Pac 12

2010 NCAA Football Preview: USC Trojans

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 9-4, 5-4
Bowl Game: Emerald Bowl (W 24-13 vs. Boston College)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): 22, 20
Conference finish: 5th Pac-10
Offensive rank: 55
Defensive rank: 40

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Joe McKnight, 1,014 yards, 8 TD; Allen Bradford, 668 yards, 8 TD
Passing: Matt Barkley, 2,735 yards, 15 TD, 14 INT
Receiving: Damian Williams, 1,010 yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Taylor Mays, 96 total tackles
Sacks: Nick Perry, 8 sacks (8 solo); Everson Griffen, 8 sacks (8 solo)
Interceptions: Will Harris, 4 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

October 2 vs. Washington: The Huskies handed the Trojans their first loss in 12 contests early last season. While they'll be eager for revenge, Washington returns a more experienced and more confident team in 2010. After what should be a win to open conference play the week before against Washington State, continuing to get off on the right foot will be important in making the most out of their regular season.

October 30 vs. Oregon: The Ducks handed the Trojans their second loss of what would turn out to be a four-loss season. Oregon eventually went on to win the Pac-10, a prize the Trojans have claimed the past seven seasons. While they cannot win the Pac-10 this season, they'll face a tough matchup with the Ducks in their quest to nonetheless finish atop the final conference standings.

November 27 vs. Notre Dame: The non-conference rivalry stretches back to the mid-twenties with Notre Dame holding an all-time 42-33-5 series lead with one USC win now vacated. The Irish have not won this once since 2001 and with high hopes again for this season will be gunning for the Trojans.

December 4 @ UCLA: UCLA sees the Trojans' current predicament as an opportunity to lure more local talent and grab a few victories in the rivalry. Wins against the Trojans have not come easy for UCLA, winning once in 2006 and not since 1998 before that. This will mark a monumental matchup between the two sides with USC not eager to relinquish their reign over Los Angeles football.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)


Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Joe McKnight, RB; Damian Williams, WR; Charles Brown, OT; Jeff Byers, G; Alex Parsons, G; Everson Griffen, DE; Taylor Mays, S

Key Returning Players

Matt Barkley, QB; Stanley Havili, FB; Tyron Smith, OT; Kris O'Dowd, C; Nick Perry, DE; Jurrell Casey, DT

Offensive Overview

Quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns on just under 60% passing. Not bad for a true freshman who the previous year was still changing classes by a bell. Some were worried about his decision making ability after he threw 14 interceptions in 2009, but Barkley took a big step in quelling some of those fears in the spring, throwing 11 touchdowns and no picks in the Trojans' four scrimmages. His development and progression will be watched closely as the Trojans kick off their 2010 season with three road games in the first four weeks. Who knows, maybe he'll even play well enough to entice Taylor Swift to attend a game.

The offensive line has an apparent lack of experienced depth following the loss of three starters. Injuries have ravaged their depth all spring with the Trojans playing with just six offensive linemen at times. Following one practice, head coach Lane Kiffin remarked, according to, "I was really impressed with the offensive line. We only had six offensive linemen today and they did well." The starters should be solid with senior center Kris O'Dowd and junior tackle Tyron Smith leading the way, but injuries during the season may throw the offense off-kilter. Losing prized recruit Seantrel Henderson doesn't help matters.

The Trojans lose their leading running back and leading receiver from a season ago in Joe McKnight and Damian William, respectively. Seniors Allen Bradford and C.J. Gamble are expected to lead the way on the ground, with many eager to see how much playing time true freshman Dillon Baxter gets this season. Stanley Havili returns as perhaps the best fullback in all of college football.

Ronald Johnson looked great in the spring, but suffered a wrist injury in late April that kept him out for the remainder of the spring. The good news is that it will not affect his availability for the start of the season. Behind Johnson, however, the Trojans are lacking in depth. Kiffin was quoted by the Orange County Register in mid-April as saying, "We've got one guy who's operating at a championship level and a bunch of other guys. We've got to figure out who the rest of these guys are so we can have some guys to complement RoJo." He was later quoted as saying a couple of weeks later and about a week after RoJo went down with an injury, "Travon Patterson made some plays today. It was good to see Brice Butler play better and be more physical. We really challenged him and need him to step up. He’s the got the potential to be a No. 2 or a No. 3, but he’s got to be more consistent." Rhett Ellison and Blake Ayles will compete to replace Anthony McCoy at tight end.

Defensive Overview

Many expect Jurrell Casey to emerge as one of the nation's premier defensive tackles as a junior this season. He recorded 59 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2009, and was the team leader in fumble recoveries with three. Casey started alongside Christian Tupou on the interior of the line last season and the two were counted on to lock down the middle of the line in the upcoming season, but Tupou suffered a knee injury in the spring that will sideline him for the entire 2010 season. Replacing the two-year starter in the lineup is important, but the depth is there. Wes Horton and Armond Armstead were starters at end last season opposite Everson Griffen. The two return in 2010 with Nick Perry, who tied Griffen for the team lead in sacks with eight as a freshman, also pushing for playing time.

