After escaping with two narrow victories during the first two weeks of the season, the Syracuse University football program faces its biggest test yet. On Saturday at 8 p.m. on FX, the Orange visit Los Angeles to take on the University of Southern California, a Pac-12 program that's a 15-point favorite.
A victory over the Trojans would improve Syracuse to 3-0 for the first time since 1991 and help the program become relevant again. However, beating USC is easier said than done. Here's a brief scouting reported on the talented Trojans.
Opponent: University of Southern California Trojans.
Last season: The Trojans finished with a 8-5 overall record and 5-4 in the Pacific-10 Conference. USC finished in a tie for third with the University of Washington in the PAC-10 standings, while the University of Oregon (9-0) finished first and the University of Standford (8-1) was second.
Head coach: Lane Kiffin
As a coach who inherited a program that was ruled ineligible for post-season play because of an NCAA penalty for violations dating to the previous coaching staff, Kiffin was deemed a success in his first season in SoCal. Before returning to USC, Kiffin, who was an assistant coach under former head coach Pete Carroll from 2001-2006, was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders and the University of Tennessee. Though, those previous stints didn't end well -- Oakland owner Al Davis ran him out of town, while Kiffin bolted Tennessee after just one season -- Kiffin seems to have USC headed in the right direction. By next year, when the program is finally eligible for post-season play, the Trojans should be ready to contend for a Pac-12 and National Title.
Offense: Highly touted pro prospect, junior quarterback Matt Barkley, is and has been USC's signal caller for three seasons. Last season, Barkley tossed for 2,791 yards and 26 TDs to earn All-Pac 10 Honorable Mention honors. This season, Barkley is averaging 284-passing yards and two TDs per game, while completing 70.1 percent of his passes. Currently, Barkley is No. 3 on Mel Kiper's NFL Draft Board.
Senior Marc Tyler (5-foot-7, 180-pounds), who was suspended for the Trojans first game of the season, is the main tailback for USC. Last week, Tyler ran for 113 yards and a TD in a slim 23-17 victory over Utah. The Trojans will also use freshman D.J. Morgan (5-10, 190), who ran for 70 yards in a 19-17 victory over Minnesota in Week 1, and junior Curtis McNeal (5-7, 180).
Currently, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods (6-1, 180) is the nation's second-leading receiver with 12.5 catches per game. In Week 1, Woods caught a school record 17 passes. Last season, Woods made the Freshman All-American Team and was named the Pac-10's Freshman Offensive Player Of The Year.
The Trojan's offensive line is led by All-American candidates, juniors Matt Kalil (6-7, 295), left tackle, and Khaled Holmes (6-4, 310), center.
Defense: So far, this season, junior defensive end Nick Perry (6-3, 250) has been the Trojans play maker on D. In the first two games, Perry has averaged five tackles per game, while forcing a fumble and collecting a sack. This has been good news for USC fans who were worried on who would replace defensive tackle Jurrell Casy, who was a Pac-10 All-First Teamer last season.
At linebacker, freshman Hayes Pullard has compiled a team-best eight tackles in each of USC's first two victories. Meanwhile, the secondary features senior safety T.J. McDonald, who was a Pac-10 All-Second Teamer in '10.
Conclusion: For the past two weeks, SU's defense has been shredded by an opponent's passing attack and don't look for things to change against the USC Trojans, who feature a top notch quarterback and wide receiver. On paper, the Trojans are by far the more talented team and for the Orange to pull off the upset they will need a lot of things to go their way.