Caaaalifornia Love

The speedy 2011 All Pac-12 Corner Dion Bailey will move to linebacker for the Trojans.

3. USC

2011 Record (PAC 12): 10-2 (7-2)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 17 (8/7/2)

Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer

Any conversation about the USC’s chances this season begins and ends with the man under center, Matt Barkley. After a 3,500 yard, 39 touchdown performance last season, Barkley was a sure first round pick; but he chose to return to ‘SC for his senior year to take care of what he called ‘unfinished business.’ Barkley is widely considered the top quarterback in the nation and his work ethic speaks volumes on the field, improving his game across the board year after year as the Trojans’ signal caller. With a big arm, strong presence in the pocket and complete command over one of the NCAA’s elite offenses, Barkley is poised to take over the college football landscape in 2012. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll have two future first rounders to play pitch-and-catch with either. Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are true standouts at the receiver position and tallied over 2,400 yards and 26 touchdowns combined in 2011. Woods is one of the best possession receivers in the game, hauling in a Pac-12 record 111 catches en route to All-American honors last season. Lee, while not as fundamentally sound as his junior counterpart, has phenomenal top-end speed and is a greater threat down the field. His 15.7 yards per catch ranked ninth in FBS of players with over 70 catches and was tops among true freshman. Competing for looks behind the two studs is sophomore George Farmer, the one player on the Trojans’ squad who may be faster than Lee and was his high school teammate, and true freshman Nelson Agholor. USC’s shallow backfield gained a huge boost with the addition of former Penn State star Silas Redd, who combines with senior Curtis McNeal for a one-two punch reminiscent of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. Last year, the two combined for over 2,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, and will keep opposing defenses from loading up against the pass. The offensive line returns four starters from a group that led the nation in sacks allowed, anchored by All-Conference center Khaled Holmes. While they’ll certainly miss the presence of first round pick Matt Khalil, they’ll give Barkley plenty of time in the pocket and provide the running game with plenty of holes.

The Trojans’ defense returns four All-Pac 12 standouts in defensive end Wes Horton, linebacker Dion Bailey, corner Nickell Robey and safety TJ McDonald. Horton leads a defensive front that has been berated with injuries, losing Devon Kennard and DeVante Wilson for the season while several others could miss time. Incoming freshman Leonard Williams is a real standout and might be thrust into play on what will be a very inexperienced group. after Starting three freshmen at linebacker last season will pay huge dividends this year, with Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson in a trio of sophomore starters. Freshman Jabari Ruffin and Scott Starr bring more youthful talent to the position as well, and will likely play a big factor in the rotation. While the front seven are talented but youthful, the secondary might be as good as USC’s ever seen. McDonald is the unquestioned leader of the pack and stands a good chance to repeat as a first team All-America selection. Three-year starter Jawanza Starling will man the other safety position and Robey will lead a four-man rotation at the corners. After standing pat the past two postseasons, these Trojans are undoubtedly hungry and ready to make a run at a BCS crown.

The Trojans have an early test at Stanford in September, where they’ll try to beat the now Luck-less Cardinal for the first time in three years. Oregon comes to town on November 3 and the annual rivalry against a resurgent Notre Dame program will round out the regular season. Unless Stanford manages to knock off the Ducks on November 17, they’ll like see Chip Kelly’s gang again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Two wins over the defending conference champs and an unbeaten season would put the Trojans back in the national championship game for the first time since the 2006 Rose Bowl.

BURNING QUESTION: Will depth become an issue later in the season?
This team has elite talent all over the field, but not up and down the depth chart. Scholarship sanctions have hindered the Trojans from bulking up on talent, particularly at the skill positions and on the defensive line. There’s potential there, but apart from the starters they’re deprived of significant experience. Lane Kiffin and company walked a similar line last season, starting five freshmen who managed to come through in a big way. Can he conjure up some more of that magic this season? Or will this team, brimming with potential, just be a year or two away from becoming the kings of college football once again.


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