USC was billed as a national title contender last season but finished with a disappointing 7-6 mark and ended the year with a three-game losing streak. The Trojans are still under NCAA sanctions, so coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t have a full complement of players. However, USC still has plenty of talent, so another 7-5 season could spell the end of Kiffin’s run. The coaching staff was shuffled after the disappointing year, with Mike Ekeler, Clancy Pendergast, Tommie Robinson and Mike Summers all coming aboard. Pendergast is the biggest addition, as he is charged with getting USC’s defense back on track.
USC Trojans 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-6 (5-4)
Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7
Passing: Max Wittek, 36 of 69, 388 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Silas Redd, 167 car., 905 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Marqise Lee, 118 rec., 1,721 yards, 14 TDs
Tackles: Hayes Pullard, 107
Sacks: Morgan Breslin, 13
Interceptions: Dion Bailey, 4
Redshirts to watch: OL Jordan Simmons, LB Scott Starr, OT Zach Banner, CB Devian Shelton
Early Enrollees to watch: DL Kenny Bigelow, QB Max Browne, DB Su’a Cravens, RB Justin Davis, DB Chris Hawkins, DB Leon McQuay III, WR Darreus Rogers
Aug. 29 at Hawaii
Sept. 7 Washington State
Sept. 14 Boston College
Sept. 21 Utah State
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 10 Arizona
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Oct. 26 Utah
Nov. 1 at Oregon State
Nov. 9 at California
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 23 at Colorado
Nov. 30 UCLA
Offensive Strength: Despite the departure of running back Curtis McNeal and receiver Robert Woods, there’s no shortage of skill players for USC. Running back Silas Redd is back for his senior year, while Marqise Lee is the nation’s best receiver heading into 2013.
Offensive Weakness: Quarterback Matt Barkley’s late-season shoulder injury allowed Max Wittek to gain valuable experience. But he failed to seize the starting job, so USC will have an open competition this spring. The offensive line struggled at times last year, and center Khaled Holmes expired his eligibility.
Defensive Strength: Going into last season, the defensive line was one of USC’s biggest question marks. This unit quickly became a strength, as junior college recruit Morgan Breslin was a standout performer, and Leonard Williams and George Uko were solid in the middle. The linebacking corps is also one of the best in the Pac-12, led by Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson and Dion Bailey.
Defensive Weakness: With cornerback Nickell Robey leaving for the NFL, the Trojans will have only one returning starter in the secondary. Safety T.J. McDonald will also be missed after recording 112 stops last season. This unit ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in pass defense but will need significant contributions from a few young players in 2013.
Spring Storylines Facing the Trojans
1. The quarterback battle. All eyes in Los Angeles will be on the quarterback battle this spring. Max Wittek filled in for Matt Barkley during the final two games of last season and finished the year with 388 yards and three touchdowns. Wittek showed some promise against Notre Dame but struggled in the bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Sophomore Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne are expected to push Wittek for playing time, with Browne the most intriguing name to watch. The true freshman ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and is USC’s quarterback of the future. Wittek’s experience should help him in this battle, but it will be difficult to keep Kessler and Browne on the bench if he struggles in spring practice.
2. Replacing Khaled Holmes on the offensive line. The final numbers weren’t awful for USC’s offensive line, as it allowed 1.3 sacks a game and paved the way for rushers to average 5.0 yards per carry. However, this unit struggled to pass block at times, including a game against Stanford, where Barkley was sacked four times. With first-team All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes departing, new line coach Mike Summers will have his hands full this spring. John Martinez and Kevin Graf should be set on the right side, but the other three spots are up for grabs. Marcus Martin could slide to center, while Max Tuerk may move to guard if Aundrey Walker or redshirt freshman Zach Banner can claim the left tackle spot. Don’t be surprised if Summers shakes up the starting five and shuffles a few players around this spring, as USC cannot afford to have an inexperienced quarterback struggling to find time to throw.
3. Adjusting to a new defensive scheme. One of the biggest knocks on Monte Kiffin’s career at USC was his inability to stop spread offenses. The Trojans were gashed for 62 points by Oregon in 2012 and 39 against Arizona. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast comes to Los Angeles from California, where his defense ranked 93rd nationally in yards allowed last season. While Pendergast’s numbers weren’t anything special last year, his flexible defensive scheme could be what USC needs to slow down some of the Pac-12’s top offenses. How quickly the Trojans can adjust to Pendergast’s scheme will determine how high this team can climb in the Pac-12 South this year.
4. New starters in the secondary. With only one starter returning in the secondary, it’s a good thing USC’s defensive line returns nearly intact. Wes Horton is the unit’s biggest departure, but Devon Kennard returns after missing all of 2012 due to injury. Pendergast needs his defensive line to get after opposing quarterbacks to limit the amount of time the secondary has to cover this year. Josh Shaw is expected to slide from cornerback to safety, while true freshman Su’a Cravens may also win a starting job this preseason. One wildcard to watch is linebacker Dion Bailey. The junior could move from linebacker to safety in this spring, but a final determination on his position may have to wait until the fall. Cornerback is a biggest question mark, as Torin Harris, Anthony Brown, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton and true freshman Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins will all battle for two spots. Considering the quarterback and receiver talent in the Pac-12, USC could be in trouble if it can’t find solidify its starting lineup at cornerback.
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