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5 things to know about USC's opening opponent Fresno State

Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford is 22-6 through his first two seasons at Fresno State.
Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford is 22-6 through his first two seasons at Fresno State. (Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Images)

Jeff Tedford went on a bit of a coaching oddysey following his 11-year run at Cal.

He took a year off and was then hired as offensive coordinator of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he'd leave the team in the preseason to undergo a heart procedure and was later released from his contract. He then spent a year as the head coach of the CFL's BC Lions followed by a season as an offensive analyst at Washington.

But for him to truly find the next act of his coaching career, he had to come full circle a bit.

Tedford would again land back in California, again hired to rescue a program that had bottomed out -- this time his alma mater Fresno State.

Just like he started his run at Cal by taking over a Golden Bears team that had finished 1-10 the previous season, Tedford arrived at Fresno State on the heels of a 1-11 season.

And just like he did at Cal, where he reeled off eight straight winning seasons to start his tenure, he would immediately rejuvenate the Bulldogs as well, winning 22 games over his first two seasons.

Last fall, Fresno State went 12-2, won the Mountain West, beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl and finished No. 18 in the national polls.

That's who USC opens its season against Saturday night in the Coliseum.

"They've got a new quarterback, we'll see how that adjustment is. Defensively, extremely solid, a group that won them their title in their league, go to the blue turf [at Boise State] and win the championship. You're talking about a good football team," USC coach Clay Helton said.

"And they'll be as fired up as anybody to come out of the Central Valley and come down to Los Angeles and compete in this game. They'll be looking for a victory. It will be a very challenging opening game."

USC fans are plenty familiar with Tedford, of course, but Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows him especially well after serving as his DC at Cal from 2010-12.

"Obviously, coach Tedford's done a really good there," Pendergast said. "... That's a well-coached offensive and defensive unit. I've watched some of their defense as well. So it will be a big challenge for us. They've got some new pieces, we've got some new pieces so we're looking forward to the challenge."

All that said, here's everything you need to know about the matchup with Fresno State.

Game time, TV channel, how to stream USC vs. Fresno State

Game time: 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: ESPN, with Jason Benetti on the play-by-play, Rod Gilmore the analyst and Quint Kessenich as the sideline reporter.

Watch online:

In the rankings: Neither team is ranked

Series history: USC leads 2-1 (not counting a 2005 victory that was since vacated). The Trojans won the last meeting 52-13 in 2014 as Cody Kessler threw for 4 TDs and ran for another.

5 things to know about Fresno State 

1. New QB

As noted, Fresno State is breaking in a new quarterback this fall. Marcus McMaryion was a major catalyst for the Bulldogs' success in 2018, passing for 3,629 yards, 25 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while also rushing for 294 yards and 8 TDs as a senior.

Redshirt senior Jorge Reyna was named the 2019 starter coming out of spring practice. Reyna completed 8 of 12 passes for 111 yards and 1 TD and rushed for 75 yards on 9 carries in limited backup duty last fall. He previously starred at West Los Angeles College, where he was named Metro League Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 3,646 yards, 39 TDs and 8 INTs in 2016 (with 386 yards and 7 TDs rushing).

"[Tedford] has been known to be obviously a quarterback whisperer so I expect their team to be well prepared," Pendergast said. "The biggest thing is to find out as much about [Reyna] as you can and take a look at some of the things he's done throughout the course of his career and what his background is and what his strengths are. He had some snaps last year, but I really think going into a lot of games this year we're going to focus a lot on ourselves."

2. New offense in general

Fresno State averaged 34.6 points (26th nationally) and 421.5 yards per game (47th) last season, but the Bulldogs return only three offensive starters in running back Ronnie Rivers, tight end Jared Rice and right tackle Syrus Tuitele.

Rivers, who was slowed early in camp by a hamstring injury, rushed for 743 yards and 10 TDs on 5.6 yards per carry last fall and also caught 26 passes for 311 yards and 3 TDs. Rice, meanwhile, is the team's top returning pass-catcher after hauling in 55 receptions for 664 yards and 3 TDs.

3. Young Fresno State OL could provide key opportunity for USC

Fresno State has been stingy up front under Tedford, but now the Bulldogs have four new starters on the offensive line so there's obvious questions there.

Last season, Fresno State ranked 6th nationally in allowing just .86 sacks per game. The Bulldogs have given up just 22 sacks over the last two seasons combined.

Tuitele, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior, is staying put at right tackle, and the Bulldogs do return another former starter in 6-foot-3, 307-pound Netane Muti, who started 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2017 before sustaining a season-ending torn Achilles in Week 2 last fall. He's penciled in at left guard, with junior Matt Smith (a St. John Bosco HS product) projected as the starting center. The rest of the OL depth chart has not been named.

One of the major sources of optimism for the USC defense this fall is the defensive line, with freshman DE Drake Jackson and redshirt senior DE Christian Rector expected to boost the pass rush, and DTs Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu showing potential for big seasons inside.

This could be a key matchup for the Trojans to establish some control over the line of scrimmage defensively.

4. But that Fresno State defense ...

Tedford is an offensive coach, but it's the Bulldogs' defense that has led the way, holding opponents to 16 points per game on average through his first two seasons -- and ranking third nationally last season at 14.1 PPG allowed.

They haven't allowed an opponent to score 30 or more points since Washington put up 48 in Sept of 2017. Fresno State's streak of 25 straight games holding opponents under 30 points is the best in the FBS.

That unit returns six starters, but it does lose all three starting linebackers and four of its top five leading tacklers -- including MLB Jeff Allison, the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Mykal Walker will take his spot after playing defensive end last season, totaling 87 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

The team also returns a veteran defensive line which should help the new starters behind it.

Meanwhile in the secondary, senior strong safety Juju Hughes (4 INTs in 2018) and cornerback Jaron Bryant have 56 combined career starts. Fresno State had 19 interceptions last season, fourth-best nationally.

5. Odds and ends

-Tedford is 0-6 all-time in the Coliseum, but he did of course deliver USC its only loss in the 12-1 2003 season -- 34-31 triple-overtime game at Cal.

-Scott Thompson, Fresno State's tight ends coach the last two seasons, spent the previous seven years at USC in the roles of director of player personnel, director of scouting/high school relations and as an offensive assistant working with the tight ends and special teams.

-USC TEs coach/special teams coordinator John Baxter spent 13 years coaching at Fresno State (1997-2009)

-USC WR Michael Pittman's father (of the same name) is one of five Fresno State running backs all-time with more than 3,000 career rushing yards.


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