When: Thursday, Aug. 29 at 11 p.m. ET
Where: Aloha Stadium, Halawa (Honolulu), Hawaii
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: ESPN 1420 AM
USC 2012 Record: 7-6, 5-4 in Pac-12.
Hawaii All Time Record vs USC: 0-8
Last Meeting: Week 1 2012, USC 49-10
Coach: Lane Kiffin (25-13) Kiffin is going into his 4th year as Head coach at USC.
Going into the opener its clear that despite last seasons disappointment USC will still open as a big favorite over Hawaii. However there are reasons to believe that it won't be quite as one sided as last years meeting.
At quarterback Taylor Graham has been given the nod over Sean Schroeder and the team seems to have some stability in comparison to the current situation at USC. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler have both been named co-starters on the depth chart meaning that there is still a competition going on into the season to win the position outright.
The biggest advantage the USC quarterbacks hold over Hawaii is the offensive line. They return four of five starters from last year, and they are more proven than anything that the Rainbow Warriors can put together. The line at Hawaii has sorted itself out as camp rolled on and the starting group is pretty settled at the moment. However they are yet to be seen in action and until the product is put on to the field they will not gain any credentials after the showing from its predecessor last year.
Running back is going to be an interesting position to watch Thursday night as Joey Iosefa is missing for Hawaii after only just returning to practice and he will not play to avoid further injury. The rushing attack will be spearheaded by Faga Wily with Steven Lakalaka and Marcus Langkilde the players tasked with supporting him. Wily is a freshman who has had a good showing in camp and there is a sense of intrigue going into the game.
The Trojans have a number of questions at running back with the problems that were encountered on last years dramatic fall from grace, plus toss in the fact that they are going to be down Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan due to injury. They ranked only 72nd in the nation in rushing last year and that is not good enough for a roster looking past a team like Hawaii. While last year's showing should be enough to get them through this game it will be interesting to see how they react if the Warriors defense can cause problems in the passing game making USC lean on the rush. Marqise Lee should be reason enough why this will not come to matter.
The only other player of note that is missing from the Hawaii offense for this game is wide receiver Billy Ray Stuntzmann. He has been medically cleared and started practicing but it will take a while to get him up to speed after he missed all of camp because of a concussion suffered in a one car crash, and he is officially is listed as doubtful. He will figure somewhere down the line this season just not right. A player that could be worth keeping an eye on is Donnie King who has caused a lot of noise in camp.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Rainbow Warriors had some unfortunate news earlier on last week when freshman defensive tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii injured his right knee and will miss at least four weeks after partially tearing the MCL. He would've formed part of the defensive line rotation for this game and his loss will cause a reshuffle of kinds with Marcus Malepeai seeing more time than originally planned in the interior line. The linebacker core is set as has been the case throughout most of camp. Art Laurel will be the biggest threat trying to get after the quarterback.
USC has the threat of both Leonard Williams at defensive end and Morgan Breslin at outside linebacker. Both are going to cause the offensive line of Hawaii problems from the start and if the line remains as porous as last year then everyone could be in for a long night. If it can hold up against the Trojans front 7 then Hawaii could have some success on the back end of the USC defense who have uncertainties amongst its defensive backs. The unit was soft last year and until proven otherwise it will remain the biggest weakness of the defense. Dion Bailey is moving back to safety after spending two years in the linebacking core but he does not project as a starter on the depth chart for this game.
The Rainbow Warriors defensive backs group is a strength of this defense, particularly the safety position. If John Hardy-Tuliau and Ne'Quan Phillips can show some of their ball hawking abilities from a season ago in this game then its possible that Hawaii can hang with USC for maybe a little longer than most expect.
It boils down to the fact that no matter how far USC fell off last season and no matter how much Hawaii have improved its going to be an achievement to even hang with USC for three quarters. If I was going to edge my bets I'd cheekily put my money that Hawaii will lose but cover the three touchdown spread.