July 27th, 2013
There’s no denying it. Last season, the Trojans performed about as poorly as a busted condom. USC came in with national championship aspirations, and a #1 preseason ranking in the AP poll. The team crumbled under the weight of those expectations, finishing 2nd in the Pac-12 south at 7-6, and losing in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech. Naturally, Trojan alums have been calling athletic director Pat Haden for months, and bitching about head coach Lane Kiffin, in hopes that he will be ejected from the universe soon.
Kiffin received a vote of confidence from Haden on Pac-12 media day, as Haden tried to assure everyone that his head coach “is not on the hot seat”. That’s about as believable as Ryan Braun not taking PED’s, but at least Haden tried to take some pressure off of Kiffin to start the season.
The Trojans still have a very talented team heading into 2013, but have a major question mark at a very key position: quarterback. Max Wittek played in 8 games last season, and started the last two with Matt Barkley injured. He did a serviceable job in his first two games, but during the bowl game, he struggled more than a sorority girl stumbling home on a drunken Thursday night. Wittek will face stiff competition in camp from sophomore Cody Kessler, and true freshman Max Browne. Kessler is largely unproven yet known for his cerebral talents at the position, while Browne was considered the best pro style high school quarterback in the nation last season. It’s difficult to know exactly what the Trojans will get out of the position with such a small sample size.
The good news for whoever wins the starting quarterback job, they will be surrounded by some potent offensive weapons. Silas Redd returns at running back for USC, and will be entering his senior year. Redd rushed for just over 900 yards last season, and scored 9 TD’s but was slowed by injuries. He’ll be backed up by juniors DJ Morgan and Tre Madden, who missed all of last season with a foot injury. Two promising freshman will also be in the mix in Justin Davis and Ty Isaac.
At receiver, USC has one of the best in the country in Marqise Lee, who was named last years Biletnikoff award winner, with over 1700 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sophomore Nelson Agholor is expected to step into the #2 receiver role after Robert Woods departed for the NFL. The Trojans also have a solid 1-2 punch at tight end with juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. This group should be one of the most talented in the country.
Last year’s offensive line struggled with a very inexperience unit. They also failed to protect Matt Barkley, which resulted in him taking punishment throughout the season. The group is deeper this season, as the only loss is 3 year starter Khaled Homes. The depth should help in the event of injuries, but the key will be having more consistent pass protection.
Last season the USC defensive line was easier than Paris Hilton after happy hour. The Trojans allowed 167 rushing yards per game, which was their highest total given up since 1996. However, they did have 45 sacks, and will be returning senior defensive end Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks. Senior George Uko will also be counted on for his experience at defensive tackle, but the real question here is whether new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast can develop a better scheme than Monte Kiffin did last year.
The defense does have solid linebacking core, with a great deal of depth. Senior Hayes Pullard returns after leading the team in tackles last season and earning All-Pac 12 honors. Senior Devon Kennard returns after missing last season with an injury as well. Kennard was moved to linebacker after playing defensive end, and he’ll be joined by sophomore Jabari Ruffin, who should help this group cover a lot ground quickly.
However, the secondary will be very inexperienced. The Trojans lost two all conference performers in safety TJ McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey. They will have 4 of their top 8 defensive backs returning, but they’ll need to hope for a big improvement from the defensive line pressuring opposing quarterbacks in order to take pressure off of the defensive backfield.
The good news for the Trojans, the schedule will be easier and the team will be deeper. Here’s my prediction:
@ Hawaii- Win
vs Washington St -Win
vs Boston College- Win
vs Utah State- Win
@ Arizona St – Loss
vs Arizona- Loss
@ Notre Dame – Loss
vs Utah- Win
@ Oregon State- Win
@ California – Win
vs Stanford- Loss
@ Colorado – Win
vs UCLA – Loss
The Trojans finish 8-5. They should be in the mix for the Pac-12 south title with ASU and UCLA, and they’ll have the luxury of lower expectations. However, those lower expectations are the result of having inexperience at key positions including quarterback, and their defensive backfield. Improved play at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will be imperative for USC to get back to its winning ways. As for Kiffin, he can probably survive an 8-5 season with these type of expectations, but no worse than that. Last season, he mismanaged his relationship with Barkley, and ultimately crushed the confidence of his starting quarterback. Even though Marqise Lee exploded, Kiffin also failed to utilize Robert Woods as an effective complement to Lee. Without a doubt, AD Pat Haden has taken note of these things, and the pressure is on for his head coach to deliver. Even with the scholarship reductions USC is facing, the Trojans must show improvement, or a change in leadership will be coming.