USC Football: 10 Reasons the Trojans Will Fall to Pac-12 Foes in 2012
By now, USC's potential for next season has been quite well documented.
Finding themselves at the top of nearly ever preseason list, the Trojans have become an overwhelming favorite for both the Pac-12 and national titles in 2012. They possess what seems to be every key ingredient for an impressive run in the coming season, including a picturesque quarterback, the nation's top receiving duo and a dangerous defensive unit.
Returning 17 starters to a team that defeated eventual-Rose Bowl champion Oregon at Autzen Stadium, on paper it would appear the Trojans have everything in place to stomp through the Pac-12 on their way to an appearance in Miami this winter.
However, few around the college football world have considered what could make SC's perfect-seeming season come to a more disappointing end.
In a time in which nearly every team's fanbase finds itself with considerable optimism, we here at Bleacher Report have opted to play the devil's advocate and tell you 10 reasons why everyone's favorite pick to take home the conference crown may not be as foolproof as you think.
What possible faults could derail SC's re-ascent to the top of the college football elite?
Click further to find out...
Injury Issues in the Receiving Corps
An obvious key to Matt Barkley's (and by extension, USC's) success in 2011, the strength of USC's receiving corps is one of the bigger bragging points heading into this season.
However, this spring showed that all the talent in the world is of little consequence when it can't be put use on the field. USC struggled to field enough healthy receivers to hold scrimmages during spring practices and missed starters Robert Woods and George Farmer through spring drills due to various leg injuries. The Trojans also failed to have a single tight end on scholarship during their spring scrimmages and saw several in their TE position group hobbled by injuries.
While USC may possess elite-caliber athletes to receive Barkley's throws, if injury issues arise in the corps during the season, USC's potent offense could see a significant drop-off.
Lack of Depth at Running Back
Although not the main focus on the offensive attack this year, the Trojans could find themselves in trouble if their depth at running back proves to be a problem.
While the Trojans will return their top rusher from last season in Curtis McNeal, they are still legitimate concerns regarding the rest of the position group. As of spring practice there were only three tailbacks listed on the depth chart, prompting head coach Lane Kiffin to switch sophomore Tre Madden over to the position during spring practices. In what was perhaps a foreboding sign, Madden suffered a severe knee injury during drills and may miss the majority of next season.
While USC certainly has talent at the position, McNeal's diminutive stature could leave him susceptible to injury as the year progresses. If he does find himself out, the Trojans could be in a difficult position, their thinness at the position being on of their Achilles' heels heading into this year.
Questions at Left Tackle
Matt Barkley had the good fortune of having his blind side protected by perhaps the premier tackle prospect in the nation last year; he will not be as fortunate this coming season.
The Trojans have the unenviable task of replacing last year's starter Matt Kalil, the fourth pick in this year's NFL draft. The coaching staff has named Aundrey Walker as Kalil's replacement, but the sophomore struggled during spring practice in dealing with speedy DEs on the outside. If Walker continues to show these problems as the season commences, it could be very troublesome for Kiffin, who obviously places protecting Barkley as probably the highest priority for next season.
With good blindside protection being such an imperative piece of modern-day offenses, a potential weakness at the spot for the Trojans could be a potentially fatal flaw. If SC isn't able to secure its left edge by fall, look for it to be a very major problem as the season continues.
No Experienced Backup at QB
While many Trojans fans have spent the past six months daydreaming about the possibilities of next season with Barkley behind center, few have likely considered what could arise if USC finds itself without the senior QB's services at some point during the year.
The focal point of USC's entire attack this season, a Barkley injury could be devastating to a Trojans team that has yet to name an understudy. Although Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are likely plenty talented (they wouldn't be at USC if they weren't), neither has seen any in-game action. If either were forced into a game situation under duress, it's unknown if either would be able to helm the Trojans' offense without error.
While fans may not want to imagine the Trojans without their Heisman-hopeful leader, a potential absence represents the best opportunity for USC to fall during the regular season.
Questions on the Defense Line
One of the few spots in which the Trojans actually lost significant talent from 2011, the defensive line could be one of the more worrisome pieces of a juggernaut USC team.
