Like any other group of performers in Hollywood, the USC Trojans have no shortage of drama. The script could flip for both the Trojans and the Arizona State Sun Devils when the two Pac-12 South contenders clash in Tempe on Saturday.
We chatted with Julian Lopez, who manages our SB Nation sister site, Conquest Chronicles, on how the Trojans look, any concerns going into the game and how he thinks Saturday will play out.
You can also check out our answers on Conquest Chronicles' Q&A on Arizona State.
Tre Madden (knee) is listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game. How much does that change the dynamic of the USC offense if Madden sees his snaps limited or even sits out?
The knee injury that Tre Madden is dealing with is the same one that forced him to miss all of last season. Madden is more of a power back and Sun Devil fans are familiar with him as he had close to 200 total yards and three touchdowns in ASU's 62-41 victory in 2013. With Madden out, Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II will get most of the carries. Davis is elusive but I would warn ASU to watch out for the freshman from Texas. I haven't seen a back with his speed since Reggie [Bush].
Cody Kessler is passing at an extremely effective rate so far and is considered as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this season. Since Kessler made his first start two years ago, what is the biggest thing he's improved on in your eyes?
Cody Kessler doesn't do anything at the elite level, he does a lot of things at a great level. Since his debut two years ago, I have seen an improvement in his confidence and decision-making. Kessler would often throw into double coverage early on in his career and now has made the wise decision to throw the ball out of bounds. Through three games this year, I have also started to see that Kessler is using his "wheels".
Several of USC's superstars are well-known names on a national level, like Kessler, Madden, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Su'a Cravens. Who would be the Trojans' biggest sleeper that could make the same level of impact on Saturday?
Steven Mitchell Jr. He had a great spring and has become the starting wide receiver opposite of JuJu Smith-Schuster. He only had three catches against Stanford but two were for a touchdown. With Kessler possibly throwing the ball 40 times or more on Saturday, Mitchell Jr. could have a breakout day.
USC already lost its Pac-12 opener. If the Trojans lose to ASU Saturday, that'll put them at a two-game losing streak and basically eliminate them from national - and even possibly conference - championship contention. Is there already a sense in L.A. that Steve Sarkisian is close to being on the hot seat, and would a loss to ASU put him on it if he isn't already?
If USC loses to ASU, I don't expect Sarkisian to get the Kiffin treatment and get fired at LAX on Sunday but Saturday's game is a must win for the Trojans. This team has national championship aspirations and although they won 9 games last year, they need to do better in year two under Sark. Expectations are always high in Los Angeles, sometimes too high.
Bold prediction and final score?
Kessler throws for over 400 yards for the second time this season and the Trojans win 48-34. ASU's offense hasn't looked sharp this season and I am concerned that they couldn't keep up in a shootout.