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You can read the entire USC preview in Athlon Sports' 2011 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 8–5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Monte Kiffin
Lane Kiffin’s specialty is offense, and in his second season as head coach, he will try to return the Trojans to the good, old, high-scoring days. Any team located just a couple of deep post patterns from Hollywood needs star power, and the Trojans will have their share. Quarterback Matt Barkley, who improved dramatically as a sophomore, will attempt to raise the bar again, with the help of what could be his most skilled set of wide receivers yet.
Robert Woods, the 2010 Pac-10 Offensive Freshman of the Year, becomes his new go-to guy. The other receiver position is wide open, but look for freshman George Farmer — a bigger, faster Woods clone from the same high school — to get an early shot at the job. Redshirt freshman Kyle Prater also should be a major contributor, if he’s healthy.
USC is no longer Tailback U, but that doesn’t mean it lacks gifted runners. Senior Mark Tyler should get the majority of the carries, although shifty sophomore Dillon Baxter and swift redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan will both get their opportunities. Fullback is a mystery, with true freshman Soma Vainuku the only non-walk-on listed on the roster.
The real key is an offensive line that has been badly depleted. Among the returning linemen, only left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes were starters a year ago. A talented but raw group of kids will have to figure it out quickly, or it will be a problem.
Lane Kiffin will lead USC back to being a national powerhouse.
This is the unit that has everyone worried. A year ago, the defense gave up 400.1 yards per game, the most in recent school history. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the famous defenses previously directed by coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane’s 71-year-old father who was a legendary NFL assistant.
If there is a strength to this unit, it is up front, where there is a talented core of experienced players led by end Nick Perry. The linebacking was something less than credible a year ago, and if such players as Chris Galippo and Devon Kennard don’t take it up a notch, watch out for freshman Lamar Dawson.
The secondary is led by All-Pac-12 candidate T.J. McDonald at free safety, pesky cornerback Nickell Robey and spring star Tony Burnett, a former walk-on who looks like the other starter at corner.
Matt Barkley, QB If he keeps improving, Barkley can be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Robert Woods, WR Mr. Excitement as a Freshman All-America receiver, and he figures to only get better.
T.J. McDonald, FS He’s the leader and best tackler on a defense that needs to improve quickly.
|Sept. 24th||at Arizona State|
|Oct 13th||at California|
|Oct. 22nd||at Notre Dame|
|Nov. 4th||at Colorado|
|Nov. 19th||at Oregon|
New special teams coach John Baxter made startling improvements in this unit in his first season. Now he begins with a strong-legged freshman, Andre Heidari, as his likely placekicker and Kris Albarado, another freshman, as his punter. Heidari will kick off. Woods, Farmer and Curtis McNeal will return kicks.
By the old Pete Carroll glory day standards, USC has been in something of a slump for the past two seasons, Carroll’s last and Kiffin’s first. The surprising record over that span is an undistinguished 17–9.
For Kiffin to get the Trojans’ mojo back, he will need his questionable offensive line to mesh early and provide the strong-armed Barkley with the kind of protection he needs. If that happens, the Trojans — featuring Tyler, Morgan, Woods and Farmer — could score plenty of points. Defensively, though, there has to be a major improvement, especially with the schedule calling for road trips to Oregon and Notre Dame.
At least the first-year Pac-12 schedule allows Kiffin to play five conference home games and seven overall. The problem is, in order to return to 10 victories, he might have to win all of them.