The Trojans lost their top pass-rusher, DE Nick Perry, to early entry in the 2012 NFL draft, as well as two other starters from last year's line. Although experienced seniors Wes Horton and Devon Kennard should fill in for Perry's absence nicely, there still remains a dearth of experience in the interior. Expected starters George Uko and J.R. Tavai have only two combined starts between them (both Uko), and there lies even more questions beyond the starting group in terms of depth.
A cornerstone of a successful defensive unit, the pass rush can make or break a team's chances to reach the elite level. If USC's new stand-ins fail to perform up to standards, it could be one of the larger weaknesses heading into next season.
Inconsistency in the Pass Game
Although much fanfare has been made over Barkley's considerable talents throwing the football, the senior passer is not unstoppable.
Despite Barkley's impressive play during last season, he at times exhibited an ability to perform somewhat mediocre at times. In five games last season, Barkley had a QB rating of 136 or under, with 130 generally being considered the average amongst college QBs. Furthermore, in six games last year, Barkley performed under the national average of seven yards per throw attempt.
While these figures may not be eye-popping, it would only take one mediocre-to-terrible game by Barkley to throw USC out of the national or Pac-12 title picture. If the Heisman-hopeful fails to perform up to his reputation at some point this year, it could leave the Trojans vulnerable to an upset.
A Lack of Turnovers
An often under-discussed statistic in football, forced turnovers often correspond quite closely to a team's overall success.
This may not bode well for the Trojans if they are unable to improve their lackluster showing from last season. USC finished ranked for 10th in the conference last year with only 17 takeaways and was only two away from finding itself dead last in the conference in the column. For comparison, Pac-12 champion Oregon snatched away 29 balls from various offenses over the course of last season.
If USC wants to challenge the Ducks for the top spot of the conference, it will likely have to improve its turnover ratio in 2012. If not, its lack of game-swinging opportunities could hurt its chances down the line.
A Tough Road Schedule
USC's strength of schedule may not give coach Kiffin nightmares this early, the Trojans could find their calendar isn't the cakewalk some might have anticipated.
Although the Trojans do receive their main conference foe in the Ducks at home, they find themselves on the away side in several possible trap games. USC will have to play Washington, Stanford and Utah away from the Coliseum, an unfortunate draw considering they are the three best teams in the league after Oregon and SC. The game at Husky Stadium could prove especially tricky, considering the Trojans' previous struggles there, the notoriously tough Seattle crowd and Washington's status as a potential sleeper for the Pac-12 crown this year.
While the Trojans will be the obvious favorite in their road matchups, college football's nature of uncertainty gives a certain feeling of foreboding over some of SC's more troubling away games this season.
The Annual Tendency to Take a Game off
One of USC's Achilles' heels during its extended run of prominence and dominance, its susceptibility to upsets, could once again be the downfall in 2012.
A recurring symptom in many of USC's dominant teams of the past decade, their ability to fall to inferior teams in a lapse of consistency has muddled several successful seasons. Notable losses include back-to-back losses to the Beavers in '06 and '08, Stanford's 41-point underdog victory in 2007 and Washington's 16-13 win in 2009. With the Trojans' rediscovered status as the creme de la creme of the Pac-12, the lower ranks of the league will have their eyes set yet again on knocking off the conference favorite this year.
If SC's unfortunate trend of one-game mental lapses reappears this season, it could be the reason it finds itself out of a title hunt by the end of the season.
A Bullseye on Their Backs
USC had a tremendous season in 2011, and all signs point to that momentum carrying into this season. However, this year's squad will be missing one distinct advantage from last season: the lack of a target on its back.
Last year's Trojans may have grumbled about their lack of postseason play in 2011, but it did provide somewhat of a blessing in allowing SC to play underdog, a role not commonly seen by the powerhouse. Lacking the ability to knock other teams out of title contention, the Trojans were not watched by Pac-12 foes with same salivating glands as past years. While previous years had every team circling their calendars for the date with SC, 2011 reversed the trend, having SC treat last year's Oregon game as its bowl game.
This year, USC won't have that luxury, and every team in the conference will once again be looking to knock off the perennially-tough Trojans in a bid for national recognition. They may be talented, but USC's road to to title games will be much tougher with an entire conference gunning for it.