Darnold, No. 4 USC Kick Off Vs Rebounding Western Michigan

By The Associated Press

Western Michigan (13-1 in 2016) at No. 4 Southern California (10-3), Saturday 5:15 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)

Line: USC by 26.

Series record: First meeting.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Two teams returning from outstanding seasons meet at the Coliseum. USC is hoping to extend a nine-game winning streak that includes a Rose Bowl victory under QB Sam Darnold. Western Michigan just had its best season ever with 13 wins, a MAC title and a Cotton Bowl appearance. Several key components of that team are gone, including coach P.J. Fleck, WR Corey Davis and QB Zach Terrell. Tim Lester makes his head coaching debut for his alma mater. The Trojans often schedule tough nonconference games to start the season, and the Broncos’ 15 returning starters represent an immediate challenge.

KEY MATCHUP

Western Michigan DB Darius Phillips vs. USC WR Deontay Burnett. The Broncos’ defensive secondary was among its best assets last season, and three starters return, led by the ball-hawking Phillips, who had four interceptions. USC’s top two receivers last season are gone, but Burnett is the logical choice to step up as Darnold’s top target after 13 catches for 164 yards and three TDs in the Rose Bowl.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Western Michigan: QB Jon Wassink. Talk about a tough assignment: He hasn’t played competitive football since his 2014 state title game in high school in Grand Rapids, he’s replacing a wildly successful four-year starter, and he makes his debut in the Coliseum against the mighty Trojans.
USC: LB Porter Gustin. He led the Trojans with 13 tackles for loss last season, and the junior is among seven returning starters on a defense that was quietly outstanding last season.

FACTS & FIGURES

USC is beginning the 125th season of football in school history. … The Trojans have never faced a MAC team. … USC has won nine straight home games, going unbeaten at the Coliseum last year. … Western Michigan has three solid TBs, including senior Jarvion Franklin, the school’s career rushing touchdowns leader. … The Coliseum is newly spruced up with two big video boards. USC is sharing the venerable arena with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams for the second year.
___
More AP college football: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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