2010 Results: 8–5 (5–4 Pac-10)
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (2nd Year @ USC 8-5, Overall – 15-11)
Home Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607), Los Angeles, CA
Although posting a respectable 8-5 record, the USC Trojans are coming off of an underwhelming and unfulfilling 2010 campaign. A home thrashing by the Ducks, an Oregon State beatdown, back-to-back one-point losses, plus a heart-breaker to the hated Irish, all coupled with the NCAA imposed sanctions left the Trojans with many things to ponder, contemplate and rethink.
Head coach Lane Kiffin enters his second season at the Trojan helm with a potentially explosive team. Fielding a dominant defensive line, receiving corps and running back unit, Kiffin will find much success and wins in the inaugural Pac-12 season.
Can the Trojans ride their Heisman hopeful quarterback to the top of the Pac-12 or will the looming post-season ban deflate their motivation and play?
The offense will be centered on junior quarterback Matt Barkley and sophomore sensation, wide receiver Robert Woods. This pitch-and-catch combo will provide plenty of highlights and will no doubt be one of the best in the country. Woods impressed everyone to the tune of a Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year nod, as he was among the league leaders in receptions and receiving yards, while scoring six touchdowns. His combination of size and speed proved too much for cornerbacks to overcome, as he will again, have his way with them, as he did last year.
Woods will be hauling in touchdown passes from Heisman candidate Barkley. Steadily improving to posting impressive numbers last season (2,800 passing yards, 26 TDs, 63 percent completion rate), Barkley seems to have quickly mastered Kiffin’s offense and now looks to use that big arm of his lead the offense and team to the top of the Pac-12.
In classic Kiffin style, he will be employing a carousel of running backs. The speedy and dynamic freshman, Amir Carlisle will make the most plays while sharing snaps with Marc Tyler, after Tyler’s one game suspension, of course. The backs will be looking to improve their 2010 game average of 190 yards per game, third best in the conference.
The offense’s biggest question mark will be the offensive line. After losing three starting linemen from an already thin line, 2012 first-round NFL Draft hopeful Mat Kalil will anchor a young and inexperienced unit. Redshirt junior Khaled Holmes moves from guard to center and the rest is anyone’s guess. This is the part of the squad that definitely needs two or more guys to step up.
The defensive line will be the Trojan’s best weapon. The ends are dynamic, athletic and quick pass rushers in juniors Nick Perry and Wes Horton, with a tenacious Kevin Green in waiting. The interior is housing caged beasts. Redshirt freshman George Uko is the most athletic 300-pounder you’ll see and is paired with the ultra-talented senior Christian Tupou. If Armond Armstead stays healthy in his final season, this unit will wreak havoc on QBs and running games all season.
The linebackers will return two starters, the experienced Junior middle linebacker Devon Kennard and senior outside linebacker Chris Galippo and will be surrounded by young, highly touted talent. Freshmen Dion Bailey will back up sophomore Marquis Simmons and Hayes Pullard will do the same on the weakside.
Last year, the Trojans got lit up for 260 yards and 60 percent passing completion per game. Yet, this porous secondary has improved. Only losing one starter, the remaining is experienced, young and very fast. They will be led by First Team all Pac-10 free safety TJ McDonald, whose 89 tackles led the team.
Sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey led the Trojans with four interceptions and returns with higher expectations. Former USC track star Tony Burnett who moved from safety to corner and the experienced senior Marshall Jones will bring more stability to the secondary.
Though the Trojans won’t have a ton of experience overall, this team could be much improved over last season.
The Trojans will look to gain momentum early in the season, as the middle portion of their very tough 2011 schedule will make or break their season. Three consecutive home games may ease USC, but after the opener against Minnesota, things get tougher with Pac-12 newcomer, Utah and the Big East’s Syracuse.
The Utes have this game circled because without playing Stanford or Oregon, knocking off the Trojans and Sun Devils will guarantee a post-season birth for Utah. The Orangemen will bring a much-improved bowl game winner to the Coliseum.
The two top-ranked Pac-12 South teams will battle in Tempe as Arizona State will look to take down the Trojans and seemingly clinch the division. A physical running game that will take the rowdy ASU fans out of the game and attacking an inexperienced quarterback, will be USC’s game plan in this definite barn-burner.
The ‘trap’ portion of the Trojans schedule follows. The next two teams, combined to lose nine of the last ten games of 2010, including ones against the Cardinal and Gold. These are games that cannot be overlooked, as Arizona played Southern Cal tough, yet found a way to lose in the game’s final minutes and Cal’s past disinterest may lull the Trojans to sleep.
Scheduling a possible blowout game at Cal seems genius, especially when the Trojans will be tested four out of the next five weeks.
Traveling to South Bend to take on rivals, Notre Dame has always been both unpredictable and a slugfest. This odd 7:30 pm EST game is always seen as a bowl-type game to Trojan fans, and will be seen as just that, considering there are none in their immediate future. USC will not repeat last year’s disappointing performance, as they need to stay sharp for the nationally-ranked Stanford Cardinal the next week.
USC will be fired up to take on Stanford’s Heisman hopeful quarterback Andrew Luck, as they will start their own. Also fresh in their minds will be the “Clock Fiasco of 2010” that allowed the Cardinals to kick a last minute field goal in front of their roaring fans. This will be “Must See TV” that will feature two of the country’s top NFL Draft prospect quarterbacks.
Two new starting corners will be easy pickings for Pac-12 signal-callers, so Colorado’s secondary will be quite banged up by the time they host the Trojans. Good ol’ ESPN had the game moved up to Friday, giving USC a day less to recoup from Stanford and almost ensuring that the Trojan faithful would not be able to attend.
Oddly enough, the Washington game will be dubbed the “Payback Game.” After dropping the past two games to the lowly Huskies, the Trojans will definitely defend the Coliseum better. They will need to be sharp for the next week’s tilt against the Ducks.
A November meeting in Eugene to meet a Ducks team that has won three out of the last four meetings, will be USC’s toughest game. Oregon will be patching up an offensive line that was the key to their lightning fast offense and replacing a go-to receiver Jeff Maehl.By the time to the two powerhouses face each other, the Ducks will have had all season to iron these issues out. You can expect another high scoring slugfest.
The Trojans end the season against the cross-town rivals, the Bruins. UCLA’s horrific recruiting and coaching upheaval will have them field an uncompetitive team, that won’t be able to muster the energy to duke it out with the Trojans.
An average season is not what any Trojan coach, player or fan will tolerate. The 2010 season may have been acceptable to some teams and fans, but not at Southern Cal.
Barkley may finally get the recognition USC fans feel he deserves on his way to leading a talented offense back into the national spotlight. He stands ready to do so even without a bowl game.
To live up to expectations, the team must fight hard against some formidable foes in the new Pac-12. The defensive is capable of putting up staggering numbers as well as a star receiver and freshman running back.
This writer predicts USC will be much improved in 2011 and could even reach an 11-1 mark. The offensive line will be problematic, but probably not to the tune of 2-3 additional losses. The offense will score a ton of points, thus forcing opposing offenses to take more chances (think 2010 Oregon Ducks), something that they won’t be able to afford against such a talented Trojan defensive line.
USC hardly lacks motivation, but will excel in playing with as much talent that is on this 2011 team. Southern Cal has the potential that, if not for the bowl sanctions, could have seen them play on New Years’ Day.
Despite this writer’s belief that a first-place finish is possible, National Football Authority predicts USC will win the Pac-12 South in 2011, however they will have to defer to the South’s second best team since the Trojans are not be eligible to play in the conference championship game.
PREDICTED RECORD: 9-3 (7-2 PAC-12)