Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: USC Trojans
2009 Record: 9-4 (5-4 in Pac-10)
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Matt Barkley :: Charles Baus/Icon SMI
at Washington State
at Oregon State
San Jose State
at Notre Dame
at Arizona State
Boston College (Emerald Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Matt Barkley, QB: The strong-armed sophomore is ready to establish himself as a big-time player.
Allen Bradford, TB: It's a real mystery why he hasn't played more in his three as a Trojan.
Devon Kennard, MLB: The Trojans need him to step up and become a major run-stopper.
Damian Williams, WR: The team's best playmaker was the go-to guy on third downs.
Taylor Mays, S: He was always an intimidating presence in the middle of the field.
Jeff Byers, C: He was as accomplished in the classroom as he was on the field.
36: USC gave up 36 points or more on three occasions last season -- three more times than in the previous three seasons combined.
The last time Lane Kiffin was at USC (as an assistant), the Trojans were lighting up scoreboards all around America. The school's controversial new head coach will try to reignite an offense that uncharacteristically struggled for much of 2009. He will begin with Matt Barkley, who arrives for his sophomore year at quarterback trimmer and more mature. He has the tools to be USC's next glamour passer.
Wide receiver Ronald Johnson will lead a collection of gifted pass-catchers. The real key might be bruising tailback Allen Bradford, who will be asked to rev up a stagnant running game, along with rock solid, multi-gifted fullback Stanley Havili.
The offensive line returns three starters, led by center Kristofer O'Dowd, and some solid newcomers. Throw in a batch of flashy freshmen like broken-field specialist Dillon Baxter and wide receivers Kyle Prater and Robert Woods, and this has the potential to be as exciting as some of those old USC offenses Kiffin used to coordinate.
"This is a good place to be a quarterback right now," Kiffin said.
USC is not used to giving up 55, 47 and 36 points, especially against Pac-10 opponents. But that's precisely what happened when Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State worked over the Trojans a season ago. Tasked with righting the ship: noted defensive guru Monte Kiffin, Lane's 70-year-old father, and Ed Orgeron, the defensive line coach/recruiting maven whose barking presence was sorely missed the past couple of seasons.
A front seven that was young and inexperienced in 2009 returns intact, led by tackle Jurrell Casey and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith. Middle linebacker, too often a gaping hole last season, will be filled by Devon Kennard, who switched from end to outside backer a year ago and beat out incumbent Chris Galippo in the spring.
The secondary will be new, although Shareece Wright, who was academically ineligible in 2009, is an excellent cover corner. The safeties will include T.J. McDonald, Drew McAllister and Jawanza Starling.
This group won't be as dominant as the Rey Maualuga-Brian Cushing unit of two years ago, but it shouldn't be as leaky and ineffective as last year's bunch, either.
Jacob Harfman, who handled both the punting and kickoff duties in 2009, returns and likely will take over the placekicking responsibilities as well. Johnson should continue to be one of the more dangerous kickoff return men in the country, with backup tailbacks C.J. Gable and Curtis McNeal and maybe even freshman wideout Woods returning punts.
Pete Carroll had a spectacular nine-year run at USC (97-19), but some of the glow started to fade in the aftermath of a 9-4 season a year ago.
Kiffin has the luxury of a strong-armed quarterback who now has a year of experience and plenty of talent surrounding him on offense. The key might be a more consistent running game led by the punishing Bradford. If the Trojans can control the ball and the clock, it will take pressure off a defense that continues to have some question marks. It won't be easy, but there is still enough talent here to win the Pac-10.