Fresno State opens their first game of the 2014 season against a familiar opponent in the USC Trojans. These two teams faced off in the Las Vegas Bowl with USC easily winning, 45-20. This is a different Fresno State team which loses approximately 70 percent of its offensive production, most of which went off to the NFL.
While the two team should be fairly familiar with each other, we reached out to Evan Budrovich who is the managing editor of Conquest Chronicles here on the SB Nation network to get to know the 2014 version of USC.
With the understanding that USC is always striving for, at the very least a Pac-12 title and a BCS bowl, with the new coaching staff in place what are the expectations for this season?
The expectations heading into this season are both high but also quite achievable. Coach Steve Sarkisian brings a combination of Ed Orgeron's newfound, team-oriented excitement but also the strong coaching staff and elite-level recruits to inhibit such sincere optimism. The Trojans should expect to win 10-plus games during the regular season, and should be right in the running with UCLA for a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. While not winning the Pac-12 Championship may be a slight disappointment, losing to UCLA would be the biggest blow (both in recruiting and reputation) to the Trojans current state of affairs.
What changes will we see with the Trojan team this season, most specifically on offense where I believe they plan to run more of a hurry up spread, which is vastly different from anything that's been run at USC in the past?
You are spot on. The Trojans will run a lot more shotgun, read-option sets that will allow the football to be spread both quickly and efficiently. Cody Kessler finished last season on an absolute tear, and coach Sarkisian will curtail the offense to allow Kessler to utilize his strong running game, great screen passing game and some vital tight end threats over the middle. I'd say the offense will be very similar to the Las Vegas Bowl, in terms of ball distribution and Buck Allen's footprint all over the script, but different in the fact that USC will run even faster up and down the field.
Who are a few of the players you are excited to watch this season?
I want to see LB Anthony Sarao, DL Claude Pelon, DB Kevon Seymour, OG Viane Talamaivao, OT Zach Banner (please stay healthy, please stay healthy) and FB/ST ace Soma Vainuku.
What is it about Coach Sarkisian that's different from Coach Kiffin?
There's two big answers to this question. In terms of on the field actions, Sarkisian's Pete Carroll like in terms of his coaching energy and his ability to relate with his players in a fiery manner. He tests them to do well, but can also say "come on man, gotta make that play" with a jovial high five. In terms of his demeanor off the field, Sarkisian's willing to address both his faults and successes in a confident manner where Kiffin never felt satisfied with the good and bad outcomes.
Will the game be sold out against Fresno State?
So I want to say yes that's possible, but I'm not that foolish (nor stubborn enough) to assume the excitement around this game would be similar to the Stanford game from last season. Expect about 78k fans for this game, though that's a mere guess based on projected season-ticket numbers. If USC starts 3-0 with wins over Fresno State, Stanford and BC, however, expect a sellout crowd for the ASU game back at the Coliseum.
Any players that weren't as prominent last year that you expect to take the step and make a big impression this season?
Expect sophomore WR Darreus Rogers to breakout out as a legitimate No. 2 pass-catching option on offense. Another player I'd look out for is TE Randall Telfer, who now has a unique opportunity to play in a TE-happy offense that will give the large target plenty of chances to catch some touchdowns in the red zone.