All three starters return at linebacker for 2010. Malcom Smith on the weakside and Chris Galippo in the middle finished second and third on the team in tackles with 72 and 70 total tackles, respectively. Devon Kennard will push Galippo for the starting spot in the fall with neither listed as the starter on the post-spring depth chart. Michael Morgan started nine games in 2009 at strongside linebacker, but could see his spot taken by either Galippo or Kennard. Kennard replaced Morgan in the starting lineup late in 2009 after he moved to the position from defensive end.

While depth on the defensive line and at linebacker is solid, the secondary will see four new starters in 2010. Most notable among those now departed is Taylor Mays, who was a three-time All-America first teamer (2007, 08 and 09 and a second teamer in 2006) and a four year starter at the position. The five safeties on the roster who saw the field in 2009 combined for 36 tackles with 15 of them coming from junior Drew McAllister, who also forced a fumble. Marshall Jones returns after an early season injury kept him out of game action for most of 2009. The cornerback position will see the return of Shareece Wright, who missed all of the regular season in 2009 because of academics, but started the Emerald Bowl against Boston College, making two tackles and even picking off a pass. He's the most experienced defensive back on the roster.

Special Teams Overview

Kicker Jordon Congdon is gone, leaving place kicking duties up to walk-on Joe Houston. Jacob Harfman was the punter and kickoff specialist last season and will revise those roles in 2010. Harfman averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season and could even challenge Houston for place kicking duties if he struggles early. In the return game, a shortage of explosive athletes has not been a problem for USC. C.J. Gamble, Ronald Johnson and Curtis McNeal have experience in returning kicks, but punt returner Damian Williams is gone and his production (14.2 yards per return and two touchdowns) will not be easy to replace. Dillon Baxter has been mentioned as an option in the USC return game. Baxter possesses many of the same explosive qualities as former Trojan Reggie Bush and would be a popular choice among fans.

Head Coach: Lane Kiffin

Brooklyn Decker is great and all, but who else wanted to see Lane Kiffin go all the way in Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive bracket? Kiffin went down in the Sweet 16 round to Heather Mitts after first and second round victories over Natalie Gulbis and Danica Patrick, respectively. Esquire's description of Kiffin read, "Such a pretty girl. Sure raises a ruckus."

On to football, though. Kiffin bolted Tennessee on January 12 after just one season as the Volunteers head coach to take his "dream job" as head coach of the Trojans. He's grabbed his fair share of headlines and has been a regular feature in the world of college football controversy since taking over at Tennessee and later at USC. Counted among his controversies are secondary recruiting violations, accusations of other schools committing recruiting violations, talking trash to other programs, offering a scholarship to a 13-year-old quarterback, etc. Depending on what side of the fence you're on, some like his style, others despise it and others fall somewhere in the middle.

In his lone season as a college football head coach, Kiffin led the Volunteers to a 7-6 record and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl where they lost to Virginia Tech by a score of 37-14. He comes to USC amidst some hefty sanctions that will keep the Trojans out of the bowl season for two years and will limit their short-term recruiting ability. A former offensive coordinator at USC, a role in which he enjoyed great success, Kiffin has some big shoes to fill taking over for Pete Carroll now of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Allen Bradford, RB; Stanley Havili, FB; Ronald Johnson, WR; Butch Lewis, G; Kris O'Dowd, C; Michael Morgan, LB; Malcolm Smith, LB; Shareece Wright, CB

Season Prediction

4th Pac-10

So the Trojans can't technically win the Pac-10, but this 4th place finish that I've predicted could be higher or it could be lower. Gone are the days when predicting the Pac-10 was easy. The Trojans would finish with one, two or no losses, reload on signing day and do the same the next year. This season marks the first time in a while that USC is not the consensus preseason choice to win their conference. In fact, Oregon is getting most of the hype despite losing their Heisman-candidate quarterback. There are still those who think USC will finish with the best record in the Pac-10, but the number is far less than it has been.

While Barkley seems poised to improve upon his debut performance, questions concerning depth along the offensive line and at the wide receiver position need to be answered for this offense to be successful all season long. On the defensive side of the ball, anxieties about this team's ability to replace all four starters in the secondary remain despite the return of Shareece Wright, who may emerge as the Pac-10's top cornerback when all's said and done. The front seven is set (although some worry about depth at linebacker) and will be instrumental in pressuring the quarterback and aiding the secondary in the short- to mid-range to take pressure off a relatively inexperienced bunch.

Sanctions against the Trojans will keep them out of the postseason for two years and will limit their recruiting ability as they're docked 30 scholarships. The upcoming season marks a new beginning for the Trojans with a new athletic director and head coach, the fact that they're no longer college football's premier program and of course as they deal with heavy sanctions and four years probation. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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