2011 Record: 10-2 (7-2 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (18-7 at USC, 25-13 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2009 season Emerald Bowl: beat Boston College 24-13
Stats to Cheer: allowed only 8 sacks in 2011 (1st in Pac-12); converted 48% of third downs in 2011 (2nd in Pac-12)
Stats to Fear: have lost to an unranked team for six consecutive years
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 9; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Dion Bailey (81 tackles, 2 INT), LB Hayes Pullard (81 tackles, 4 sacks), CB Nickell Robey (63 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT), S TJ McDonald (67 tackles, 3 INT), DE Wes Horton (22 tackles, 4 sacks), DE Devon Kennard (29 tackles, 2 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Matt Barkley (39 TD, 7 INT), RB Curtis McNeal (1005 yds rush, 6 TD), WR Robert Woods (111 rec, 15 TD), WR Marqise Lee (73 rec, 11 TD), TE Randall Telfer (26 rec, 5 TD)
When Lane Kiffin was announced as the replacement to Pete Carroll a lot of people had a good laugh. After his run at Oakland and Tennessee it seemed he was not deserving of what is one of college football's best coaching gigs. After an 8-5 debut season, the tide started to turn and Kiffin and the Trojans posted a 10-2 season in 2011. Kiffin looks comfortable at USC and this could be a special year for him and his team.
There is no team in college football that has the weapons that the Trojans have on offense. Matt Barkley returns at quarterback with the goals of winning a Heisman Trophy and a National Championship. Which one of those is more important to him could decide if the Trojans win the title this season. At receiver, the Trojans are stocked with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Behind them is talented George Farmer, steady De'Von Flournoy and true freshman Nelson Algohor. Proven depth at WR is not there but talent is. At RB, the Trojans return a 1,000 yard rusher in Curtis McNeal and also have a 1,000 yard transfer in former Penn State player Silas Redd.
The Achilles heel of this team will be on the defensive line where they must replace Nick Perry (8.5 sacks) and a pair of tackles. The starting DEs (Horton and Kennard) will be good but the question will be the middle of the line and who backs them up at DE. The good news is that the Trojans play in the Pac-12 and there aren't a lot of teams that are going to try and just jam the ball up the middle so it won't be as big of a problem as you think except when they play Oregon and if they play in that big important game that we won't talk about. The strength of the defense will be the back seven. The Trojans have a trio of good young LBs led by Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard. The secondary also has a lot of talent but must overcome the recent loss of Isiah Wiley who has been ruled academically ineligible. TJ McDonald and Nickell Robey have star potential in the defensive backfield.
There is a question of depth for USC as they are at 75 scholarship players (10 less than the maximum allowed) so if the Trojans rack up a bunch of injuries they could be in trouble quickly (but injuries will hurt any team). When you look up and down the USC schedule it simply doesn't look like a difficult schedule. There are games that will be tough (at Stanford, at Utah, at Washington, Notre Dame) but the big game comes down to beating Oregon at home and then most likely facing off against them again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC has the talent and the schedule to get to the BCS Championship Game. Just like every other team they have to take it one game at a time, avoid slip-ups and hope that they get some luck along the way.
Top 25 Countdown
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#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
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