Southern California Trojans
Date with CU: Oct. 13, time TBA, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Head coach: Clay Helton, 4th year (27-10)
Series: USC leads 12-0
Trojans in 2017: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12; lost to Ohio State, 24-7, in Cotton Bowl
Returning starters: 14 - 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Offensive players to watch (2017 statistics): OG Chris Brown, Sr. (17 career starts; HM all-Pac-12 in 2017); RB Stephen Carr, So. (65 att., 363 yards, 3 TD; 17 catches, 188 yards); QB J.T. Daniels, Fr. (true freshman; Gatorade National Player of the Year); OT Chuma Edoga, Sr. (16 career starts; 12 starts at RT last year); QB Matt Fink, So. (6-of-9, 43 yards); WR/KR Velus Jones, So. (6 catches, 46 yards; 24.5 average on 31 kickoff returns); C/OT Toa Lobendahn, Sr. (34 career starts, 18 at LT; also has starts at RG, LG and C; 2nd-team all-Pac-12); TE Tyler Petite, Sr. (23 catches, 307 yards, 3 TD); WR Michael Pittman Jr., Jr. (23 catches, 404 yards, 2 TD); WR Tyler Vaughns, So. (57 catches, 809 yards, 5 TD).
Defensive players to watch (2017 statistics): OLB Porter Gustin, Sr. (16 tackles, 3 sacks in 4 games); CB Ajene Harris, Sr. (59 tackles, 3 INT, 6 PBU); ILB John Houston Jr., Jr. (84 tackles, 3.5 TFL); LB Jordan Iosefa, Jr. (31 tackles, 3 TFL); CB Iman Marshall, Sr. (52 tackles, 10 PBU); DT Brandon Pili, So. (14 tackles); DL Christian Rector, Jr. (35 tackles, 11 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles); MLB Cameron Smith, Sr. (112 tackles, 11 TFL); S Marvell Tell, Sr. (85 tackles, 3 INT).
Notable: USC tied with Clemson for the national lead with 46 sacks last year. The Trojans were also fourth in red zone defense, allowing points just 71.15 percent of the time. ... Smith has led the Trojans in tackles the past two years and has 273 tackles (19 for loss) in his career. ... Since a 1-3 start in 2016, USC is 20-3, including 16-1 against Pac-12 opponents, with the only loss at Washington State last year. ... USC has its bye the week before facing the Buffaloes. ... The Trojans have had the Pac-12's No. 1 recruiting class the past five years and eight times in the past 10 years. They were second in the other two years (2012, 2013). ... Chase McGrath was one of the nation's top freshmen kickers last year, hitting 12-of-17 field goals and 58-of-59 extra points. ... Senior Reid Budrovich returns as the punter; he averaged 41.6 yards per kick last year.
Across the board, there may not be another football team in the Pac-12 with more talent than Southern California.
The Trojans are stacked on defense, loaded with skill players on offense and feature one of the top offensive lines in the country.
The spotlight, however, is squarely on the quarterback, and with preseason camp just around the country, the Trojans haven't figured out who will lead their offense.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado's opponents, with this installment focusing on USC, which will host the Buffaloes on Oct. 13.
Aiming to repeat as Pac-12 champions, priority No. 1 for the Trojans is finding a replacement for first-team all-Pac-12 quarterback Sam Darnold, who is now in the NFL.
"I put more onus on us as coaches, especially when you're having a first-time quarterback," head coach Clay Helton told USC media after the spring game. "No matter who it is, he's going to walk out there and that's going to be his first start. You have to be smart enough as a coaching staff to say, 'Ok, this is what we can handle in this moment right now and let's lean on our strengths.'"
It's possible that USC will hand the reins of the offense to true freshman J.T. Daniels, the national Gatorade Player of the Year at Mater Dei High School, located about an hour from the USC campus. Daniels graduated early, skipping his entire senior year of high school.
Daniels spent much of his spring around the Trojans, soaking everything in and learning as much as he can about the offense.
"The kid just loves ball," quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis said to USAToday.com in the spring. "He's further along than most freshmen I've ever been around."
Daniels, however, has yet to go through an official practice with the Trojans. In the spring, it was sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears competing.
Fink, the only quarterback on the roster who has thrown a college pass, may be the most ready, but it was clear by the end of spring that the Trojans need some work at the position. Still, Helton said the spring was important for Fink and Sears.
"You get these valuable reps though the spring and then that summer period is a very valuable period for all the quarterbacks out here on campus," Helton said. "I've always thought spring really helps you to have the opportunity to work with the receivers, have the opportunity to gain valuable experience, learn from some failures that hopefully will be success stories in the fall."
For the Trojans to be successful, they have to replace not only Darnold, but leading rusher Ronald Jones and leading receiver Deontay Burnett. All three left school early for the NFL.
The last time USC went into season trying to replace it's quarterback, top rusher and top receiver was 1980. USC does, however, feature plenty of talent at receiver and running back. Sophomore Tyler Vaughns is one of the top receivers in the Pac-12, while Stephen Carr and Aca'Cedric Ware could be a formidable duo on the ground.
Add in four returning starters on the offensive line and a defense that features some of the nation's best linebackers and defensive backs and it's no wonder USC is favored to win the South division once again.
In pursuit of another conference title, Helton may lean on the depth and talent as he gets his quarterbacks up to speed.
"It's unrealistic to come out there and say, 'OK, he's going to be Sam Darnold or Matt Barkley or Cody Kessler day one,'" Helton said. "You have to be able to let them grow in an appropriate way and we have a lot of talent that's around that position."