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Enough About Prayers: Final USC vs. Syracuse Prediction

How things will actually shake out.

So, it’s clear that tomorrow’s game between USC and Syracuse is a pretty big deal here at College Spun, and why not? It’s one of the biggest college football teams going up against the alma mater of our fearless leader, and it’s taking place in one of the stadiums that many of these athletes hope to be playing in on Sundays.

This week, we’ve seen 'Cuse sophomore Meaghan Lane give a case for why the Orange has a prayer against the Trojans. Then we saw SC’s Tara Campbell write up a response to shoot it down. Prayer? No prayer? Bleh. Prayers have no place here. I quote the great Stephen Colbert: “God remains neutral when it comes to sports…unless he has money riding on it.”

So in an attempt to keep things neutral and avoid the wrath of my Orange-loving boss, this preview of USC vs. Syracuse will take a look at the things you should expect to see tomorrow afternoon.

USC Will Run More

One of the biggest topics of discussion among the Trojans following last week’s victory against Hawaii was the disappointing output from the running game, with only 91 yards and one touchdown coming from runningbacks Curtis McNeal, Silas Redd, and D.J. Morgan. With Morgan out of this game after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee this week, expect Kiffin to call McNeal and Redd’s numbers more often.

Of course, if Kiffin wants the rushing yard numbers to go up, then he will need some improvement from the offensive line. Take a look at Redd’s touchdown run last week.

As you can see, Redd had to squeeze through a very narrow hole to get to the open field. Last year, the offense was able to use Matt Kalil’s strong blocking ability to create holes and use outside runs to get the first down. With Kalil gone, the O-line has been able to sustain its pass protection, but had trouble creating holes for McNeal and Redd to run through. Redd’s touchdown came primarily from his mobility, and the Trojans can’t rely on that all season. Expect Kiffin to call more run plays to test both his RBs and his front five.

Nassib will air it out against the Trojans back seven

Nassib led all quarterbacks in passing yards, racking up 470 against Northwestern and throwing four touchdowns. Needless to say, Syracuse will turn to Nassib to keep that momentum going. Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald will be tested against Orange receivers Jeremiah Kobena and Marcus Sales.

Beyond the top two on the depth chart, USC had some trouble with some of its secondary personnel, with cornerbacks Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham, and Kevin Seymour all struggling somewhat last week. Meanwhile, Syracuse’s top receiver Alec Lemon is returning from injury. Lemon made 68 receptions last year and will likely be placed up against whichever CB is starting opposite Robey. If Syracuse wants to keep up with USC’s offense, it needs one of its three receivers to find a mismatch and keep exploiting it.

Backfield Pressure

Another element of the game to keep an eye on is how much pressure the USC D-line can inflict and how Nassib will respond to it. The unit that sported the biggest question mark for the Trojans in the preseason had a solid start last week, with five sacks by five different players. Nassib’s response to pressure was a major factor for Syracuse last season, with eight interceptions thrown in its seven defeats last year. If the D-line can force Nassib to make bad passes under pressure, it will be a big help for the Trojans secondary and a big boost of confidence. If not, Syracuse may have USC scrambling on more than one drive.

Lee, Woods, and Barkley: The Fire Still Burns

One of the reasons why USC’s passing game is so successful is the fact that Matt Barkley gets in the faces of his two receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and they do the same thing right back. Last week, Lee was urging Matt to throw a pass higher following an incompletion, and in another drive, Barkley was seen walking off the field yelling at Lee for bobbling an easy pass. Barkley also got on Woods’ case after he only caught six passes for 42 yards, though two of them were for touchdowns.

These three guys keep each other hungry and will continue to do so throughout the season. Lee will be looking to build on the near 200-yard receiving performance he had against Hawaii, and Woods will be looking for his first big game following his offseason surgery and to prove he is still USC’s top wideout.

Prediction

OK, time to pick a side. Who wins this? Well, the Trojans, of course. They are one week away from beginning PAC-12 play, and with this game on network TV and in an NFL stadium, they will want to send a huge message to their conference foes, especially Stanford. Syracuse will score some points, but in the end won't be able to contain Barkley & Co: USC 45, Syracuse 21