USC switches strategies to deal with daunting 2023 football schedule

USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) runs in for a touchdown against UCLA
Caleb Williams scores a touchdown in USC's 48-45 win over UCLA on Nov. 19, 2022 at the Rose Bowl. The teams will meet Nov. 18, 2023 at the Coliseum. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The 2023 football schedule presented an unfortunate predicament for USC. When Brigham Young backed out of its scheduled November meeting with the Trojans amid the Cougars' impending move to the Big 12, USC was faced with the prospect of playing a dozen straight games without a break.

The draw was part of the difficulty in scheduling the Notre Dame game, a challenge USC leaders have long dealt with. The Trojans played 12 games in 12 weeks in 2017 and their options for 2023, their last year in the Pac-12, were limited.

So USC opted for an alternative strategy. Instead of scheduling another nonconference opponent for its Week 3 opening, USC will begin its 2023 campaign with a Week Zero matchup against San Jose State on Aug. 26 at the Coliseum.

By taking on an earlier season opener, USC was able to have a bye in Week 3, breaking up what would’ve been a brutal slate before it bolted for the Big Ten.

The stops on that final tour through the Pac-12 were announced Wednesday. And as it turned out, the early-start and extra-bye strategy offered USC only so much solace with a schedule that’s destined to be much tougher than 2022.

USC will play three games at home, including its conference opener against Stanford, before being off Sept. 16 — technically Week 3 on the college football calendar. From there, the Trojans will play nine consecutive weeks before a second bye Nov. 25.

The break before the Pac-12 title game could wind up being a major benefit — if the Trojans are able to survive the conference gantlet that comes before it. That was the thought when USC settled on the strategy in March.

USC will hope to be 6-0 when it travels to Notre Dame on Oct. 14, where it hasn’t won since 2011. The week after that, the Trojans welcome Utah to the Coliseum for a matchup that could decide the direction of the conference.

A trip to Berkeley breaks up an otherwise daunting stretch to end the season. Over the final three weeks, USC will play Washington at home, Oregon on the road and UCLA at the Coliseum. All three of those opponents were ranked in the final Associated Press poll for the 2022 season.

It may not be the smooth tour USC would’ve hoped for in its last season as part of the Pac-12. The conference could be much improved in 2023, with experienced quarterbacks returning to lead contenders and new coaches shaking up the status quo.

USC will be among the first in the conference to test new coaches at Arizona State (Kenny Dillingham) and Colorado (Deion Sanders). The Trojans will face both in consecutive weeks in September, before taking on Arizona — another rising conference team — on Oct. 6 or 7.

After that, it’ll be an intense sprint to the finish line for USC.

Considering the circumstances, though, it could’ve been worse.

2023 USC schedule

Aug. 26: San Jose State

Sept. 2: Nevada

Sept. 9: Stanford

Sept. 16: bye

Sept. 23: at Arizona State

Sept. 30: at Colorado

Oct. 6/7: Arizona

Oct.14: at Notre Dame

Oct. 21: Utah

Oct. 28: at California

Nov. 4: Washington

Nov. 11: at Oregon

Nov. 18: UCLA

Nov. 25: bye

The Pac-12 title game will be played Dec. 1 in Las Vegas.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.