USC-Fresno State: A look at how the teams match up

Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers celebrates the game-winning touchdown against Boise State in overtime in the Mountain West championship game on Dec. 1, 2018 in Boise, Idaho.
(Steve Conner / Associated Press)

USC (0-0) vs. Fresno State (0-0)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Coliseum. TV: ESPN,.Radio: 790.

Marquee matchup

USC cornerbacks vs. Fresno State passing game. There’s talent in USC’s secondary, but not much experience. Olaijah Griffin, Isaac Taylor-Stuart and Chris Steele, all former five-star cornerback prospects, have not started in college. Lucky for them, the same could be said of Fresno State’s passing attack, which is tasked with replacing most of its major contributors from a year ago, when the Bulldogs ranked among the nation’s most explosive offenses. New starting quarterback Jorge Reyna has only 12 passes to his name since joining Fresno State from West L.A. College in 2017, while both of the Bulldogs’ top receivers from a year ago are gone.


Getting offensive

USC (382.6 ypg, 26.1 ppg in 2018): Months of intrigue over the Trojans’ transformed offense will come to a head Saturday, when Graham Harrell’s Air Raid is finally unveiled. USC must hope his wide-open, up-tempo system clicks quickly with quarterback JT Daniels, who completed under 60% of his passes as a true freshman. With a new system at his disposal, Daniels’ progress as a sophomore will go a long way in determining where the team stands this season. He should get plenty of help from one of the nation’s most talented receiver units. That group is headlined by Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-ra St. Brown, who combined for 1,508 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago. On the ground, USC will open the season with a three-headed rotation led by Vavae Malepeai, who rushed for eight touchdowns in 2018.

USC released its first depth chart ahead of Saturday’s season opener against Fresno State and it includes some surprises and a demotion.

Aug. 30, 2019

Fresno State (421.5 ypg, 34.6 ppg in 2018): Losing nearly 65% of its total yards from a year ago is a tough pill for any offense to swallow, but Fresno State still boasts some talented pieces, including its leading rusher from a season ago, Ronnie Rivers. Rivers averaged nearly six yards a carry as a freshman, and with an inexperienced passing attack, he should be a centerpiece of the Bulldogs’ offense. Reyna may not have the same dynamic arm as departed quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who threw for 3,629 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior. But coach Jeff Tedford has a history of maximizing his offensive talent.

Getting defensive

USC (388 ypg, 27 ppg in 2018): There may be plenty of questions about USC’s defensive backfield, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is pretty confident in his front seven, which is deeper than it was a season ago. Freshman defensive end Drake Jackson should pair nicely with experienced fellow end Christian Rector, giving USC a tandem of dangerous pass rushers. At linebacker, injuries have left the Trojans thin, but senior John Houston should help stabilize the group.


Fresno State (321.6 ypg, 14.1 ppg in 2018): No team in college football was better at defending inside the 20-yard line last season than Fresno State, which stopped 33% of its opponents’ drives within the red zone. Like their offense, the Bulldogs have plenty of pieces to replace on defense, including the Mountain West defensive player of the year, linebacker Jeff Allison.

National college football writer J. Brady McCollough predicts who’s going to win selected games this week. He says go with the Trojans, but pass on the Bruins.

Aug. 29, 2019

Something special

After an eight-year career in the Australian Football League, Aussie freshman punter Ben Griffiths will make his debut for USC on Saturday. At 27, he is listed by USC as “one of the oldest Trojans ever.” At 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds, he’s also among the biggest punters in school history.

Of note

USC has played only 12 August games , but it has won each of its last seven during the month. The Trojans’ last August victory came against Fresno State in 2014.

Injury report

USC sophomore outside linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his knee and will miss the game.