2011 Record: 10-2, 7-2 Pac-12
2011 Bowl: Ineligible for bowls
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Bovada over/under USC wins: 10.5; Over (-135), under (+105)
Pac-12 Odds to win South Division: 1/7
Odds to win BCS: 3/1 (Favorite)
Trojans fans are more than pleased that QB Matt Barkley decided to forgo the NFL to come back for his senior year at USC. The talented QB threw for 3,528 yards last year and a school record 39 TDs and will be a Heisman frontrunner this year.
Barkley’s wide receivers are outstanding, accounting for much of his success from the pocket. He has targets in All-American junior Robert Woods and the up and coming sophomore Marqise Lee. Woods set a Pac-12 record with 111 receptions last year and Lee managed 73 receptions of his own, helping the Trojans finish 15th in the nation in passing yardage with 294.2 yards per game. Tight ends Randall Tefler and Xavier Grimble make great passing targets as well for Barkley, who will look to put the ball in the air on both short and long pass routes with the versatility of his receiving core.
At running back, the Trojans have some options: They just received talented transfer student Silas Redd from Penn State and they also have tailback Curtis McNeal who ran for 1,005 yards with a 6.9 yard average per run. That’s not even to mention speedy sophomore D.J. Morgan who has breakaway big play potential when carrying the ball. Kiflin will have choices to make on offense, but it’s the kind of problem every coach dreams of. All three running backs are top notch and should help the USC offense remain strong on the ground after averaging 162.6 yards per game, good for 4th in the Pac-12 and 51st nationally.
Up front, the Trojans have lost All-American Matt Kalil at tackle, but it is a spot the aren’t worried heavily about as the 6’6″ 320 pound Aundrey Walker should be able to step in and make the big plays. Walker’s bulk and strength should make the tackle position a strong one for the Trojans.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin led the Trojans to a much better season last year. Kiffin’s D ranked 4th best in the Pac-12 and 54th best in the nation and he has the majority of his back seven returning. Losing Nick Perry and DaJohn Harris shouldn’t be too much of a blow because Wes Horton and Devon Kennard will be ample replacements, and sophomore George Uko will play his role as well.
Three of the freshman linebackers who started at the end of last season are now more experienced players and are ready for full time starting jobs. Outside backers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey both made the Freshman All-American squad and Lamar Dawson is a versatile linebacker who should keep the defense strong in the wake of the departure of the stars. Senior free safety T.J. McDonald is an All-American, as well, and cornerback Nickell Robey has a lot of experience as a junior who started every game in both his first two seasons at USC.
Placekicker Andre Heidari made 15 of his 17 field goals last year and senior walk-on Kyle Negrete did an excellent job punting last year.
Woods, Lee, and Robey are all quick return men who have big play potential and will give opposing special teams defense nightmares.
Lane Kiffin should enjoy the experience of returning to BCS play now that the Trojans are eligible to do so once again. They still have NCAA sanctions on scholarships, so they’ll need to find a way to compensate from possible questions regarding roster depth.
The Trojans beat Oregon who played in the Rose Bowl, winning by 3 points in a highly watched game that showcased that USC had the talent to do big things that they simply never got the chance to do. Kiffin will try to take the team to a new height this year and Athlon magazine predicts an undefeated season from them.
The Trojans also have a favorable schedule this year and the four game winning streak they ended last season with has the potential to begin a strong run of victories stretching over two seasons. Anything other than a BCS championship will be a disappointment for Kiffin’s group.