USC Football: 8 Players to Be Excited About in 2012

Jason ClarkCorrespondent IIFebruary 21, 2012

USC Football: 8 Players to Be Excited About in 2012

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    USC returns almost all of its key players from last year's 10-2 campaign and because of that, it's time to get excited about 2012.

    With the return of captains Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald, the Trojans will have senior leaders on each side of the ball trying to guide a young team to the BCS National Championship Game. Surrounding them, however, are plenty of other impact players to be excited about.

    The Trojans have arguably the best receiving corps in the nation and bring back an underrated defense that showed great improvement from start to finish in 2011.

    Let's take a look at some names that might be popping up on blogs and end-of-season award nomination sheets alike in 2012.

Matt Barkley

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    Let's start out with the obvious—quarterback Matt Barkley. He turned down a possible top five selection in the 2012 NFL Draft and millions of dollars for a chance to come back to USC and compete for a national title.

    Without Barkley, the Trojans were still going to be in competition with Oregon for the Pac-12 championship. With him, however, they became instant locks for the preseason top five and are even favorites to win the crystal ball in some circles.

    In 2012, Barkley will likely obliterate every USC passing record and end up in New York at the end of the season for the Heisman presentation ceremony. The amount of improvement we have seen from him over his three years starting at USC has been remarkable, and he can only get better next year.

    Get excited about a couple more six touchdown games from Barkley next season.

Robert Woods

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    Robert Woods is our next obvious player to be excited about, as he was named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the top wide receiver in the nation each year. The consensus All-American did that despite playing the entire season on an injured right ankle that appeared to get worse and worse as the year went on.

    Woods had surgery on the ankle in December, however, and will be at 100 percent by the time the season rolls around in September.

    If Woods caught 111 passes for almost 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns with a bad ankle, just imagine how effective he will be when fully healthy. That's something to be excited about.

Marqise Lee

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    USC fans should have a hard time deciding who to be more excited about—Robert Woods, or freshman All-American Marqise Lee.

    Whenever Woods was hobbled by his ankle or unable to escape double-teams, Lee was always there to pick up the slack. Even when Woods was playing well, Lee was there to share the stage.

    Out of the two, Lee might even be the better receiver. According to Lane Kiffin, he has progressed quicker than Woods and is faster and stronger as well.

    With both Woods and Lee split out wide next fall, defenses are going to have a tough time allocating their resources to the right spots. And don't forget about all the talent USC has stocked up competing for the third receiver spot.

No. 3 Receiver

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    There will be fierce competition between George Farmer, Victor Blackwell and De'von Flournoy for the third receiver spot this spring. Whoever emerges from the group will be fun to watch come gametime.

    Farmer is a former 5-star recruit and Blackwell and Flournoy each signed with four stars next to their names. Farmer is currently the front-runner for the position, but Blackwell has been impressing coaches with his work ethic this winter and has the ability to pass up Farmer by the time the season starts

    Flournoy will be a junior next season and has more experience than the other two. It will be difficult for him to win the spot, but at the very least he will provide more competition. If he does end up performing better than Farmer and Blackwell, he's a good fit for a slot receiver position and could be used much like Victor Cruz is in New York.

    Matt Barkley will be throwing to easily the deepest set of receivers in the nation. Maybe the Trojans should just line up in five-wide sets the whole season so that everybody gets a chance.

Curtis McNeal

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    If USC chose to only play in five-receiver sets in 2012, they would be missing out on a huge weapon out of the backfield in Curtis McNeal.

    McNeal kind of sneaked up on everyone last year, as he spent the first part of the season sitting behind Mark Tyler and D.J. Morgan on the depth chart. After churning out 74 yards and a touchdown on seven carries at Arizona State, however, McNeal won the starting job.

    He had double-digit carries in each game for the remainder of the season and ended up finishing with 1005 yards and six touchdowns.

    McNeal will be the clear starter heading into 2012 and will have plenty of gaps to work with while defenders try to stop the lethal USC passing attack. He will have Matt Kalil gone off the line, but the Trojans picked up a few high-level recruits in Jordan Simmons, Zach Banner and Max Tuerk to help fill that void.

    The offensive skill positions are loaded for USC, and that is cause for some major excitement looking to 2012.

Dion Bailey

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    Linebacker Dion Bailey joined Marqise Lee as a freshman All-American, and there are high hopes for him going into 2012.

    Bailey led USC with 80 tackles last fall and will be the leading linebacker following Chris Galippo's graduation. Next to him will be fellow sophomore Hayes Pullard, who can also be something special for the Trojans.

    After being so impactful as a freshman, the former safety will only be more effective as a sophomore. He'll provide the dominant linebacker presence USC has missed since sending Brian Cushing, Ray Maualuga and Clay Matthews to the NFL.

T.J. McDonald

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    T.J. McDonald joined Matt Barkley in staying at USC for his senior year in a move that may have surprised people more than Barkley's return did. McDonald opted to follow the footsteps of former Trojan safety Taylor Mays and will be a second-year captain in the fall.

    McDonald is coming off a season in which he led the Trojans in interceptions and played himself onto two All-American teams. If he puts together a similar season in 2012, he could go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.

    On a defense filled with young talent, it will be great for the Trojans to have McDonald's experience on the field. He isn't a flashy player that will rack up eye-popping statistics, but it's certainly exciting to have a reliable senior manning the safety position.

Kyle Negrete

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    You wouldn't guess it by the picture, but Kyle Negrete is actually a punter. He didn't have to do a lot of work last year because, well, there weren't many punting situations, but his performance against UCLA in the season finale was notable.

    In a game where Matt Barkley threw six touchdown passes and the defense didn't give up a single point, Negrete made his mark by booting a 58 yard and a 62 yard punt, the second of which put UCLA inside its own 20.

    USC may not have to punt much next year, but when they do it'll be nice knowing there's a guy who can completely reverse the field back there punting for them.