USC Football: 5 Underrated Players Who Will Shine in 2012
At a school like USC, where four- and five-star recruits gather to play football in the media haven that is Los Angeles, it is very difficult to go unnoticed or become underrated. However, some players have still managed to do it.
While Matt Barkley makes his Heisman bid and Robert Woods steals whatever spotlight Barkley leaves behind, some making smaller contributions may be passed over by the camera crews and newspapers. That is, until they start making headlines of their own.
Here are five Trojans who may enter 2012 underrated, but will be well-known as stars by 2013.
Defensive tackle George Uko has the potential to become one of the more well-known USC defenders, and he's starting to show that potential this spring.
After a slight hiccup, in which he was demoted to the second team for not giving full effort on every play, Uko has impressed coaches with his explosiveness and new work ethic.
The former high school All-American played as a backup in 2011 but will get his chance this year and certainly make the most of it.
Matt Barkley's favorite target at Mater Dei High School, Victor Blackwell is currently stuck in a logjam at receiver.
Clearly behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, Blackwell is competing with prized recruit George Farmer and De'von Flournoy for the coveted third wide receiver spot. He's been impressive through winter workouts and spring practices and has been getting a lot of reps due to injuries to Woods and Farmer.
Blackwell always had the skills to become a big-time USC receiver, but he set himself back with a failure to fully grasp the playbook during his redshirt season. Since returning, however, Blackwell has shown all of the abilities that earned him a scholarship to USC and has given the extra effort required to break into a starting role.
Tre Madden is a former linebacker who just recently switched to running back after having several good practices at the position.
A quick learner, Madden was so impressive that the coaching staff made up their mind about the running back experiment a full day they before they were expected to. At the moment, the 6'0", 226-pounder is still near the bottom of the running back depth chart. However, if he continues to improve at the rate he is now, expect him to get his fair share of snaps during the season.
Due to his size and strength, Madden looks to be a useful weapon in short-yardage situations and will soon be a great asset to the Trojans.
Curtis McNeal is well-known to all USC followers, but he doesn't get as much recognition outside Southern California.
The Trojans' leading rusher in 2011, McNeal broke 1,000 yards in the final game of the season against UCLA after earning a starting role midway through the year. He's a certain beneficiary of the high-powered passing offense that offsets defenses for him, but with his skill set he would do more than just hold his own in any school's offense.
2012 will be a special year for McNeal, as he will spend the offseason as the No. 1 running back and will be the starter for the entire season. He'll have more opportunities than last year and will make the most of them.
When Matt Kalil decided to forgo his senior year at USC in favor of the NFL, it seemed that there would be a major void of talent at left tackle for 2012.
His replacement, however, is Kevin Graf, who started at right tackle last season.
Graf spent the first week of spring practice working out on the left side, but for now he will move back to the right as Aundrey Walker gets reps on the left side. Whichever position he ends up playing, Graf will ensure the loss of Kalil is felt as little as possible.
The redshirt junior from Agoura Hills has the experience to be effective and was a part of an offensive line that only gave up eight sacks in the entire 2011 season. Graf will allow the Trojan faithful to stop worrying about a weak blindside for Barkley and shine just about as brightly as an offensive lineman can this year.