MATTHEW KUTZ/Herald photoFor the first time since 2001, Wisconsin (3-0) hosts No. 14 Michigan (2-1) under the lights at Camp Randall Saturday.The numbers are not on Wisconsin’s side in this series. Michigan leads the all-time series 47-10-1 and owns a 23-3-1 record against the Badgers in Madison. To further complicate things for Wisconsin, Michigan has won its last 24 Big Ten road openers. The last time Wisconsin was able to chalk up a win against the Wolverines was in 1994, when they beat Michigan 31-19 in Ann Arbor.In its 100th season in the Big Ten, Michigan has remained the conference’s premier team, with 42 conference titles — including three this decade. While head coach Barry Alvarez respects the Michigan tradition, he isn’t intimidated by it.”I think it’s a simple fact that [Michigan] is pretty good,” Alvarez said. “They always have been. I think if you take a look at every other team in the [Big Ten], there has been some slippage where they have slipped and they have down years. I can’t remember a year where Michigan has been down. Their down years are pretty good years.”Coming off a heartbreaking 17-10 home loss to the re-energized Fighting Irish, Michigan exploded for 435 total yards and seven touchdowns against Eastern Michigan last Saturday. Michigan looks to carry the momentum from the Eastern Michigan contest into its first road game of the year, having struggled in recent years in their opening road game, losing five straight.”As a team, we don’t look at things the same way that the media will look at things,” Michigan wideout Carl Tabb said in a team press conference. “I’m not going to sit and say that we’ve lost our last five openers, we need to do something special in this one. You have to approach every game the same … if anything, it’s going to make me want to win even more. It’s going to make the team work that much harder to turn that stat around.”Michigan is lead by sophomore quarterback Chad Henne. In his true freshman season at Michigan, Henne led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title en route to a Rose Bowl berth. However, the true standout player this season for Michigan has been senior captain Jason Avant.With the departure of Braylon Edwards to the NFL, Avant has become Henne’s go-to guy at wideout. In three games this season, Avant leads the Big Ten in catches (22) and receiving yards (310) while snaring three touchdowns.Michigan’s ground attack will prove to be a large challenge for Wisconsin’s depleted defensive front. The Wolverines sport three running backs — Kevin Grady, Max Martin and Mike Hart — all of whom are more than capable of carrying the workload. In three games this season, the trio has combined for over 400 yards and four touchdowns.The key to the game for both teams could come in the trenches. Wisconsin’s defense enters the contest boasting the No. 4 rush defense in the nation, allowing a paltry 39.7 yards per game.Conversely, Michigan hopes to contain Junior Brian Calhoun with a punishing run defense of its own. Over Michigan’s last three games, the Wolverines have allowed an average of only 110 yards per game on the ground and just two rushing touchdowns.The hype surrounding Saturday’s kickoff promises an energized atmosphere at Camp Randall, as these two Big Ten rivals always play each other tough, despite the disparity in the all-time series. The last four meetings have been decided by a total of only 18 points (4.5 ppg).”It’s a big game,” Alvarez said. “It will be two rated teams playing, [which] is one of the goals that we set going into the season. We wanted to make this a big game. We should have a great atmosphere. My main concern [is] that we prepare well and play well.”
Daniels is surrounded by a wealth of receivers in rising sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown, senior Michael Pittman and redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns. I have no doubt that given the right guidance from a coach who has air-raid offense down to a science and the ability to develop quarterbacks, Daniels and his teammates will thrive in 2019. Finally, Trojan football has someone in charge of their offense. Finally, USC Athletics has made a choice that fans will back. Finally, the future of USC football has a glimmer of hope. I have no doubts that implementing an air-raid offense is the right choice for the Trojans going into the 2019 season. This is why I — like most fans and alumni — was so excited about the Kingsbury hire. Malepeai is a gritty, goal-line type of back. He found that niche last season, after pounding in touchdowns from a couple yards out and converting on third and short. It’s unlikely that he will be a consistent first-down player. Last season, he filled a necessary spot for the Trojans, and he did a great job at it. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean he can step up and fill the first string spot in 2019. I don’t doubt that Pendergast will find a core of young talent in rising sophomores cornerback Olaijah Griffin, lineman Jay Tufele and safety Talanoa Hufanga to lead the defense in August. But even if he doesn’t, and the defense becomes a major flaw in USC’s playbook, an air-raid offense is the perfect remedy. Having the ability to get the ball down the field and into the end zone fast could prove to be invaluable, and it would mitigate some of the growing pains the defense could experience this year. Harrell’s first season with the Mean Green in 2016 resulted in an abysmal 117th rank in total offense. Three years later, his offense finished at No. 20 in the nation for the same statistic. Carr is a different story — he is the preeminent candidate to fill the starting spot. He has a lot of potential and could prove to be a success for the Trojans this upcoming season. The main problem: He has to stay healthy. Carr has proven to be one of the more injury-prone players for USC, but an injury at a crucial point of the season could be devastating for the Trojans. For Trojan fans, there is finally some hope for the 2019 football season. First and foremost, the 2019 Trojans’ ground game is largely up in the air. The loss of former senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware significantly hurts the Trojans’ run game. Left on the back personnel are rising juniors Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai. Both are solid backs, but come with flaws. What’s most impressive is that Harrell managed to mount that statistic improvement while playing against “elite” teams like Incarnate Word and Liberty. That was obviously a joke. I recognize that his stats must be taken with a grain of salt, but a 97-place improvement has to turn some heads. Harrell was hired on Wednesday and will have to get to Los Angeles as soon as possible to start working with the Trojans. National Signing Day is Feb. 6, and spring practices start in March. As for USC’s passing game, it has weapons. Rising sophomore JT Daniels will be an all-star quarterback if he gets the proper coaching direction. That’s where Harrell comes in. The former NTU OC developed quarterback Mason Fine into Conference USA’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018. USC’s defense is another concern. Losing senior captains in linebackers Cam Smith, Porter Gustin, cornerback Ajene Harris and safety Marvell Tell III is not an easy blow to recover from. But if I had to choose one USC coach to put all my faith in, it would be defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Finally. Former North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is certainly a welcome addition to the coaching staff. The best part about the hire is that it reconciles much of the pain from the loss of Kliff Kingsbury, who left USC for the Arizona Cardinals a month after he was hired. It’s important to acknowledge that Harrell is no Kingsbury; the former NTU coach has yet to prove himself in a Power Five conference. While he doesn’t have a long track record, Harrell certainly brings a very intriguing resume to the table. Much like Kingsbury, Harrell has spent time working under the air-raid king and current Washington State head coach Mike Leach. Harrell’s experience with Leach led him to implement the pass-heavy offense at North Texas, and it worked like a charm. Sam Arslanian is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Fridays.