With amazing athletes for both teams on both sides of the ball, this list could include every position. Rather than highlighting the big name matchups, here are some key matchups that could swing the momentum of the game this Saturday.
Syd Thompson vs Steve Smith
Let's assumes that Daymeion Hughes matches up with Dwayne Jarrett (click here for LA Times article on the two) and they effectively neutralize each other. John David Booty will have to look for his clutch receiver Smith. Smith is the Trojans best receiver (see Oregon St. game for proof) but Hughes will need to match up on the bigger Jarrett. Thompson has had some growing pains but has measurably improved. Also, you have to like his confidence which in a game like this can be the difference between a turnover or a big gain.
Zach Follett/Anthony Felder vs John David Booty
Booty is the most accurate passer in the conference, possibly the nation. Cal can not afford to let him sit in the pocket and throw strikes to open receivers. But, Cal has not consistently established a pass rush with the front four and will need to bring Follett and Felder on blitzes. Even if they don't sack Booty, both linebackers have to knock him down. Remember, it was Follett's hit on UCLA QB Patrick Cowen that changed the momentum in that game.
Lawrence Jackson vs Nate Longshore
Once Longshore gets in a rhythm he is nearly unstoppable. He throws a great deep ball and leads the conference in passing. Jackson has underachieved most of the season but came on strong against Oregon last week with 3 sacks. The Cal offensive line has done a good job of keeping Longshore upright, but Jackson is one of the best pass rushers they will face. If Jackson is able to get to Longshore and keep him out of rhythm it could be a long day for the Bears.
USC Punt Team vs DeSean Jackson
Don't expect Coach Carroll to punt away from Jackson, especially after DJax started running his mouth this week in the media, so expect to see some great special teams plays. The Trojans will put some of their best athletes on the field for punt coverage so it is hard to imagine that Jackson will be able to slice through like he did against Arizona. Instead, watch for him to make a move or two, allow teammates to set up for blocks, then cut up field for big gains.
Coach Carroll vs Coach Dunbar
If it is true that Dunbar calls 80-90% of the plays, then this is the key coaching matchup to watch. Carroll is a defensive mastermind and usually has his defense well prepared for the opposing team. Using Arizona's gameplan, expect USC to stack the run to try and stop Marshawn and expect Longshore to beat them. Dunbar should counter by trying to beat the Trojans deep, early in the game, to loosen up the linebackers. Also, expect to see some new plays featuring Cal's playmakers, Jackson and Lynch. Both need more touches and need to be involved early to make a difference in the game. Maybe a WR slip screen, a WR reverse, a half back option, Marshawn on a wheel route out of the backfield.