USC hopes to pack in a few victories

SALT LAKE CITY -- As travelers from the airport exit the Interstate and head downtown, the first billboard on the left trumpets Utah's game against USC.

The first one on the right also celebrates the Utes' football program.

School and team nicknames will change, but USC this month will grow familiar with — or perhaps tire of — those kinds of roadside welcomes. The Trojans play three of their next four games away from home.

After Thursday night's sold-out game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Trojans travel next week to Seattle to play Washington at CenturyLink Field. USC plays Colorado at the Coliseum on Oct. 20 and then is back on the road to play at Arizona on Oct. 27.

The No. 13 Trojans begin their October gantlet 3-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 Conference play. If they emerge unscathed, they will remain contenders for the South division title and can look forward to a November devoid of travel other than by Southland freeway.

The final month of the regular season features home games against Oregon and Arizona State, a visit to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA and the finale at the Coliseum against Notre Dame.

"We've just got to lock in and have a good October," linebacker Dion Bailey said, "and be ready for the home stretch in November."

This is the fifth time since 2001 that USC will play at least three October road games. Only twice did the Trojans get through the month without a defeat.

In 2003, once-beaten USC began October ranked 10th. The Trojans finished the month ranked third en route to finishing No. 1 in the final Associated Press media poll.

In 2005, USC was undefeated and ranked No. 1 throughout the regular season before losing to Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

In 2009, the Trojans had one conference loss and were ranked No. 7 at the start of October. They climbed to No. 4 before a Halloween night massacre at Oregon's Autzen Stadium sent them spiraling to an 8-4 regular-season record, a 5-4 finish in conference play and a berth in the Emerald Bowl.

Third-year Coach Lane Kiffin is not concerned about possible scenarios, good or bad.

"That's just not been my mind-set," he said. "I don't look at the schedule and say, 'Man, if we make it to this break, we come home for the last how many.'"

USC has enough to be concerned about without looking ahead.

As the Trojans found out in 2008 at Oregon State and as Stanford discovered last week at Washington, not-so-funny things happen to favored teams in nationally televised Thursday night games on the road.

"Any time there's no other games going and everybody is going to watch you, it becomes more of a statement game for the team that's considered to be the underdog," Kiffin said.

USC is seeking its first conference road victory after losing at Stanford, 21-14, on Sept. 15.

The Trojans rebounded with a 27-9 victory over California, and then used last week's open date to rest many players and allow others to heal.

Utah (2-2, 0-1) also had an open date after suffering a 37-7 loss to Arizona State.

Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham said Arizona State "really did a number on us" with its passing attack, especially with play action.

That could bode well for the Trojans, who rushed for nearly 300 yards against Cal but are hoping to jump-start a passing attack that has not produced big plays.

Utah has been anticipating this game since it joined the conference last year.

"We talk about weathering the storm when you go on the road, but especially when it's a Thursday night game in an environment like it will be," Kiffin said. "They're going to make some plays — it's going to happen.

"You have to stay upbeat with the players, especially the younger guys who haven't been in these types of situations."

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