Favorable 2021 football schedule could help Trojans contend for Pac-12 title and more

USC running back Vavae Malepeai
USC running back Vavae Malepeai moves up field against Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 12, 2019.
(Associated Press)

After a chaotic year of pandemic postponements and scheduling uncertainty that ended in a hastily thrown together title game defeat, USC’s slate for the upcoming 2021 season has officially been set.

And the schedule, as it currently stands, offers cause for hope that the Trojans could again be serious contenders for a Pac-12 title.

USC won’t play Washington or Oregon, who have won four of the last five conference championships. For the first time since 2009, it won’t play a regular-season game on a Friday (or any other day but Saturday). And its road slate, with just one set of back-to-back games away from the Coliseum, is as manageable as it’s been in recent memory.


USC will face a more challenging non-conference slate than it probably imagined when it first signed on to play both San Jose State and Brigham Young. Those two teams, which bookend the Trojans schedule, finished 18-2 last season. However, BYU must replace star quarterback Zach Wilson, who led the Cougars to a win over USC in their 2019 meeting and is expected to be a top draft pick.

Then, there’s Notre Dame, which went to the College Football Playoff last season and marks the toughest matchup on USC’s schedule again in 2021.

The slate, as USC coach Clay Helton sees it, is strong enough to build “a great resume”.

“These are darn good football teams,” Helton said during the Pac-12 Network’s schedule release broadcast. “If you don’t bring your A-game in this conference or with those non-conference games, you’re going to get your butt beat.”

The conference schedule promises to be more accommodating. USC opens its Pac-12 slate against Stanford on Sept. 11, before heading to Washington State a week later. The Trojans will then face Oregon State for the first time since 2018, before traveling to Colorado on Oct. 2.


USC will face Utah coming off a bye, but will get the Utes at home ahead of its own bye week. The placement of that off week is crucial for the Trojans, who will face Notre Dame in South Bend upon their return Oct. 23. That’s the latest the two rivals will play each other since 1993.

The Trojans’ only back-to-back road dates will take them to Tempe on Nov. 6 to face Arizona State, perhaps their stiffest divisional matchup, followed by Berkeley on Nov. 13 to face California.

Clay McGuire, USC’s new offensive line coach, developed his craft working under Mike Leach and Graham Harrell, but he’s promising ground gains, too.

Feb. 6, 2021

After closing out the regular season against UCLA in 2020, USC will tack on another game after facing its crosstown rival in 2021. Following a Nov. 20 matchup with UCLA, USC will welcome BYU to the Coliseum to finish out its slate.

Assuming, of course, that everything goes as planned in 2021.

If it does, USC will face an eminently manageable schedule next season, one that could lend itself to another divisional crown — and perhaps, this time, even more.