Matt Barkley's return has the Trojans primed to end the SEC's dominance.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/5/12, 5:29 AM EDT
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PAC-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 18-7 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Monte Kiffin
The main reason the Trojans appear to have an excellent shot at making it to the BCS National Championship Game is an offense that could be the most explosive in the country. Quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and a school-record 39 TD passes a year ago, then passed up the possibility of a multimillion-dollar NFL contract to come back for his senior season. He will be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Nobody will have a better tandem at wide receiver than the Trojans with All-America junior Robert Woods and flashy sophomore Marqise Lee. Woods set a Pac-12 single-season record with 111 receptions, while Lee caught 73 passes, 11 of them for touchdowns, as a freshman. At tight end, both Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble are reliable targets.
Coach Lane Kiffin’s running game is solid, too, with tailback Curtis McNeal bursting for 1,005 yards and a 6.9-yard average that was the best at USC since 2005. The backfield got even deeper in late July with Silas Redd's decision to transfer from Penn State. Up front, the loss of All-American Matt Kalil at left tackle will leave a void, but the other four starters, led by senior center Khaled Holmes, are returning. Kalil’s left tackle spot is likely to be filled by 6'6", 320-pound sophomore Aundrey Walker, who has almost as much potential as he has bulk.
If there is any concern about this unit, it might be at fullback, where inexperienced redshirt freshman Soma Vainuku is the likely starter and, at least heading into the fall, there is little depth.
Is Depth USC's Biggest Obstacle to Overcome for a National Title?
In his second year on the job, esteemed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit made significant improvement, and with the majority of the back seven returning, it should be effective again. The key is replacing stars such as Nick Perry and DaJohn Harris up front. Senior ends Wes Horton and Devon Kennard will try to pick up the slack, with sophomore George Uko leading the way inside.
The three freshman linebackers who were starting at the end of the year go into their sophomore seasons with strong résumés. Outside backers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey were both Freshman All-Americans, and Lamar Dawson is an active middle linebacker. In the secondary, T.J. McDonald is an All-America free safety, and junior playmaking cornerback Nickell Robey has started every game since he arrived at USC.
Matt Kalil, LT
Kalil was one of college football's premier blockers and protected the blindside of quarterback Matt Barkley. Sophomore Aundrey Walker is expected to replace Kalil in 2012.
Matt Barkley, QB After throwing 39 TD passes as a junior, he might be the best college quarterback in America.
Robert Woods, WR If he keeps going at this rate, he might own all the USC career pass-catching records before he is finished.
Marqise Lee, WR A Freshman All-America receiver, he was easily the best player on the field in spring practice.
|Sept. 8th||Syracuse (East Rutherford)|
|Sept. 15th||at Stanford|
|Oct. 4th||at Utah|
|Oct. 13th||at Washington|
|Oct. 27th||at Arizona|
|Nov. 10th||Arizona State|
|Nov. 17th||at UCLA|
|Nov. 24th||Notre Dame|
Placekicker Andre Heidari (15-of-17 field goals) was a Freshman All-American, while senior walk-on Kyle Negrete had an excellent year punting the football. Woods, Lee, Robey and George Farmer, the fastest of them all, form a lethal group of return men with a chance to go the distance on any given play.
Lane Kiffin made a strong impression in his second season, directing a team that wasn’t allowed to play in a postseason game to a 10–2 record that included a stunning upset over Rose Bowl-bound Oregon in Eugene. Now he’ll try to take the Trojans to the next lofty level, and if Barkley, Woods and Lee, in particular, stay healthy, it is difficult to imagine many teams outscoring this group.
Defensively, the Trojans won’t be overpowering, but they’re quick and resourceful enough to create plenty of opportunities for the offense. And don’t forget John Baxter’s outstanding special teams. They blocked seven kicks a year ago, and their kicking and return units should be among the nation’s best.
The schedule is favorable, and after a two-year bowl ban, the players certainly are hungry enough. This is a team that expects to play in the BCS National Championship Game come January.