BYU looks at USC and sees a benchmark for success, but the Cougars won’t be in awe of the Trojans on Saturday

BYU's wide receiver Micah Simon is tackled by Fresno State's Juju Hughes during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. Fresno State won the game 20-13. Simon and the rest of the Cougars are excited about Saturday's game vs. USC, calling it "a great opportunity for us." (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Provo • BYU offensive lineman Brady Christensen remembers watching USC when he was a kid during the Matt Leinart-Reggie Bush years.

“They were the best in college football,” he said of the Trojans.

Like Christensen, other BYU players have spoken of being in awe of the Trojans growing up. USC is one of those programs that, no matter the current record or recent season results, seems to be a benchmark of success.

“They are a great team,” receiver Micah Simon said. “We are really excited for them to come in here, it is a great opportunity for us.”

But childhood memories and recognizing a huge opportunity are two different things, and that is where the Cougars find themselves as they host the Trojans at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

As an independent team, the Cougars use their matchups against premier teams as a measuring stick, and beating them is their path to national respect. In recent years the result has been mixed, such as wins over Arizona and Wisconsin tarnished by losses to Cal and Washington last year, not to mention that 0-9 losing streak to rival Utah.

So now, with the thrilling win over Tennessee behind them, the Cougars want to show they are more than a one-off team.

“We want to take advantage of the opportunity to have a ranked team coming into our stadium again,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.

As happy as they were to survive the overtime contest with Tennessee, that win still has to be put in context. The Vols were just embarrassed by a Georgia State team that previously had barely registered a blip on the scale of teams that matter prior to the upset.

Even now, there are those who point to BYU’s last-minute comeback as more of a Tennessee collapse than a BYU success.

So what better way then to earn validity by knocking off the Trojans, a team that rolled over Stanford 45-20 behind an electric performance from a rookie quarterback.

“This is a big opportunity for us,’ receiver Micah Simon said.

For the Cougars to pull off the upset, they will have to find a way to contain quarterback Kedon Slovis.

Sitake said Slovis might be new to them, but USC’s offense has elements of what the Cougars run at BYU.

“The concepts are the same and the execution matters,” he said. “It will be a good matchup.”

The Cougars need to keep cleaning up their own offense too. They were noticeably bothered at Tennessee by the crowd noise with false start and offsides calls. Those kind of mistakes have to be eliminated, they said.

“It’s been better, but we still have a long ways to go with that aspect,” Christensen said of the team’s execution. “As long as we keep getting better each week, that’s what counts.”

And getting wins, wins are what count now.

NO. 24 USC at BYU

At LaVell Edwards Stadium

Kickoff: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 4

Radio: KSL-AM 1160

Series history: USC leads, 2-0

Last meeting: USC 42, BYU 10 (Sept. 18, 2004)

About the Cougars: Coming off a 29-26 double overtime win at Tennessee…BYU is 73-128-6 against the current Pac-12…Receiver Micah Simon was named the College Sports Madness Independent Player of the Week following his seven reception, 127-yard performance against Tennessee…BYU coach Kalani Sitake is 21-20 in his fourth year.

About the Trojans: Coming off a 45-20 win over Stanford…Quarterback Kedon Slovis was 28-of-33 for 377 yards and three touchdowns in his starting debut against the Cardinal…He set a school record for passing yards in a freshman’s start for the program...USC is 40-48-5 against current FBS independent schools..The Trojans, who played their first two games at home, are 82-30-8 in road openers…Coached by Clay Helton, who is 34-17 in his fifth year.