USC QB Matt Barkley
Welcome back from the depths of NCAA purgatory, USC. The University of Southern California was handed some of the harshest punishments in NCAA history. It was widely believed that the punishment did not fit the crime and Lane Kiffin’s men of Troy would suffer unjustly and unreasonably as a result. The program was handed a two-year bowl ban and slammed with the loss of ten scholarships per year over a three-year period. When USC faced its darkest hour, a true Trojan led them back into the light. For many of the players on this team, this season represents the first time in their tenure at USC that aspirations are sky high.
Matt Barkley would have been a first round selection in the 2012 NFL draft, but duty called. Fresh off of leading USC to a stunning upset in one of college football’s toughest venues, Autzen Stadium and a shellacking of their bitter rivals UCLA, Barkley realized he had the opportunity to lead his beloved school to special heights. The stars have aligned together, as USC will have a mind-boggling amount of talent on the field in 2012. With returning starters all over the depth chart, USC is locked and loaded for a PAC-12 title run, and perhaps even bigger things. USC will field one of the most talented teams in all of college football. Littered with NFL talent, there is no reason why this USC team shouldn’t accomplish all its goals.
Or, is there? Restricted with lack of scholarships available and perhaps a deterioration of talent at the tail end of the legendary Pete Carroll era, depth will be an issue for USC. In college football, line play is perhaps one of the most critical aspects of any game, and USC will have its concerns on both sides of the ball. Losing a franchise left tackle, in Minnesota Viking left tackle Matt Kalil is never fun and with a devastating ACL injury to starter Devon Kennard, USC is thinner than it would have liked on the defensive line. Furthermore, they must replace the 28th selection in the 2012 NFL draft, Nick Perry and two other starting defensive lineman.
Taking into account the problems that USC faces, this is still amongst the most talented teams in America and nothing short of a PAC-12 championship will be accepted. These are expectations at the University of Southern California again, and college football is better because of it.
Key on Offense:
The USC offense will be special. There is no shortage of talent, and there are playmakers all over the place. Matt Barkley is a stud, who will once again light the Coliseum up with pin point passes, into tight windows, against double coverages. Robert Woods and Marquise Lee remain the most exciting wide receiver tandem in the country. The tight end core was very young last year, and their skills promise to complement each other very well on the field in 2012. The running back duo of Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd bring two potential game changing backs to the field each time USC lines up. Which brings us to the key point of the season. If the line holds up (and it should), Matt Barkley will be afforded with ample time in the pocket to dissect hapless defenses and giant holes will be carved for the tail backs. Ultimately, there should not be a defense the Trojans face this season that is capable of slowing them down.
Key on Defense:
Health is the most important concern for the USC Trojans. Bodies must be kept upright in an effort to mitigate the lack of depth. The starters will be solid, but many of the backups remain untested. With the thin numbers, it is important to avoid any further major injuries. The key to the USC defense will be the play of the defensive line. The secondary has special written all over it, and returning starters, sophomores Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey will anchor what should be an excellent linebacking core. The questions are on the defensive line, where three starters must be replaced. Wes Horton must anchor the line and while Greg Townsend and Kevin Greene were initially expected to take over a starting spot, it now appears as if J.R. Tavai may have the inside track to that job. It is important that tackles Antwaun Woods and George Uko provide a run-stuffing presence and put some pressure on the interior of the opposing offensive line during pass situations.
Key Game and Schedule:
Circle your calendar folks. November 3rd is the date everyone is looking towards. If USC wants to win a national championship this season, there is a very big chance that they will have to beat Oregon twice. Marcus Mariotta and the Oregon offense will be up to their usual tricks, and to be frank the USC offense may simply need to be better than the Oregon offense on those two Saturdays. It remains to be seen how the Stanford program can reload without 'he who could do no wrong', but if Josh Nunes or their backup, Brett Nottingham are up to the task, the road game on the Farm will be a very difficult affair. Win or lose, USC will be geared up to play against both opponents and they should understand that anything less than their best will be a scary proposition against either opponent. In many ways, the seemingly lesser teams on the schedule will provide USC with a stiffer task. It is important the program avoids the early season stinker against an upset minded PAC-12 underdog (a la Oregon State and Stanford).