This year’s Trojan squad enters the season with the motto “Unfinished Business,” alluding to, of course, the sanctions that made them unable to compete for a National Championship title the past two years. Finally free of that albatross, USC looks to make a run for the title with just 75 scholarship players on the team, another remnant of the NCAA sanctions.
The Trojan offense is loaded with four-year starter Matt Barkley lining up under center for his senior season. Barkley has a pair of 1,000-plus yard receivers—possibly the best in the nation—to throw to in standout junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marquise Lee. The team also has a pair of 1000-plus yard running backs in Penn State transfer Silas Redd and senior Curtis McNeal.
If there is a glaring weak spot on this Trojan team, it is the overall depth due to scholarship restrictions. The Trojan faithful like to say “Our 75 is better than your 85,” and while that may be true, they’ve already suffered a significant loss with the injury to CB Devon Kennard.
Coming off a 10-2 season in 2012, the Trojans (and their fan base) are looking for more. “Prep not Hype” has been painted onto the sideline of the practice field, but it is hard not to buy into the hype surrounding this team.
It is amazing what Coach Lane Kiffin has done over the past two years—attracting top talent and creating a culture where many have foregone an early exit for the NFL in order to return to USC and play for the National Championship that many feel is theirs to lose.
The Trojans enter the 2012 season as The Associated Press’ No. 1 ranked team in the nation. They are the odds on favorite to win the Pac-12 title (but will likely have to beat Oregon twice in order to do so), and quarterback Matt Barkley is among the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
Don’t look now, but USC is back with a vengeance.
Sept. 1 — Hawaii
8 — Syracuse
15 — @Stanford
22 — California
Oct. 4 — @Utah
13 — @Washington
20 — Colorado
27 — @Arizona
Nov. 3 — Oregon
10 — Arizona State
17 — @UCLA
24 — Notre Dame
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (Fresno State ’98)
Record at school: 18-7 (2 years)
Career record: 25-13 (3 years)
• John Baxter (Loras ’85) Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator
• Monte Kiffin (Nebraska ’63) Assistant Head Coach
• Kennedy Polamalu (USC ’87) Offensive Coordinator/RBs
• Ed Orgeron (Northwestern State ’84) Defensive Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator/Defensive Line
• Clay Helton (Houston ’94) Passing Game Coordinator/QBs
• James Cregg (Colorado State ’97) Offensive Line
• Scottie Hazelton (Fort Lewis ’95) Linebackers
• Shawn Howe (Rocky Mountain ’05) Defensive Line
• Tee Martin (Tennessee/U.S. Sports Academy ’04) Wide Receivers
• Justin Mesa (USC ’06) Tight Ends
• Marvin Sanders (Nebraska ’90) Secondary
The Trojan offense is loaded, to put it mildly. Barkley is back for his senior season and looks to improve on the impressive numbers he put up last year when he threw for 3,528 yards and a conference-record 39 touchdowns. He enters the season sitting at the top of nearly all early Heisman lists. Matt Barkley enters 2012 as the best quarterback in the nation and he has plenty of talent surrounding him.
Robert Woods enters his junior season as the top wide receiver in the country. The numbers simply don’t lie. He caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. He is a fast, physical receiver that defenses will have a hard time covering. But that’s not all—sophomore Marquise Lee had a phenomenal freshman year. The Los Angeles native caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Trojans’ running game got a big boost from the transfer of former Penn State RB Silas Redd. The junior has two years of eligibility left—plenty of time to get his name in USC and Pac-12 record books if he doesn’t pull a one-and-done and bolt for the NFL after this season. But USC isn’t called “Tailback U” for nothing—the presumed starting RB is senior Curtis McNeal, who is fresh off a 1,000-yard rushing season.
The offensive line is in good shape with four starters returning. The left tackle position vacated by first round draft pick Matt Kalil will be the least experienced slot in the group.
The Trojan defense is led by All-American safety T.J. McDonald. His decision to return for his senior season could be the factor that helps this young defense gel. Fortunately, with the powerhouse offense the Trojans are fielding this year, the defense won’t have as much pressure put on it.
Overall the defense returns seven starters, with McDonald being the most important factor. Last season, the other No. 7 had 67 tackles and three interceptions. Senior safety Jawanza Starling will pair with McDonald and offer an experienced and balanced defensive attack.
With CB Isiah Wiley being ruled academically ineligible on Friday, Nickell Robey will have to work with a new CB. Robey is a junior who had 63 tackles last season including two sacks.
The linebackers have three sophomores starting who all started as freshmen. Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson lead this group.
If the defense has a weakness (and it does), it is up front. Only senior Wes Horton returns with any experience. Sophomores J.R. Tavai and George Uko will line up at tackle, and four players are in position to replace the injured Devon Kennard. Kevin Greene is a redshirt junior who could step in for Kennard, but redshirt freshman Greg Townsend, Jr., juco transfer Morgan Breslin and incoming freshman Leonard Williams could also replace Kennard.
Robert Woods and Marquise Lee were the Trojans’ go-to kick returners last season, with each receiver averaging more than 23 yards per return. Woods also returned 13 punts with a 9.1 yards per return average.
Sophomore place-kicker Andre Heidari returns and brings with him his amazing leg. In camp, he nailed some field goals from 55 and 57 yards, respectively. In 2011 he was 15-for-17 on field goals.
Punter Kyle Negrete also returns, bring with him his 40.1 yards per punt average. All in all, the Trojans’ kicking game is in great and capable hands (or feet, as the case may be).
Ideally, the team will go 14-0. USC will breeze through their schedule and clinch it all.
Realistically, they will be the Pac-12 Champs with one loss to someone that they shouldn’t have lost to. Trojan fans know what I mean—Cal in 2003 (34-31 in 3 OTs), UCLA in 2006 (13-9), Stanford in 2007 (24-23), Oregon State in 2008 (27-21), Washington in 2009 (16-13), ASU in 2011 (43-22) (really, HOW did THAT happen?), Stanford in 2011 (56-48 in 3 OTs).
The only real question is: Who will it be this season? Which week will the Trojans lose focus or only “play up to the level of their opponent”—things any program is prone to, but this one has, over the years had major issues with.
You know what? NO.
This season is all about “Unfinished Business” and that means the Trojans will take care of business and run the table.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Heavy in the Games.
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