2017 USC Football Schedule: 5 Observations and What They Mean
The 2017 USC football schedule release raises some intriguing observations, from 12 consecutive games to early tests versus new head coaches.
Now that the 2017 USC football schedule has been revealed, it’s time to get a lay of the land for the upcoming slate.
The Trojans already knew the plan for three out of conference games against Western Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame, but the Pac-12 slate has now been filled in.
Here’s five observations from the schedule and what it means for USC:
12 Consecutive Games
The first thing that jumps out on USC’s 2017 schedule, without a doubt, is the lack of a bye week.
Granted, it’s not that the Trojans don’t have a bye week at all. Instead, that break comes in the final week of the regular season, potentially giving USC an extra week to prepare if they get to the Pac-12 championship game.
And that might be the biggest takeaway from the schedule. Playing 12 games in a row without a week off is asking a lot of a team, but the payoff could be enormous with two weeks off before playing the Pac-12 North champion, who will be on short rest because the title game may again be played on a Friday night.
The trouble is getting through that slate and securing a spot in that title tilt.
In 2016, USC’s bye week game right in the middle of the season, giving the Trojans a moment to breathe before ripping off five consecutive wins to end the regular season season.
There will be no such luxury this time as Clay Helton’s squad must overcome the wear and tear of the season without any extra rest in between.
New Head Coaches
Having a new head coach and the staff changes that come with that worked against USC in 2016, but it’ll work in the Trojans’ favor in 2017.
Three of USC’s first four opponents of the season will be breaking in new head coaches when they face them in September.
First up is Western Michigan, who hired Purdue quarterbacks coach Tim Lester as the replacement for P.J. Fleck, who led the Broncos to a 13-1 record and then left for Minnesota. Lester isn’t just a new head coach for the Broncos, this is his first head coaching job in Division I. He had been a head coach in Division III.
The Trojans will also take on hotshot head coach Tom Herman, who took over the Texas program. Herman will have tune up games against Maryland and San Jose State before trying to upset USC at the Coliseum in his first road game as the Longhorn head coach.
Rounding out the group, USC has an intriguing match up with former defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who just got his first head coaching gig at Cal.
The Bears will be installing an entirely new offense and defense. Even with three weeks to progress before hosting USC, it would be a big ask to topple the Trojans.
The State Switch Is A Trap
Thanks to the Pac-12 scheduling cycle, USC won’t see Washington or Oregon in 2017, switching off for their rotation with the other two teams from the northwest — Washington State and Oregon State.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see how that’s an improvement for the Trojans. The Huskies were the in college football playoff while Oregon has been one of the powers of the conference in recent times. Meanwhile, Oregon State is a perennial bottom dweller. The Cougars may have won eight games in 2016, but they’re a far cry from Washington.
On the other hand, the change to the “state” schools creates a pair of potential trap games on USC’s schedule.
The September 29th match up against Washington State stands out in particular. Six days after USC’s trip to Cal, the Trojans will be on upset alert against a Cougar squad led by senior quarterback Luke Falk.
The very next week, USC will take on Oregon State in a potential “caught looking ahead” trap game with Utah and Notre Dame looming.
Bowl Teams Should Increase
Just five of USC’s 12 opponents in 2017 were bowl eligible in 2016, but that number is a bit of a mirage.
Texas, Notre Dame and UCLA failing to make a bowl game stands out given the talent level each of those squads boast.
With Tom Herman taking over at Texas, Brian Kelly coaching for his job at Notre Dame and Jim Mora welcoming back Josh Rosen from injury, all three of those squads — which should have still been able to eek out bowl eligibility last year — should be expected to raise their profile this coming season.
At the same time, it’s reasonable to expect Stanford, Utah, Washington State and Colorado to continue to perform well, even if the latter three could all be in for a bit of a dip in 2017.
As for Western Michigan, the loss of P.J. Fleck is a heavy one, but they will still be the favorite to win the Mid-American conference.
Taking that into consideration, USC’s strength of schedule across the board should be high once again this season with as many as eight teams on the slate with bowl expectations.
Despite The Bye Problem, It’s An Easier Road
The bye week complicates the Trojans’ schedule greatly in 2017, but across the board it’s a path which initially seems more favorable than 2016’s schedule.
USC’s road slate is no slouch, taking on a marquee G5 team in Western Michigan, a big-time program like Texas and the annual rivalry tilt, on the road, versus Notre Dame.
But, those three are still preferable to a neutral site game with a defending national champion, especially when you consider that neither the Longhorns nor Irish made a bowl game last year and the Broncos lost head coach P.J. Fleck. Those aren’t easy match ups, but they are winnable.
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Again USC gets hit with a consecutive road games and a short-week, taking on Cal at Memorial Stadium and then Washington State in Pullman on a Friday night.
But, those opponents in that situation are far easier than the Stanford-Utah double-whammy of 2016.
Also, there’s no question the Washington State-Oregon State pairing is preferable to the Washington-Oregon match up the Trojans got last year. Even given the Ducks’ free fall, the talent level in Eugene outranks that in Corvallis or Pullman.
When all is said and done, USC can look at the coming slate and see plenty of strong resume-building games, but an overall more winnable slate from start to finish.