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No. 2 USC faces Syracuse on NFL stage

Associated Press Modified: September 7, 2012 at 4:19 pm •  Published: September 7, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — This Southern California team would be a big hit on Broadway. The Trojans have a star-studded cast, capable of breathtaking performances, and there is often some kind of drama swirling around them.

A rare trip to the New York area for No. 2 USC seems perfectly timed for Matt Barkley and Co., but the Trojans will actually be playing off Broadway — albeit on a huge stage.

MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the home of the Jets and Giants, will be the site of their game against Syracuse on Saturday. Considering all the talent USC coach Lane Kiffin has stockpiled on his roster, it makes sense to have them playing in an NFL arena.

"It's very exciting," Trojans safety T.J. McDonald said. "I've never even been to the East Coast at all, so it's going to be exciting to play in an NFL stadium like that on your first trip."

USC did make its presence felt in the Big Apple on Friday.

There was a pep rally in Times Square, with the Trojan Marching Band and World Famous Song Girls, and hundreds of USC fans, easily spotted in their gold and cardinal hats and shirts.

The band whipped through a 30-minute set that included all the favorites: "Tribute to Troy," ''Fight On," ''Conquest," and "Tusk."

The short show also drew the attention of plenty of passers-by on a hot day in Manhattan.

"Even I was thinking, this is pretty cool," said band member and trumpet player John Dike, a 21-year-old senior.

While this is a business trip for the USC football team, it figures to be pleasurable.

The Trojans from the Pac-12 opened their first season after a two-year NCAA bowl ban with a 49-10 victory against Hawaii. They are a 26-point favorite against the Orange (0-1), who lost a wild 42-41 game at home to Northwestern.

Last year, Syracuse and USC played at the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Trojans won 38-17. Barkley threw five touchdown passes.

"Matt Barkley was one of a couple of people that we were hoping that would move on and go to the NFL," Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the week. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm happy that he came back."

No such luck.

Barkley opened his senior season with 372 yards and four touchdowns against Hawaii. He's got maybe the best receiver duo in the country to target in All-American Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and a pair of running backs who ran for 1,000 yards last season in Curtis McNeal and Penn State transfer Silas Redd.

One word to describe the USC offense? "I'd say playmakers," Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill said.

The Syracuse offense did plenty of damage last week, too, especially quarterback Ryan Nassib. The senior was 45 for 66 for 482 yards, all school records.

"I thought they played great," Kiffin said. "First off, they had a great plan schematically. They changed a lot in the offseason from anything they've done before and caused a lot of issues because of that.

"Second, the players made a ton of plays."

The Orange have two of the most talented receivers in the Big East in Marcus Sales (12 catches for 129 yards last week) and Alec Lemon, who missed the season opener with a knee injury.

Marrone posted on Twitter on Friday that Lemon would play against USC.

"I would love (a shootout)," Nassib said. "I feel like if we can keep it close, play them tough all game long and not let the game get away from us, I think we've got a good shot."

If Nassib and the Orange can pull the upset, it'd be one of the biggest victories in school history, a potential direction-changer for Marrone in his fourth season of a major rebuild. Syracuse hasn't defeated a top-five team since it beat No. 1 Nebraska at the Carrier Dome in 1984.

The New York area is a home-away-from-home for Syracuse, with plenty of alumni and fans, and a long history of playing in East Rutherford, N.J. Syracuse was 5-3 at the old Meadowlands Stadium, including a Kickoff Classic in 1990 against USC.

The Trojans won that game 34-16 and were 2-1 at Giants Stadium, splitting games with Penn State in 1996 and 2000.

The Trojans' only other visit to the New York metropolitan area came in 1951, when Frank Gifford led USC to a 28-6 win against Army at Yankee Stadium.

Of course, plenty of Trojans have made the trip to New York to pick up a Heisman Trophy. USC is tied with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the most Heisman winners with seven.

Barkley is favored to break the tie this season, and USC took the opportunity this week to claim some Heisman turf.

Not far from where the band boomed Friday sits the Best Buy Theater, where the Heisman will be presented in December — and where a digital billboard displayed Barkley's image to adoring Trojans fans.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at