This time last year, the University of Southern California (USC) community was ecstatic about the potential of its upcoming season. As the preseason No. 1, with a quarterback that was the frontrunner for Heisman, a national championship seemed like it was the only option. But we all know how that season ended: not good.
Now heading into the fall, USC won’t find itself sitting atop any polls, and some might even consider them lucky to even be on any. But despite all the haters, the 2013-14 season looks like it could hold a lot more promises than last, as an easier schedule, a far deeper roster and a lot less expectation could leave them with a legitimate chance to play for the BCS title.
The biggest question for the Trojans, as it has been all year, is: who’s going to replace Matt Barkley? At the end of last season, it seemed Max Wittek was ripe for the job, but his inability to complete routine passes in their Bowl game against Georgia Tech left many coaches and fans questioning his talent.
Coming up in the ranks to challenge Wittek are underclassman Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne. Kessler only appeared in a couple games last season but showed signs of serious potential and excellent quarterback swag. Although Browne hasn’t proven anything at the college level, he did leave high school as the top ranked quarterback of his class, receiving much praise for his pro-style offense and being compared to greats like Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
However, no matter who is taking the snaps, USC will have one of the nation’s top receiving corps to throw to. Although the Trojans lost their No. 2 receiver Robert Woods to the draft, they’ll bring back Marqise Lee, last year’s Biletnikoff winner, an award given to the country’s top receiver.
Although Woods won’t be by his side, Nelson Agholor will provide a nice complement for Lee. Agholor had a solid 2012 season and should expect to see a significant amount of action this year, especially with defenses double-teaming Lee. After the receivers have taken flight down field, USC will boast two explosive tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.
Even with all that talent in the air, USC still has plenty of skill on the ground. Returning to the lineup is Penn State transfer Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan and Tre Madden, who missed the entire 2012 season with injuries. Although the offensive line struggled last season, allowing more sacks than a potato farm, they return the majority of their starters and have plenty of young talent coming up.
But after last season, the biggest concern for USC shouldn’t be putting points on the board - it’s stopping them. Even though the Trojans did lose their free safety captain TJ McDonald and corner back Nickell Robey, they bring back a string of defensive players that include Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Devon Kennard back from injury.
USC will have to look to incoming freshmen to help fill the gaps, but that’s something I think this recruiting class will be able to handle. Make sure to keep an eye out for the defensive line.
2012 wasn’t a banner year for USC and its defense, but the experience gained will certainly propel the Trojans through 2013. Former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had a lot of trouble last season with PAC-12 offenses, but I predict his replacement Clancy Pendergast to provide a game plan that is a lot more aggressive and more fitting to USC’s talent.
In respect to the rest of the PAC-12, USC will have one of the deepest lineups and one of the easier schedules. Tough road matchups will come when they face Norte Dame in South Bend mid-October and again when they head up to Oregon State in early November. Fortunately for the Trojans, they face their two biggest competitors in Stanford and UCLA at home in the Coliseum. Currently, I have them favored in 10 of their 13 games, with the remaining three up for grabs.
After a 7-6 season, the expectations aren’t very high for USC, but that could be exactly what they need. The pressure might not be on the players; however, another lackluster year will certainly send head coach Lane Kiffin packing.
But, the suave leader has had impressive seasons before, and I expect 2013 to be another one of them. They might not be the nation’s top team week one, but if all the right pieces fall into place, the Trojans could be sitting real pretty come December when the BCS pairings are read.
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