No. 24 USC, which stumbled to a 7-6 record in 2012, will look to start the 2013 campaign off on the right foot in Honolulu on Thursday when they face a Hawaii squad that finished last season with an even bleaker mark of 3-9.
Led by second-year head coach Norm Chow -- who worked alongside USC head coach Lane Kiffin under Pete Carroll -- the Rainbow Warriors will have to show vast improvement, particularly offensively, if they’re going to put up a fight against a Trojans team that defeated them 49-10 last season. Here’s a closer look at Hawaii:
Offense (2012 season statistics)
Scoring: 21.2 points per game (No. 9 MW, No. T-100 overall)
Rushing: 108.6 yards per game (No. 10 MW, No. 111 overall)
Passing: 188.8 yards per game (No. 7 MW, No. 98 overall)
Total: 297.4 yards per game (No. 10 MW, No. 118 overall)
With Schroeder at the helm in 2012 the Hawaii offense wasn’t exactly Norm Chow-esque, averaging just 188.8 passing yards per game. Enter Graham -- the son of former NFL quarterback Kent Graham -- who sat out last season after transferring in from Ohio State and now stands as the team’s No. 1 signal-caller. Possessing a live arm, he impressed onlookers this past spring, but he also has yet to throw a pass in a live college game.
While the ground game certainly isn’t the focus of the offense, the Rainbow Warriors will be looking for more production from a running back corps that was one of the nation’s least productive in 2012. Iosefa, who is the leading returning rusher, has been dinged up with a foot injury, so Wily, Lakalaka and Langkilde will carry the load.
Wide receiver: No. 9 Chris Gant (6-0, 185, Sr.), No. 29 Scott Harding (5-11, 200, Jr.), No. 81 Vasquez Haynes ( 6-2, 215, So.), No. 89 Keith Kirkwood (6-3, 210, Fr.), No. 14 Marcus Kemp (6-4, 185, Fr.), No. 5 Billy Ray Stutzmann (6-0, 185, Sr.)
Graham will have a talented group of receivers to throw to, and they should provide a solid test for the USC secondary. Stutzmann -- the team’s leading pass-catcher (35) a year ago -- was involved in an offseason car accident and is doubtful to participate. Hawaii still possesses a nice mix of veteran and freshman performers, led by Gant.
A unit filled with experience, Evans is a very capable receiving threat. Moleni -- known for his aggressive brand of play -- is more of an all-around option.
Offensive line: LT No. 68 Sean Shigematsu (6-5, 290, Jr.), LG No. 54 Kody Afusia (6-2, 310, Jr.), C No. 71 Ben Clarke (6-3, 285, So.), RG No. 76 Dave Lefotu (6-3, 305, Jr.) RT No. 77 Mike Milovale (6-3, 310, Sr.)
Graham and Co. will need better protection from an offensive line that gave up 40 sacks last season, particularly against a strong USC front seven. Clarke -- a starter in all 12 games in 2012 -- anchors the unit.
Defense (2012 Season statistics)
Scoring: 35.7 points per game (No. 10 MW, No. T-104 overall)
Rushing: 190.2 yards per game (No. 5 MW, No. 86 overall)
Passing: 182.8 yards per game (No. 3 MW, No. 11 overall)
A physical group that lines up out of a 4-3 look, the defensive line was dealt a big blow when tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii -- the jewel of Hawaii’s most recent recruiting class -- went down with a knee injury in fall camp that will sideline him for this game. Still, Hawaii’s line appears to be much deeper and healthier than in 2012, with Woodard and Matagiese serving as the foundation.
A sturdy unit marked by athleticism and toughness, the linebackers are the heart and soul of the Hawaii defense. They’re headlined by Daley, a team leader, and Laurel, a senior with 21 starts and 122 career tackles to his credit.
Cornerback: No. 1 Ne’Quan Phillips (5-9, 185, So.), No. 23 Dee Maggitt (5-10, 170, Jr.)
The Warriors were No. 11 in the nation against the pass in 2012, but gone is Mike Edwards, the team’s prolific cover corner. Phillips, who started five games last season, took Edwards’ No. 1 jersey in the offseason, and he’ll try to replicate his production this fall.
Safety: No. 33 John Hardy-Tuliau (5-11, 180, Sr.), No. 10 Marrell Jackson (6-0, 185, So.)
Hawaii has two tried-and-tested safeties in Hardy-Tuliau -- who has started 32 games in his career -- and Jackson, the team’s leading returning tackler (56).
Kicker: No. 27 Tyler Hadden (5-11, 180, Jr.)
Hadden converted on 29 of 29 PAT attempts last season and 13 of 21 field goal tries.
Punter: No. 44 Ruben Guzman (5-8, 190, Jr.)
A lefty, Guzman averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2012 at Riverside (Calif.) City College.
Kickoff/punt returner: No. 9 Chris Gant (6-0, 185, Sr), No. 29 Scott Harding (5-11, 200, Jr.)
Gant will get the first crack at returning kickoffs after compiling 56 yards on two returns last season. Harding is back to handle punts after averaging 12.8 yards per return in 2012 -- the No. 13 mark nationally.