The USC Trojans have emerged from an NCAA-imposed two-year bowl ban looking like one of the nation's best teams. USC boasts an offense that could rival any in the nation and a defense that returns an entire back seven. The Trojans could be gearing up for a historic season and should be firmly in the BCS title discussion from the opening kickoff.
Offensively, the Trojans return basically everyone. Quarterback Matt Barkley is coming off a remarkable season that saw him catapulted into the Heisman Trophy race. Barkley completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He showed maturity and growth, while setting the Pac-12 record for touchdowns in a season.
As a senior, he now has a chance to lift USC back into the national title hunt, while also aiming to be the top pick in April's NFL draft and take home the Heisman Trophy.
Barkley is joined on offense by the nation's top receiving duo in junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee. Woods caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011, while Lee added 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 scores. The fact that those two guys played on the same high school team still shocks me.
Barkley will be joined in the backfield by senior running back Curtis McNeal, who rushed for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns on 145 carries (6.9 yards per carry) last season. Incoming Penn State transfer Silas Redd will likely split carries with McNeal and speedster D.J. Morgan will also see the ball.
This is a balanced group of tailbacks that will play behind an exceptional offensive line that may not even feel the sting of losing tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL draft.
Defensively, the Trojans return all three starting linebackers and all four starters in the secondary. Outside 'backers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey each had breakout years as redshirt freshmen in 2011, and middle linebacker Lamar Dawson—who wears the legendary number 55—also broke out late in the season.
Those three guys will be backed up by a ton of depth thanks to two straight strong recruiting classes.
The secondary will be led by senior safety T.J. McDonald, who will be an All-American, and cornerback Nickell Robey who could earn that distinction as well.
The defensive line is definitely a concern after losing Nick Perry to the NFL and senior Devon Kennard to a torn pectoral muscle. However, the Trojans do have a lot of talented players to plug into defensive line coach Ed Orgeron's system, and with such a stellar back seven, the young group should be just fine.
All of the elements listed add up to what should be an outstanding season of USC football. The Trojans are back and look as good as ever. It wouldn't be surprising to see them run the table and end up in the BCS title game.