USC Football: 5 Reasons the Trojans Will Win It All in 2012
For the first time in three years, the USC Trojans are eligible for post-season play—just in time for a run at the National Championship.
The Trojans have spent the last two years being held out of post-season play due to the NCAA sanctions levied against them in 2010, but they have served their time as a program and have come out on the other side a contender in the national title picture.
Entering the season ranked No.3 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll, the Trojans will have to fight big expectations throughout the season to reach their ultimate goal of bringing home another title to Los Angeles.
Here are five reasons the Men of Troy will win it all in 2012.
The Passing Game
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First things first: the Trojans' greatest strength this season will be the passing game.
Matt Barkley has established himself as one of the elite collegiate quarterbacks and could easily be playing in the NFL this season had he elected to enter the draft early. Lane Kiffin handed Barkley the keys to the offense in his junior season, and Barkley didn't disappoint.
He dissected defenses with a methodical efficiency, completing 69 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns while only throwing seven interceptions. Football so often comes down to who wins the turnover battle, and with Barkley operating the offense, the Trojans enter every game with a huge advantage.
On the receiving end of Barkley's passes will be the best 1-2 punch in the nation at receiver as junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee habitually burned defenses in 2011.
Woods, whom many consider the best receiver in the nation, snagged 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns while running mate Lee had a quiet 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With the dynamic triumvirate of Barkley, Woods and Lee back for another season of aerial dominance, defenses will be spread thin trying to cover the field. Expect Barkley and Co. to put up similar numbers or better.
The Addition of Silas Redd
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The greatest challenge USC faces in their hunt for the national championship this season is a potential lack of depth—in large part because of the reduction in scholarships from the sanctions levied against the program in 2010.
However, one area that shouldn't concern the Trojans is the position of running back.
The Trojans already bring back a thousand-yard rusher from last season in Curtis McNeal. McNeal ran for just over a thousand yards at a clip of 6.9 yards per carry and added six touchdowns on the ground. However, at 5'7" and 190 pounds, McNeal is the type of back that benefits from sharing carries with other backs and getting the most out of less carries.
That's where Silas Redd comes in.
Redd, one of the highest-profile players to transfer out of Penn State, was a huge addition to the Trojan roster and should make this offense even better, if that's possible. Redd was a stud for the Nittany Lions last season, rushing for 1,241 yards and seven rushing touchdowns on a team without much of a passing attack and a struggling offensive line.
With Barkley and Co. spreading defense's thing, running lanes should consistently open up, and with McNeal and Redd, the Trojans have two backs that can take full advantage of that space and gouge teams with the run.
With McNeal and Redd keeping teams honest, USC's balance will be hard for anyone to handle.
A Continually Improving Defense
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Once upon a time, USC boasted one of the nation's top defenses year in and year out.
The Lane Kiffin era hasn't seen one of those defenses, but the Trojans are continually improving under his watch. The Trojans could have their best defense since Kiffin took the reigns: the squad returns seven starters from last year's defense.
Defensive coordinate Monte Kiffin has to feel good about his linebackers and secondary; those units are fast and return players with plenty of experience such as cornerback Nickell Robey, safety T.J. McDonald and dynamic sophomore linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
The most difficult challenge for this USC squad is replacing the production along the defensive line. Returning starter Wes Horton will need to step up his game as an experienced veteran on the edge and will be surrounding with relative neophytes along the defensive line.
Given USC's recruiting prowess, these players are no doubt talented so as long as they are able to come into their own before the tougher games on the schedule the Trojans should be fine.
The Trojans improved their defense from 2010 to 2011, going from 63rd in the nation in scoring defense (26.7 ppg) to 45th (23.6) and there's no reason to think they won't fare even better in 2012—especially with their offense adding pressure for the other team to score points.
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Let's face it: No team makes it to the title game without a few favorable bounces and a favorable schedule.
Fortunately for USC, their bowl ban is being lifted at just the right time, and Pac-12 is theirs for the taking. Oregon show that they are a serious contender every year, but the Ducks have lost quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. The Trojans were able to come away with the victory in Eugene last season and will get to host the Ducks in 2012.
Stanford should take a step down after losing Andrew Luck, Arizona State, Arizona and Washington State are both breaking in new head coaches and UCLA was shut out 50-0 by the Trojans last season. Steve Sarkisian's Washington Huskies could give the Trojans some trouble if Keith Price plays really well, but it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Washington defense finds a way to slow down Barkley and Co.
The Trojans non-conference slate isn't imposing either. The season starts with Hawaii and Syracuse and ends with the traditional Notre Dame rivalry game. Notre Dame has a talented team coming back and may have the defense to slow USC down but will live and die by what kind of play they get from the quarterback position.
A Team on a Mission
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Motivation is hard to measure: There are no statistics that are able to measure it, but there's no denying its importance on the game.
Year after year, fans are treated to big upsets because teams that are supposed to win simply lose focus. Coming off of a two-year postseason ban, the Trojans have no excuse to do so.
The Pete Carroll era was known for producing a great team that competed for championships on a yearly basis. They were also known for losing games against teams that were lesser than them on paper, possibly as a byproduct of Carroll's laid-back attitude and coaching style.
The 2012 version of the Trojans should be a bit more edgy. Being held out of the postseason for two years has made them hungry. Team leader Matt Barkley said it best during his announcement that he would be returning to Los Angeles for one more season.
"This 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to and I plan to play a part in it... I have firmly decided to forgo the 2012 NFL draft and finish that."
With the nation's most dangerous and balanced offense and a continually improving defense, USC has all the tools to put together a National Championship trophy, anything less would be considered a failure.