Five things to watch: USC-Syracuse

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
12:13
PM PT
The No. 2 USC Trojans play their first road game of the 2012 season against Syracuse (12:30 p.m. PT) on Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Here are five things to watch:

1. A different approach in the backfield. Who could have predicted that Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, both 1,000-yard rushers in 2011, would have combined to carry the ball 14 times against Hawaii? Not many. But the Trojans are sure to alter that distribution of the play calls this week, both to keep McNeal and Redd happy and to show teams on tape that they're not overly reliant on the pass. Also of note: With D.J. Morgan out after undergoing knee surgery, who's going to be USC's third back? A quick look at the depth chart would tell you it's redshirt freshman Buck Allen, but it would not be surprising if fullback Soma Vainuku ended up getting the majority of the carries behind McNeal and Redd.

2. Passing talent. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse's senior quarterback, can play. He had success against USC last season at the Coliseum, with a 68 percent completion rate and no picks, and he had a lot of success in Syracuse's opener last week against Northwestern, with a school-record 470 passing yards. The Trojans have enough talent in their secondary to keep the Orange offense from really getting going, but there are still some questions. Last week, Hawaii found it could attack the Trojans' second and third corner slots and consistently advance the ball. If that's the case again Saturday, it could lead to a bit of trouble for USC. Syracuse's leading receiver in 2011, Alec Lemon, sat out Week 1 and is questionable this week.

3. Injured returns? Cornerback Torin Harris and linebacker Lamar Dawson, two of the three Trojans who missed last week's opener because injury, said this week that they'll be back for Syracuse. So that will add some intrigue, especially since Trojans coach Lane Kiffin seems to think Harris could solidify that second corner spot if healthy. Adding Dawson into the mix given his weeks of missed camp could be a risky proposition, but USC clearly feels it makes more sense to introduce him this week than next week in Palo Alto. He has to start playing again sometime if he's going to be the Trojans' regular middle linebacker.

4. The road and NFL atmosphere. USC will play in at least two NFL stadiums this season -- Saturday at MetLife and next month at CenturyLink Field in Seattle (Washington's home stadium is being renovated). This week's venue is particularly interesting because it's being used for two NFL games in a five-day span surrounding USC's appearance. The New York Giants played the Dallas Cowboys there Wednesday, and the New York Jets will host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. But reports out of New Jersey say the entire top level of MetLife Stadium will be closed down for USC-Syracuse, cutting the max number of attendees from 82,000 to roughly 40,000.

5. Barkley and Lee, Barkley vs. Lee. It was widely assumed in the offseason that Matt Barkley would be USC's top Heisman Trophy candidate. It only made sense, with a senior quarterback returning to a preseason BCS favorite. But Marqise Lee sort of stole the show in Week 1, and if he keeps up that type of play into the meat of the Trojans' schedule, he could conceivably start to take away votes from Barkley. So, in these early-season games where the outcome isn't much in doubt, it'll be fun to follow the statistical race between the two. What's better, a 200-yard, two-touchdown game as a receiver or a 400-yard, four-touchdown game as a quarterback? It's also Barkley's 22nd birthday on Saturday, so maybe he'll get the benefit of the doubt this time.

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