COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 25-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast
USC looks to bounce back after a disappointing 2012 season.
The first order of business, obviously, is to identify a starting quarterback. Coach Lane Kiffin wouldn’t do it at the end of spring camp, so that means the new starter won’t be named until a couple of weeks into fall practice. The competition is between third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, with true freshman Max Browne the longshot. The feeling is that Kiffin leans toward Wittek, who is bigger with a stronger arm, although Kessler is the “gamer” who makes fewer mistakes. Neither one is likely to make Trojans fans forget Matt Barkley, who broke all the school’s career passing records before moving on to the NFL.
Whoever winds up with the job will have the luxury of throwing to one of the finest pass-catching tandems in the country. The star is All-American Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award and should be a Heisman Trophy contender. Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He will be joined by flashy Nelson Agholor, who had an excellent freshman season and was the team’s most consistent offensive player in the spring. At tight end, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are both big and talented enough to be considered solid NFL prospects.
Kiffin’s teams always pass well, but it remains to be seen if he can produce the kind of overpowering running game featured by USC teams in the past. Senior Silas Redd, who ran for 905 yards, and freshman Justin Davis, who was the surprise of the spring, will headline a rushing game that will only be as effective as an offensive line that returns plenty of experience. Replacing center Khaled Holmes will be difficult, and it remains to be seen if huge junior Aundrey Walker can handle the all-important left tackle position. It was Walker’s missed assignment that led to Barkley’s season-ending injury in the UCLA game.
Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father, resigned as defensive coordinator and was replaced by Clancy Pendergast, who has installed a new 5-2 scheme that should take full advantage of a talented defensive line that ranks among the best and deepest in the conference. Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks a year ago, will be an end/outside linebacker hybrid now. With Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard, George Uko and fast-rising freshman Kenny Bigelow, among others, this could be a dominant unit.
Potential star Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson, the most improved player of the spring, will start at linebacker, while Dion Bailey tries to make the move from linebacker to strong safety. The big question is the rest of a secondary that is short on experience. Junior Josh Shaw will play somewhere, but after that it is difficult to know who will be starting where.
Andre Heidari should be among the better placekickers in the country. Kris Albarado will be the new punter, with Lee, Agholor and Anthony Brown featured as kick returners.
Kiffin is feeling considerable heat after 2012’s disappointing 7–6 finish for a team some ranked No. 1 nationally heading into the season. Now he has the unenviable task of trying to return to prominence with an inexperienced quarterback, a major question mark at left tackle and a defense that could be vulnerable in the secondary.
If nothing else, at least he gets a break in a schedule that doesn’t include national power Oregon and opens with four games, three of them at home, that the Trojans should win.
After that, though, things get difficult. The feeling is Kiffin needs nine or 10 victories, or his job could be in serious jeopardy.