SPORTS DIGEST: USC opens football season against San Jose State

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

If you are still wondering why USC would leave its decades-long association with the other schools in the Pac 12 Conference, try finding the Trojans’ season-opener against San Jose State Aug. 26 on television.

The game starts at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Pac 12 Network’s flagship station — 428 on Spectrum where I live. Spectrum carries the Pac 12 Network. So does Comcast and Dish, but other cable and satellite providers like DirectTV and AT&T don’t.

In other words, most college football fans won’t be able to watch the sixth-ranked team in the country play its first game of the season. That, in a nutshell, is the main reason USC and UCLA will be leaving the Pac 12 next year for the greener (as in money) pastures of the Big 10.

There will be plenty of opportunities to watch the Trojans on television this season, but there will be other games — maybe Nevada Sept. 2, Arizona State Sept. 23 or Arizona Oct. 7 — that could be relegated to the Pac 12 Network because Fox or ESPN have better games to show.

The Trojans have high hopes for the upcoming season. (Don’t they always.) They are coming off an 11-3 season that would have been better if their defense could have tackled somebody last year.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams is back for his junior (final?) season leading coach Lincoln Riley’s offense. He has great receivers to throw to and two or three solid running backs to hand the ball to. If the revamped offensive line can block anyone, the Trojans may score more this season than they did last year, when they averaged more than 41 points a game.

Riley has bolstered his roster for his second season by scouring the transfer portal and bringing new, experienced talent to the team.

MarShawn Lloyd, who gained 573 yards and scored nine touchdowns last year for South Carolina, will share time at running back with Austin Jones, who transferred from Utah a year ago.

The Trojans are stacked at wide receiver but that didn’t stop Dorian Singer from transferring in from Arizona. Singer caught 66 passes for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns last year for the Wildcats. Imagine what he can do with Williams throwing him the ball.

The Trojans have three receivers who caught between 39 and 50 passes last year back and have moved running back Raleek Brown to receiver in order to better use his breakaway speed.

The offensive line didn’t give Williams great protection last season, but three transfers — Emmanuel Pregnon from Wyoming; Michael Tarquin from Florida; and Jarrett Kingston from Washington State — will provide added depth for the Trojans, who also have two incoming freshmen who expect to play this year.

It is on defense, though, where the Trojans need to show the most improvement this season. Last year’s team gave up an average of 29 points and 424 yards per game.

Over the last four games, the Trojans defense surrendered 168 points. Somehow, they won two of those games. The two they lost were to Utah, 47-24 in the Pac 12 Championship Game, and to Tulane, 46-45 in the Cotton Bowl.

Transfers and a couple of freshmen have been brought in to shore up the defense and save defense coordinator Andrew Grinch’s job.

Jack Sullivan from Purdue, Kyon Barrs from Arizona and Bear Alexander from Georgia figure to start on the defensive line against San Jose State. The Trojans will be bigger, faster and deeper up front than they were last year. 

Freshman Tackett Curtis and Oklahoma State transfer Marvin Cobb figure to start at inside linebacker against San Jose State while Eric Gentry and Shane Lee, two of the leading tacklers from last year, recover from injuries. 

The Trojans have lots of defensive backs with solid credentials, but they couldn’t always stop opponents last year. Freshman safety Zion Branch figures to make an impact this year in a unit that is young (only two seniors in the top 12 defensive backs on the depth chart) and athletic. 

An improved pass rush also will improve the secondary. 

San Jose State is coming off a 7-5 season that ended with a 41-27 loss to Eastern Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl. The Spartans’ crowning achievement last year was holding Auburn to 24 points in a 24-16 loss in the second week of the season, so they know how to play in front of large, unfriendly crowds like they will find at the Coliseum this week.

The Spartans are favored to finish among the top four in the Mountain West Conference. 

The Trojans are favored to win the Pac 12 title, something they haven’t done since 2017. They also hope to play in the College Football Playoffs, something they have never done in the nine-year history of the playoffs.

It all starts Aug. 26. Good luck finding the game on television.

BUMP IN THE ROAD: The Dodgers came up a little short in Cleveland Aug. 22 as they opened a six-game road trip with an 8-3 loss. Rookie starter Bobby Miller cruised into the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead but was pulled after giving up a single and a walk with one out.

The usually reliable Caleb Ferguson couldn’t get the last out and when the smoke cleared the Guardians had five runs on their way to the win. It was the fourth blown save of the season for Ferguson this season, who otherwise has been the best lefthander out of the bullpen for manager Dave Roberts this year.

Ferguson is 7-3 with a 2.87 earned run average and two saves. His three losses came within a six-game span between June 6 and 11. In one of those, Ferguson was the opener, yielded a run in the first inning and the Dodgers never caught the Phillies. 

He has given up only 15 earned runs in 47 innings, most of those coming in his blown saves and defeats. The rest of the time he does his job. 

The Dodgers have increased their lead in the National League West to 12 games over the Giants and Diamondbacks and are now concerned about getting — and staying — healthy for October and the playoffs. 

TOO EARLY TO PANIC: Neither the Rams nor the Chargers won their exhibition games this past weekend, but there is no need to panic. The games don’t count in the standings, even though teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders seem to go all out for wins in the exhibition season.

Rams coach Sean McVay started the trend years ago of not playing most of his starters during the preseason and many coaches have followed his lead. It makes for unwatchable preseason games, but it leads to healthier players in November, when the games really matter, and that’s a good thing. 

The coaching staffs for both the Rams and Chargers got an idea what their starters could do against the starters of the Raiders and New Orleans Saints, respectively last week, during joint practice sessions that were held leading up to the games. 

Eventually, the NFL will be like college and high school football and do away with exhibition games all together. OK, I’m dreaming.

As long as people are willing to pay for exhibition games as part of a season-ticket package, the NFL will keep playing the games. 

So all you season-ticket holders, quit paying for the preseason games. The league hates empty stadiums.

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