2012 Pac-12 Team Preview and Breakdown: USC Trojans

David HedlindAnalyst IIJuly 21, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Head caoch Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans watches his team warm up for the game with the UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Lane Kiffin got a bad rap as a bad coach because of his lack of success in the NFL with the Raiders. 

Frankly I thought that situation was doomed from the get go.  Then he took on a "down" Tennessee program and got them back to a bowl after they missed out the year before.  Tennessee only had a 7-6 record and so people still said Kiffin was not a good coach. 

Kiffin left after just one season to take over USC and with only an 8-5 record people were still suspicious  of him as a head coach.  People have changed their tune after last year's 10-2 season and the Trojans now find themselves as a favorite on the National Championship level. 

The offensive coordinator is Kennedy Polamalu who has been running the offense for Kiffin since he came to SC.  Ed Ogeron took over as defensive coordinator last season.

To the joy of the Trojan faithful, quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return and with that USC found itself atop many preseason rankings.  He goes into 2012 as a front runner for the Heisman trophy as well as  many other awards and accolades.

To go along with Barkley, USC will have one of the top receiving corps in the nation.  Even with the leading receiver Robert Woods still being bothered by a nagging ankle injury there is plenty of talent and depth to keep the ball moving.  Marquis Lee and Randall Telfer give Barkley options.

They will need Barkley and the talented receivers because the running game is somewhat lacking.  It’s not that Curtis McNeal is bad because he isn’t, but behind him there isn’t much experience.  Losing Marc Tyler, Dillon Baxter and fullback Rhett Ellison this season just means someone now needs to step up to help lighten the load for McNeal.  USC has recruited well despite limitations but depth is still an issue.

While the line is losing All Pac-12 left tackle Matt Kalil, the rest of the line comes back.  Having all that experience around him and behind him in the back field will help whoever has the task of filling those big shoes.

The weak spot on the defense is the line.  This unit only returns one starter and loses All Pac-12 Nick Perry.  It’s not to say they don’t have some experience and talent, just that the rest of the defense has more.  The line may be the weakness of the Trojan defense, but will still likely be one of the top lines in the conference.

While I say the line is the weakness, the linebackers are the strength.  Three sophomores will start here after starting as freshman.  Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey were the team's leading tacklers.  Lamar Dawson was only a starter in the second half of the season but that experience gives them one of the best units in the country. 

Last year's pass defense was one of the worst in the nation ranking 102.  Despite the low ranking, they return an abundance of experience including All-American safety TJ McDonald.  Corner Nickell Robey could very well have an All-American season as well.  It would be surprising, with as much talent and experience they have, if there wasn’t significant improvement in the pass defense standings. 

With both kicker Andre Heidari and punter Kyle Negrete coming back as well as Nickell, Lee and Woods returning kicks and punts, the special teams unit will be dangerous in all aspects. 

You probably wouldn’t know that USC is coming off some pretty harsh sanctions.  Depth may be of some concerns in some areas but most of the backups are of high recruiting rankings.  They were the best team in the South division a year ago but part of the sanctions prevented them from competing for the conference championship. 

This year those sanctions and restrictions are gone and USC is favored for the division, conference, and the national championship.  Most assumptions are that USC will be one of two Pac teams in a BCS bowl.