning there is a rarity.
@ Utah (Saturday, Oct. 25)
Turnovers killed whatever hopes the Utah Utes had for a successful season in 2013. If they can avoid those, they should be much better in 2014.
Led by 6'7" quarterback Travis Wilson, Utah will once again go to the spread offense as it looks to spray the ball all around the field on offense.
The Utes will also have a solid defense, although transfers on the defense will sap some of their depth.
This game may be tougher than some think.
@ Arizona (Saturday, Oct. 11)
Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats welcome the Trojans to Tucson for an October match that may or may not feature the blistering heat often associated with trips to Arizona.
When the Trojans get there, they will be greeted by a talented Wildcat offense led by star receiver Austin Hill, who had 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.
This game will be a test for the Trojans, who will have to contend with Rodriguez's spread offense and his talented cadre of receivers.
Arizona State (Saturday, Oct. 4)
Last year's 62-41 loss to the Sun Devils in Tempe cost former head coach Lane Kiffin his job in 2013. Now USC will look for some revenge this year at the Coliseum.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly is back to lead a talented offense that features stud running back D.J. Foster, who takes over full time for the departed Marion Grice.
The Sun Devil defense has some holes to fill, though, and it is there that the Trojans should take advantage in a tough win at home.
Notre Dame (Saturday, Nov. 29)
Notre Dame's 2014 fortune will be dictated by whether or not quarterback Everett Golson can return effectively after sitting out the 2013 season due to academic issues.
If Golson comes back strong, the Irish could be formidable on that side of the ball, although there are many questions to be answered on defense, particularly on the defensive line.
Look for USC to break Notre Dame's modest winning streak at home in 2014.
@ UCLA (Saturday, Nov. 22)
In what could be the game that decides the Pac-12 South, USC travels to Pasadena to take on its suddenly formidable rival UCLA.
Led by quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. They will, however, have to replace some very important players on defense, including Anthony Barr and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt.
If the Trojans can stay healthy in 2014, they may just find a way to return the favor to the Bruins for last year's loss at the Coliseum.
@ Stanford (Saturday, Sept. 6)
The Cardinal will be looking for some payback at home after USC's last-minute win at the Coliseum in 2013.
Stanford will be led by a veteran defense and returning quarterback Kevin Hogan, but the offense will have to replace running back Tyler Gaffney and most of its offensive line.
However, the Cardinal are very dangerous at the receiving positions, as Ty Montgomery leads an explosive pass-catching corps.
This will be a very tough game for the Trojans, to be sure.
Although the Trojans are probably a couple of years away from contending for a national title, they can start down that path with a solid 2014.
In order to achieve success this year, they will have to stay healthy and get contributions from their young players in order to alleviate some depth concerns.
If they can do this, the Trojans can make Steve Sarkisian's inaugural season with USC a memorable one.
However, if things go south healthwise, it may make for a very, very long year.
Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan
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