Syracuse vs USC: Q&A With Conquest Chronicles

Sep 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans players run onto the field before the game against the Hawaii Rainbows at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Hawaii 49-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

I don't know about you but I've been hearing a lot about Matt Barkley And His Merry Men as the USC Trojans meet the Syracuse Orange in New Jersey on Saturday. But what about the rest of the Trojans? How bout that defense? What about the team's depth? Where can we find tiny holes that SU can poke until those tiny holes become medium-sized holes and then large holes and then holes so big we can fit Ryan Nassib's gargantuan noggin inside them?

I turned to the fine folks at Conquest Chronicles for the answers. They also asked me some questions and I did my best to trick them into thinking we're not gonna win this game. Suckers...

The USC offense appears to be an embarrassment of riches. If you were rating the Top Five Offensive Players in order, how would you do it?

This might be one of the toughest USC questions to answer all year. With so many weapons, how do they actually stack up against each other? Veteran center Khaled Holmes, who has been protecting good friend Matt Barkley for the last six years, fits somewhere on this list. He is the glue in the middle of the line, making any calls Barkley doesn't. However, I'm going to exclude the line from this top five rendition. Here's my take on the top five offensive weapons:

Matt Barkley - If the Heisman is supposed to go to the best player in college football, how could the preseason Heisman front runner not be first?

Marqise Lee - Lane Kiffin keeps claiming Lee could be the greatest Trojan receiver EVER. His performance in the last three games (31 catches, 602 yards, 4 receiving TD) suggest Kiffin may be on the money. Lee has scored in six straight games and 10 of the last 11.

Robert Woods - Some mock drafts have listed Woods as high as No. 1 based on the drafting team's needs, but is Woods finally 100 percent after ankle and shoulder injuries slowed him last season and in the offseason? Woods at 75 to 80 percent is probably still one of the top 10-15 receivers in the nation because of his precise route-running and hands.

Silas Redd - Redd gets the nod over Curtis McNeal just because of his ability to sustain more hits. These two are almost indistinguishable when trying to separate talent level, but McNeal has been prone to get nicked up.

Randall Telfer - USC's tight end duo of Telfer & Xavier Grimble will quietly rule the middle of the field thanks to the proficiency of #2 & #3 on this list. Both sophomore tight ends are athletic monsters, but Telfer was the more dangerous last season setting a record for freshman tight ends with 26 catches while reeling in 273 yards and five touchdowns.

Where do you think Matt Barkley rate in comparison to all of the great USC quarterbacks going back to Carson Palmer?

Matt Barkley has the opportunity to become the greatest of USC quarterbacks. Stats will be only a small part of the story. But his overall presence in this program will just as important as his on the filed play.

It is easy to say that unless Barkley wins a Heisman or a National Championship he won't compare to his predecessors. Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer did the former, Matt Leinart did the latter.

John David Booty had a decent career at USC, but he doesn't jump off the page. Mark Sanchez captivated many in his one year as starter but his resume to many is incomplete because of that one year.

But Barkley's legacy is bigger than that...Palmer didn't have the full benefit of the weapons that Leinart had but still put up some impressive numbers under Norm Chow. Leinart had the benefit of what some would consider the greatest offensive machine in the history of college football in 2004/2005.

The particulars:

  • Sanchez/Barkley - Sanchez has a stronger arm, but Barkley has better feet and a better pocket presence.
  • Booty/Barkley - Barkley is a much better athlete with a better arm.
  • Leinart/Barkley - Leinart and Barkley have roughly the same experience as a starter. Both had the same type of pocket presence but Barkley is a better athlete.
  • Palmer/Barkley - Like Barkley, Palmer started in a lot of games (5 as a true freshman) but Palmer had some injury issues. Palmer really didn't explode until his senior season. Palmer is bigger and stronger than Barkley, with a better arm. But Palmer was bit of a gunslinger who didn't make the smart decisions that Barkley does.

