USC's Cody Kessler has the luxury of being in command from the start

It's game day at the Coliseum. How will the Trojans respond after a week of distractions?

USC ended its tumultuous 2013 season with a victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Trojans hope a week of preseason turmoil ends with a similar result against the Bulldogs. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the story lines and matchups:

Leading men


In last season's opener at Hawaii, USC quarterback Cody Kessler was nervous and in the midst of a position battle. After a productive season, he is the unquestioned starter running a new, no-huddle offense.

Kessler passed for 20 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, last season. He established a Las Vegas Bowl record by passing for four touchdowns in the Trojans' 45-20 victory over Fresno State.

Kessler's top target will be receiver and roommate Nelson Agholor, who caught six touchdown passes last season.

Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter has not named a starting quarterback. Junior Brian Burrell completed seven of 12 passes for 51 yards last season as Derek Carr's backup.

Senior Brandon Connette, a graduate transfer from Duke, last season passed for 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions. The former Corona Santiago High player also rushed for 14 touchdowns.

Fresno State's top receiver is Josh Harper, who last season caught 79 passes, 13 for touchdowns.

Youth movement

Receiver Ajene Harris and offensive linemen Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama — all freshmen — are scheduled to start for the Trojans.

Harris was the surprise of training camp. The former Crenshaw High quarterback won a spot as the slot receiver with his dynamic play-making and outstanding understanding of the offense.

If Lobendahn and Mama start, it will mark the first time two freshman offensive linemen did so in an opener for the Trojans.

Receiver/cornerback Adoree' Jackson, receiver JuJu Smith and tight end Bryce Dixon are other freshmen who could play significant roles.

On the run

Tailbacks Javorius Allen and Justin Davis will share carries for USC. Tre Madden is sidelined because of a toe injury.

Allen, a junior, averaged nearly six yards per carry and rushed for 14 touchdowns last season. Davis scored six touchdowns and averaged nearly seven yards per carry before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Notre Dame.


Fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner and walk-on James Toland IV also are available.

Fresno State running back Josh Quezada rushed for 806 yards and six touchdowns, Marteze Waller 646 yards and seven touchdowns.

Up front

Justin Wilcox makes his debut as USC's defensive coordinator with a 3-4 scheme that features multiple variations and seeks to take advantage of a talented front seven.

Leonard Williams and Antwaun Woods are veterans joined on the line by transfers Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon.

Hayes Pullard leads a linebacker corps that includes Anthony Sarao, J.R Tavai and Scott Felix.

Safety Su'a Cravens also could be deployed closer to the line of scrimmage.

Fresno State will try to do a better job of slowing down the Trojans.

The Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme features lineman Tyeler Davison, linebacker Ejiro Ederaine and safety Derron Smith.

Stepping in

With Josh Shaw indefinitely suspended, redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins is expected to start at cornerback for USC opposite Kevon Seymour.

Seymour, a junior, had the best game of his career against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. He made a team-best seven tackles and deflected a pass en route to being named the game's most outstanding defensive player.

Hawkins, who graduated early from Rancho Cucamonga High, enrolled at USC in January 2013 and has steadily improved.

Shaw's absence also will provide the multitalented Jackson a larger role.

New look

USC's offense is not the only thing that will look different at the Coliseum.

The historic peristyle end now features 10 on-field luxury suites behind the end zone.

USC previously announced that food items available at concession stands inside the stadium would include "smoked ribs, sliced steak sandwiches, artisan sausage, signature pizza, fried chicken and funnel cakes, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free items."

The school also said there have been improvements in wireless coverage and restrooms.

Twitter: @latimesklein