Quarterback Todd Marinovich, leader of the offense, is home in Los Angeles, serving out a suspension. Linebacker Scott Ross, leader of the defense, is wearing a cast in his broken right hand and is not expected to start.
It's of little solace to the Sun Devils, who have had 10 starters out with injuries at one time or another this season and have not handled it well.
Since opening the season with victories over Baylor and Colorado State, they have lost four consecutive games, the last three since senior quarterback Paul Justin dislocated his left shoulder.
The Sun Devils are 0-3 and last in the Pacific 10 Conference.
"We're just trying to find a way to be respectable," Coach Larry Marmie said.
The return of Justin, listed by one preseason magazine as the nation's No. 1 quarterback, may help. Two other starters are also expected back. And with only four starters out, Arizona State is as close to being at full strength as it has been in several weeks.
But Justin, who completed 51.9% of his passes for 577 yards before he was injured last month in a 30-9 loss to Missouri, spent two nights in a hospital last week.
Doctors at first feared that he was suffering from appendicitis, but Justin's ailment later was diagnosed as a gastrointestinal problem. He lost 17 pounds in 48 hours and at practice Monday, he became ill and almost had to leave.
He regained his strength later in the week, but Marmie isn't counting on him to return to form in one game.
"It's nice to have him back, but he hasn't played in a month," Marmie said of Justin, who passed for 2,591 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior. "It's not like he's going to step back in there and be as crisp and as sharp and all that."
Justin will take control of an offense that ranks eighth in the Pac-10 and has scored one touchdown or less in three of Arizona State's last four games.
The Sun Devils ran more than they passed in Justin's absence, to the delight of tailback Leonard Russell, a junior from Long Beach Poly High School and Mt. San Antonio College. Russell has averaged 70 yards a game. Two weeks ago, he ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to California.
Defensively, Arizona State ranks seventh in the Pac-10.
And the Sun Devils' standing won't necessarily improve after today, Marmie said, even though they will face a USC offense minus Marinovich, who ranks third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency.
Marinovich was suspended by Coach Larry Smith this week for academic reasons, leaving seldom-used backup Shane Foley as the Trojans' starting quarterback.
Marmie didn't seem especially encouraged by the news.
"We feel like they're going to run the football at us, anyway, regardless of who their quarterback is," he said. "That doesn't mean they're not going to throw it, but it looks like, in the past couple of weeks, the running game is what they've hung their hat on."
It probably didn't go unnoticed by the Trojans that Washington ran for 329 yards against the Sun Devils and Cal ran for 271.
ASU tightened its defense last week, limiting Oregon to 289 total yards and one offensive touchdown in a 27-7 loss at Oregon.
Still, Marmie said: "The challenge is to play like that week after week. I don't know if we can do that or not.
"We're trying to find a way to come out from under it, and certainly with a team like USC staring at us, it's not going to be an easy task. It's not going to be easy for us against anybody."
USC Coach Larry Smith opened the competition at all but a few positions this week, and Friday he announced several changes in the starting lineup. Those who lost their starting positions were sophomore split end Larry Wallace and two seniors, linebacker Craig Hartsuyker and strong safety Marcus Hopkins. All three will be replaced by freshmen--Johnnie Morton at split end, Willie McGinest at linebacker and Howard McCowan at strong safety.
The Trojans' starting lineup is expected to include six freshmen and three sophomores. Only seven seniors are expected to start, including Foley.