The intangibles:

  • Barkley is the face of this program and probably has been since he arrived on campus. Barkley has kept this team together in the face of the draconian NCAA sanctions handed down in 2010. Some have compared him to USC AD Pat Haden as the blond-haired, blue-eyed, fair-haired boy.
  • Matt Barkley's legacy will go far beyond what he does on the field.
  • Barkley has and will continue to face an incredible amount of scrutiny as the season progresses and because of how the sport of CFB has exploded in its coverage over the past 10 or so years.
  • In USC terms Barkley is a National Treasure…

Originally this game was scheduled to be played in Syracuse but it was moved to MetLife Stadium. What does it mean for the USC program to play a game in the shadow of New York City?

Playing in the afternoon in the Eastern Time Zone will guarantee East Coasters see the Trojans, but playing near New York City is a great opportunity to grow the USC brand even further. There are very few professional sports teams, much less college programs, that have a national representation, but USC is constantly pushing to be one of those few. That's why the Trojans' "We PLAY" marketing will be on display this week in Times Square.

This is also a chance for USC to play in a big city on the road in potential preparations for a special January trip to another East Coast city that sits on the water. If all things go right for the Trojans this season, this could be an invaluable road trip dealing with everything from the cross-county flight to the big city distractions.

About the only thing Syracuse fans have to cling to is that depth is an issue for you guys on defense. Is that really an issue and what is the weakest part of the USC D?

Depth is certainly something to worry about, not only on defense but on offense, too. Of course it’s an issue, considering USC has 10 less scholarship players than the norm. Despite the defensive line’s performance in the home season opener against Hawai’i, I still have to consider the front-four the weakest part of the defense. As has been noted before, senior defensive end Devon Kennard needed surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. And in the first game, the other senior defensive end --- Wes Horton --- missed the game, too. Horton’s injury might not be too serious, but to miss the season opener has to raise some concern. George Uko, J.R. Tavai, Morgan Breslin and Greg Townsend Jr. all stepped up at home, but how they play on the road is something to watch for.

Another question mark, though, is the other cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey. With Isiah Wiley academically ineligible and Torin Harris injured, Hawai’i found success challenging whomever the Trojans put at the other corner spot. Harris, though, is expected to return Saturday, so it’ll be interesting to see how Kiffin chooses to use him.

If you were going to build a prototype for a college football team that could beat this USC squad, what does it look like?

There are two components that a team must possess in order to defeat the 2012 Trojans. First, it must be able to apply pressure without blitzing. Barkley is the best pro-style quarterback in the nation. As such, sending five-to-six rushers will only allow him to hit one of his many targets. A vicious front four would cause the USC offensive line fits, which is good but not Alabama great. In order to stop the USC machine, one must rattle Barkley; it’s essential.

The second facet would be a fast-paced, efficient offense. USC managed to slow down Oregon last year, but once it got rolling in the fourth quarter, the Trojan defense was completely gassed. Had it not been for the suspect leg of Alejandro Maldonado, the 2011 Trojans’ narrative would have differed. In short, if a team could control the line on both sides of the ball, it would have a great chance to bring down Kiffin and Co.

What kind of cardinal and gold presence can we expect at MetLife this weekend? Is something like this a destination game for Trojan fans?

There will definitely be a good amount of cardinal and gold at MetLife Stadium this weekend. Just sitting at the airport the other day and watching people decked out in USC gear, I know there will be a good showing for the Trojans for this road game. Is it a destination game? Yes, it’s relatively close to New York City and who doesn’t want to play in that kind of stadium. For me, I know tons of family and family friends will be here, not just to watch the game, but also to tour the city as a sort of destination place to combine USC football and a vacation.

Game prediction? And where do you expect the Trojans to be come January?

USC is favored by almost four touchdowns and that’s giving a lot of respect to the Trojans. But they have to travel cross-country and for its younger players, playing on the road is much, much different than playing at home. I don’t think Syracuse will be able to stop USC, though, and that’ll make all the difference. The Trojans win, but they won’t cover.

Come January, I expect USC to be in the national championship game. But in order for this to happen, I think there has to be at least one or two players on both offense and defense to step up and be consistent threats outside their top guys. It’ll happen because the talent is there. Last season, USC’s young linebackers emerged. Marqise Lee became an overnight star. This year, others will have to be the difference maker(s) to propel the Trojans to that next level.

Check out Conquest Chronicles for all things USC leading up to the game...

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