USC Trojans walk through the tunnel to the field for the season opener against… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
USC returns to the New York area for the first time since 2000 with a chance to demonstrate why the Trojans have received so much hype. Times staff writer Gary Klein looks at the matchups and story lines for USC's game against Syracuse:
Airing it out
The game features the NCAA's passing-yardage leader — and it's not USC's Matt Barkley.
For the second year in a row, Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib goes into a game against USC coming off a record-setting performance.
Nassib, running a no-huddle offense, completed 45 of 66 passes for 482 yards and four touchdowns last week in a 42-41 loss to Northwestern, establishing school records for passes, completions and yards.
Last season, Nassib set a record with 29 completions against Rhode Island. Against USC, he completed 25 of 37 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Barkley will try to improve upon last week's 372-yard, four-touchdown performance against Hawaii. Barkley completed 23 of 38 passes. His 60.5% completion percentage would have been higher if Trojans receivers had not dropped several passes.
Barkley ranks 15th in the nation in passing efficiency, Nassib 38th.
Hold on there
Robert Woods, who caught a USC-record 111 passes last season, had six receptions against Hawaii, two for touchdowns.
He might have matched teammate Marqise Lee's 10 catches, but Hawaii defenders appeared thrilled to accept pass-interference penalties instead.
Will Syracuse employ a similar strategy to neutralize the junior?
"If they're going to hold," Woods says, "I've definitely just got to be more aggressive and get them off me. You beat them with speed and beat them with power, so you can make the play."
Syracuse is hoping for the return of receiver Alec Lemon, who had a school-record 68 receptions last season but sat out the opener because of an injury.
After Syracuse's special teams struggled against Northwestern, here come Lee and punt returner Nickell Robey.
The Orange should hope that Lee doesn't drop any passes.
Chastised by his coaches for drops against Hawaii, Lee decided to make a statement with a kickoff return and took it back 100 yards for a touchdown.
"I was motivated a little bit," he said.
USC had a special-teams issue in the opener when kicker Andre Heidari sat out much of the first half icing his knee. The Trojans failed on three two-point conversion attempts before Heidari returned.
Craig McMahon handled all but USC's first kickoff against Hawaii. Asked if he would be confident in McMahon's ability to kick extra points, Coach Lane Kiffin said, "I don't know. We're going to have to find out if that's the case."
USC did not give up a sack against Hawaii, but Kiffin said an offensive line that includes four returning starters was inconsistent overall.
Now, the Trojans will try to hold off a Syracuse defense that recorded five sacks against Northwestern.
USC had five sacks against Hawaii, four by linemen Morgan Breslin, George Uko, Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend Jr.
Syracuse gave up only one sack last week.
End of the run?
USC and Syracuse have produced some of the greatest running backs in college football history.
Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, Marcus Allen and Reggie Bush won Heisman trophies for the Trojans. Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Larry Csonka, Floyd Little and Joe Morris starred for the Orange.
But USC rushed for only 81 yards against Hawaii, Syracuse 114 against Northwestern.
USC tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd are hoping for a greater workload. Redd, who grew up in Connecticut and transferred from Penn State, said he expected to have about 25 friends and family members in attendance Saturday.
Syracuse's Prince Tyson-Gulley gained 50 yards in seven carries in the opener.