How USC Trojans match up with Western Michigan in the 2017 season opener

Western Michigan running back Jarvion Franklin, a 225-pound bruiser, rushed for 1,353 yards last season and, according to USC coach Clay Helton, is “great between the tackles.”
(David Dermer / Associated Press)

USC (0-0) vs. Western Michigan (0-0)

Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 710

Marquee matchup

USC’s front seven vs. Western Michigan’s running game: The defensive front has the potential to be USC’s best in years. It will receive an immediate test because Western Michigan’s running game, USC coach Clay Helton said, is among the best the Trojans will see this year. It is a three-pronged attack. Jarvion Franklin, a 225-pound bruiser, rushed for 1,353 yards last season and, according to Helton, is “great between the tackles.” Jamauri Bogan “is a jitterbug” and LeVante Bellamy “is a true speed guy,” Helton said. USC has four legitimate All-Pac-12 contenders on its front: linebackers Uchenna Nwosu, Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith and lineman Rasheem Green.

Getting offensive

USC (477.1 ypg/34.4 ppg in 2016): Like experienced receivers? Find another game to watch. Last season, both teams boasted powerful offenses with productive passing games. USC returns Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Darnold at quarterback but lost 56% of its receiving production. Expect the running back duo of Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr, a freshman, to shine early.


Western Michigan (481.2 ypg/41.6 ppg in 2016): The Broncos lost their four-year starting quarterback, Zach Terrell, and three receivers, including a first-round NFL pick, Corey Davis.

Getting defensive

USC (367.2 ypg/24.2 ppg in 2016): USC’s defense consistently outplayed the offense in practice throughout training camp and not just because the offense was breaking in new contributors. The defense is fast, experienced and has the potential to be extremely stingy.

Western Michigan (353.6 ypg/19.8 ppg in 2016): The Broncos returned eight starters from a unit that allowed an average of 18 points per game against the three power-conference teams it played last season.

Something special

Western Michigan returner Darius Phillips was one of just five players with both a kickoff and punt return touchdown last season. (He also returned three interceptions for touchdowns.) Helton called him Western Michigan’s Adoree’ Jackson. “He kind of does everything,” Helton said. “He’s a defense, offense, kick returner. He’s a very special player.”

USC may use a committee to return punts and kickoffs early on. It will rely on a new kicker, walk-on freshman Chase McGrath, and a new punter, walk-on junior Reid Budrovich. Western Michigan also will use a freshman kicker, Josh Grant.

Of note

USC never before played a team from the Mid-American Conference, the only conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision that USC hasn’t played. Western Michigan has never played a team from the Pac-12 Conference. … Three teams won 13 or more games last season: Western Michigan, Alabama and Clemson.

Oddly enough...

Western Michigan has no players from California. USC has no players from Michigan.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand