Cal Football: Previewing the Bears' 2020 Opponents: Game 6 - USC Trojans

Quarterback Kedon Slovis delivered an impressive freshman season.Photo by Kirby Lee, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Based on our view of Cal's first five games next fall, the Bears will be unbeaten -- and likely somewhere in the Top-25 -- when they visit the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Oct. 10 to take on USC.

Of course, much could and probably will change by then. If the threat of COVID-19 permits a season to be played, no one will be surprised if many of the details, starting with the schedule, are tweaked. Perhaps significantly so.

Presuming the season proceeds, this figures to be a huge game for Cal. The Bears won in their most recent visit to the L.A. Coliseum, two years ago,  but the Trojans turned the tables last season in Berkeley with a 41-17 victory.

Game 6: CAL at USC, Saturday, Oct. 10

USC 2019 record: 8-5 overall, 7-2/2nd in Pac-12 South

Series record: USC leads 70-26-4 and has won 15 of the past 16 meetings. The Trojans won 41-17 last season at Berkeley. Cal ended a 14-game losing streak in 2018 with a 15-14 victory at Los Angeles.

USC coach: Clay Helton, 40-22 in 7th year as USC head coach

Top players: Sophomore QB Kedon Slovis (3,502 passing yards, 72 percent completion, 30 touchdowns, 9 interceptions); junior WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (77 receptions, 1,042 yards, 6 touchdowns); senior WR Tyler Vaughns (74 receptions, 912 yards, 6 touchdowns); junior OT/OG Alijah Vera-Tucker (2nd-team All-Pac-12); junior DT Jay Tufele (1st-team All-Pac-12); sophomore DE/OLB Drake Jackson (2nd-team All-Pac-12); junior S Talanoa Hufanga (2nd-team All-Pac-12).

*** Cal coach Justin Wilcox, the video below, talked after the Bears' loss to USC about the Trojans' impressive receiving corps after Michael Pittman Jr., Drake London and Amon-Ra St. Brown combined for 22 catches for 376 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Strengths: Kedon Slovis was lifted into the starter’s role after JT Daniels sustained a season-ending knee injury in the 2019 opener vs. Fresno State. Slovis went on to be named Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year after assembling four games of at least 400 passing yards, including 406 yards and four TDs in the Trojans’ 41-17 win at Cal. He followed that with 515 yards and four TDs vs. rival UCLA. Daniels was a prep national player of the year who in 2018 became just the second true freshman to start a USC opener at quarterback. He passed for 2,672 yards and 14 TDs and will enter the 2020 campaign as one of the nation’s most over-qualified backups if he cannot wrestle away the starting assignment in fall camp.

Star wideout Michael Pittman Jr. is gone, but there is plenty of talent at the position, led by Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns (who sat out the Cal game last year due to injury). Three freshmen who could be in the mix are wideouts Gary Bryant Jr. and Joshua Jackson and tight end Jack Yary the son of former USC and NFL great Ron Yary.

Weaknesses: The Trojans, who ranked just ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (118.2 yards per game), need to get more punch on the ground to balance their passing attack. Vavae Malepeai led the Trojans with 503 rushing yards, but missed five games with a knee injury, and Stephen Carr had 396 yards but missed three games with a hamstring injury. . . . The USC defense allowed an average of 29.4 points and gave up 49 in its Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa. That led to defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast being fired. He was replaced by Todd Orlando, who became available after being fired by Texas.

What you should know about USC: Presuming the schedule remains unchanged, the Trojans will get some idea about what kind of team they have in their season opener against Alabama on Sept. 5 at Arlington, Texas. USC is the early consensus choice to win the Pac-12 South, which would go a long way toward easing the heat on Clay Helton, who spent much of last season trying to ignore the faction of Trojans fans who wanted a coaching change after the Trojans went 5-7 in 2018. . . . New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has rebuilt the staff on his side of the ball, hiring new assistants to run the D-line, linebackers and defensive backs.

Spring practice status: The Trojans began spring workouts on March 10 and completed three practices before spring break and the subsequent cessation of all sports activity due to the COVID-19 crisis.

2020 Season projection: USC should boast one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks, although the offensive line and run game need to improve. No one has been knocked out in recent seasons by the USC defense, but there is a lot of talent and experience here. A total of 17 offensive and defensive starters are back from a team that won five of its final six regular-season games. The Trojans must play Oregon on the road, but they get South rival Arizona State at home on Sept. 26, giving them a shot to separate from the Sun Devils in the division.

Cal-USC game prediction: USC 31, Cal 24

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