On paper, USC will probably be a considerable favorite every time it takes the field this season. Only three of the Trojans' 2005 opponents appear in the preseason Associated Press poll (Cal, Arizona State and Fresno State), and none are ranked higher than 19th. But college football seasons never go as predicted. Some team that's barely raising an eyebrow now could be in the top 10 by October. And going on the road is always difficult, as evidenced by USC's tougher-than-expected games last year at Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA.
Here's a week-by-week breakdown of the teams USC will face as it attempts to earn an unprecedented third straight national title. Each game is given a "degree of difficulty" rating on a scale from 1 to 10.
While June Jones' Run and Shoot attack has gotten the better of several major-conference visitors recently (Michigan State and Northwestern last year, Alabama the year before), the Warriors lost every offensive contributor from last season, including record-setting QB Timmy Chang. Barring a miracle turnaround under new coordinator Jerry Glanville, Hawaii's porous defense (116th in the country last season) could give up 50 points by halftime. Degree of difficulty:3
It would be one thing if the game was in Fayetteville or Little Rock, but USC's home opener at the Coliseum is hardly the ideal venue for new Razorbacks QB Robert Johnson -- Matt Jones' replacement -- to make his first career start. And while new Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring worked wonders with N.C. State's defense, even he isn't likely to turn the Hogs' beleagured unit (76th last year) into one capable of slowing down Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Co. Degree of difficulty:5
This is where things will start to get interesting. Oregon's Autzen Stadium, arguably the loudest venue in the Pac-10, figures to be rocking, and the Ducks, who spent the offseason installing a new spread offense based largely on the one used by Utah last season, have enough talent at the skill positions (QB Kellen Clemens, RB Terrence Whitehead, WRs Demetrius Williams and Cameron Colvin) to test USC's six new defensive starters. A couple big plays by Bush could make the difference. Degree of difficulty:8
The atmosphere won't be quite as hostile as Eugene, but ASU could be one of the toughest teams USC faces all season. Then again, the Trojans scored 42 points in the first half last year against much of the same personnel, winning 45-7. USC notched eight sacks against the Sun Devils and held QB Andrew Walter to 181 yards. Can they do the same without Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson and Lofa Tatupu, or will new QB Sam Keller have more time to find dangerous WR Derek Hagan and TE Zach Miller? Degree of difficulty:7
USC was not particularly kind to the Stoops brothers last season, beating Mike's Wildcats and Bob's Sooners by a combined score of 104-28 -- and these guys are among the game's most noted defensive wizards. All indications are that Arizona will be much improved in its second season under Mike Stoops, particularly on defense, but the Wildcats don't yet possess the level of athletes or the type of offensive firepower to scare the Trojans. USC would have to sleepwalk through the entire game. Degree of difficulty:4
The Trojans have beaten their intersectional rival by scores of 44-13, 45-14 and 41-10 the past three seasons. However, the Irish have a new leader, Charlie Weis, who, with a wealth of experience returning on offense, figures to have them scoring a whole lot more points. The Trojans' young defense definitely needs to come together by this one. On the other hand, USC shredded Notre Dame's secondary last year, and Leinart may repeat the performance against a defense that returns just three starters. Degree of difficulty:6
For whatever reason, Pete Carroll absolutely owned Tyrone Willingham in his three seasons at Notre Dame, and now Willingham must face the Trojans with a far more talent-deprived roster than he ever had in South Bend. The Huskies' defense is the most likely unit to show improvement this season, but that probably won't be enough against USC. Meanwhile, UW's offense was horrible last year and should experience more rough patches with the coaching transition. Degree of difficulty:3
The Cougars struggled through rebuilding in 2004, but are only two years removed from a string of three straight 10-win seasons. Bill Doba's team should be improved, and its perennially unheralded defense could even give Leinart and his receivers fits. Still, Wazzu was ranked sixth in the country the last time it came to the Coliseum two years ago, and the Cougars walked away with a 43-16 shellacking. If the game was in Pullman, maybe there would be a chance for an upset, but not in L.A. Degree of difficulty:5
The Cardinal gave USC the scare of a lifetime last year in Palo Alto, taking a 28-17 lead into halftime and managing to stay on top until the last six minutes. The Trojans' defense came out as flat as it ever has under Carroll. You can expect them to hear about it in the week leading up to this one. Barring dramatic improvement in their first year under Walt Harris, the Cardinal don't figure to present much of a challenge, and yet you can bet no one at USC will be taking them lightly this time. Degree of difficulty:2
After a month-long lull, USC closes with a treacherous three-game stretch. Though Cal, the Trojans' biggest nemesis the past two years, has to replace a ton of key players, Jeff Tedford figures to have things ironed out by the time this game comes around. J.J. Arrington was the only running back to break 100 yards against USC last year, and his replacement, Marshawn Lynch, may be even more dangerous. This could well turn into a shootout, and Leinart and Co. will need to be clicking on all cylinders. Degree of difficulty:9
The Bulldogs are legitimate top-20 team that could be working on a BCS run entering this contest. Pat Hill's offense features a four-year QB, Paul Pinegar, and three tailbacks who have rushed for at least 995 yards in a season, and his defense, led by star DT Garrett McIntyre, is extremely physical for a WAC team. USC still has the clear edge in talent, but Fresno is good enough that the Trojans can't afford to suffer a post-Cal, pre-UCLA letdown. Degree of difficulty:6
Even with star RB Maurice Drew largely sidelined by injury, the Trojans' archrivals gave them everything they could handle in last season's meeting before falling 29-24. Bush ran for 204 yards and two long touchdowns but also had two critical fumbles. With 16 returning starters, many think this will be the Bruins' breakout year, and any rivalry game is always tough. But the game is also at the Coliseum, and if USC goes into it undefeated or still ranked No. 1 or 2 in the BCS, it's hard to imagine the Trojans would let it get away. Degree of difficulty:7