USC and Coach Lane Kiffin released the season-opening depth chart late Sunday night. Though the list does not contain too many surprises, there are a few instances where you have to pause and wonder.
However, I will direct the Trojan faithful to two exhibits:
1. 2011’s 10-2 season
2. All those amazing Pete Carroll recruiting classes and teams from the mid 2000s were a product of the Orgeron and Kiffin recruiting juggernaut.
As a result, I have to give Lane the benefit of the doubt, you know?
Kiffin has so far, expertly played the hand he was dealt. We all know by now what happened. Reggie Bush. Lloyd Lake. NCAA sanctions. Blah blah blah, its old news, but USC is still dealing with the heavy-handed scholarship reductions from the NCAA.
Kiffin’s 2012 recruiting class, the first to fall under the restriction of the scholarship reductions, amounted to 17 players—only 12 of which actually count thanks to five early enrollees who count against the unsanctioned 2011 recruiting class.
OK. So how then, with this albatross around the program’s neck, has Kiffin been able to field a team that is expected to compete for the National Championship with 10 fewer players than other FBS teams? I might posit that he is a mad genius, but the ability to not just close a deal but surround himself with recruiters who are formidable in the living rooms of 4 and 5-star high school prospects (along with the allure of USC's program in general) might be the real reason.
USC’s limited depth chart is loaded with truly first-rate talent—Kiffin had the foresight to use USC’s protracted NCAA appeals process to stock the cupboard that Pete Carroll had largely left bare. Whether this was because Carroll knew the hammer was coming down or because Kiffin and Orgeron were actually the masterminds behind all those USC championship teams is largely a matter of debate. (I fall on the side of Kiffin and Orgeron, and as I said in my season preview, the addition of recruiting mastermind Tee Martin is a HUGE advantage for USC).
I’ll sum it up, because while this whole subject fascinates me, it might not be of as much interest to to everyone else. Kiffin made a brilliant move by signing 30 players in 2011 and then redshirting more than half of them. The result of this was 16 redshirt freshmen on the 2012 roster, allowing the Trojans to basically double their freshman class.
This was very very very smart (and wily) of Kiffin.
But enough of that, let’s actually look at the depth chart heading into the 2012 kickoff against Hawaii.
For anyone expecting clarity on the Barkley backup situation, you’re out of luck so far. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler are currently listed as co-backups. It is very likely that some clarity on this situation should emerge soon—possibly even as this piece is being published.
At the end of spring camp, Kessler had the advantage of being listed first. At the end of fall camp, it was Wittek. Read into this what you will, the official depth chart still had the all-caps OR in between their names in both situations.
I might be the only person (in an official media capacity, from what I’ve read) that is unsurprised that Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd were listed as co-starters on the depth chart.
Of course, before the addition of Silas Redd, McNeal was expected to be the starter because… well, USC was a bit thin at running back. It was a concern, and a fairly significant one at that.
On the official depth chart, D.J. Morgan occupies the third-string slot. If Morgan fumbles more than, well, once, look for Buck Allen (a redshirt freshman) to move into that third slot.
Soma Vainuku is the starter. There was no other choice. I mean come on, he's Rey Maualuga’s cousin.
Freshman Jahleel Pinner will probably end up redshirting (preserving that depth!), so third-string Charles Burks is the likely backup with walk-on Hunter Simmons following him on the depth chart.
If there is any surprise on the depth chart, it is here. Last year Robert Woods was the flanker and Marqise Lee was the split end.
On the 2012 depth chart, however, they’ve swapped places. Woods will line up in the split end position while Lee will be the flanker. If we want to read anything into this at all, and it is hard to, it just might be in the ways their respective strengths have developed in the offseason.
The third spot on the depth chart is in flux and could be split between De’Von Flournoy, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer.
Xavier Grimble, an alumnus of my high school—Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas—shares the top spot with Randall Telfer. Honestly, these two make a beast of a duo at tight end and why they aren’t getting more notice nationally is beyond me—except tight ends are pretty much highlighted in pro-style offenses and with the proliferation of the spread/wildcat/scheme du jour… you get my drift.
Like Fred Davis, David Ausberry, Rhett Ellison, Jordon Cameron and Anthony McCoy before them, Telfer and Grimble should have great NFL prospects due to their experience running a dynamic pro-style offense at USC.
Junior Pomee would be the natural choice for the lock on the third-string spot if he can stay healthy. If so, then a redshirt season can be given to Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, improving the later sanction years at Troy.
Khaled Holmes (younger brother of Alex) will be the center, following in the big footsteps of some former USC centers. Cyrus Hobbi is the backup center, with Abe Markowitz providing depth behind him in certain situations.
However, Markowitz would probably be the go-to guy as a backup for both the left and right guard spots, and, as a result of this experience and exposure, could see him ascending to second on the depth chart over Hobbi. Versatility on a team with depth issues is a great thing.
At left tackle, Aundrey Walker gets the nod, while Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler occupy the second and third string.
At left guard, Marcus Martin is the starter, with the aforementioned Markowitz in second position and Gioanni DiPoalo at third.
At right guard, the starter is John Martinez with Jeremy Galten and David Garness—in that order—backing him up.
At right tackle, Kevin Graf checks in as the starter with Nathan Guertler and Zach Banner right behind him.
J.R. Tavai has been moved to defensive end and Leonard Williams to defensive tackle, officially.
Wes Horton will be the starter, with Tavai on the opposite end and Williams backing up George Uko. The D-Line is where USC has the biggest depth issues this year, featuring only four available tackles. It’s a little scary.
At nose tackle, Antwaun Woods got the nod after performing well in camp.
This is a bit strange. Hayes Pullard has the skills and talent, but Lamar Dawson is still listed at first-string middle linebacker. Pullard has been practicing there for a number of weeks, but the job is Dawson’s as long as he stays healthy.
However, Kiffin and his staff would never waste Pullard’s talent, and he will likely start somewhere, possibly on the weak side. This puts Anthony Sarao in the fourth linebacker position, while the versatile Dion Bailey—who appears to prefer the weak side—can play the strong side if needed.
I happen to have this strange soft spot for Jawanza Starling and had hoped he’d get the definitive recognition as starter. However, Starling, a senior, and Demetrius Wright will share the snaps at safety – at least at the start of the season.
Anthony Brown is listed as the starter opposite Nickell Robey at cornerback.
There are two transfers who performed exceptionally well in camp that are a bit of an issue at the moment. Josh Shaw and Gerald Bowman are listed as third stringers, though it is hard to imagine that at least one of them won’t step up and the other be redshirted.
Kevon Seymour has gotten the nod as the nickelback versus Hawaii.
On Sunday night, news broke that former walk-on punter Kyle Negrete got a scholarship. Fantastic. Except, the next news was that the starting punting job (despite his more than 40 yards per punt average) was not necessarily his.
Negrete will compete with Kris Albarado, who in all fairness was the top-rated punter in his recruiting class, for the starting job. Negrete is a senior and Albarado is a redshirt freshman.
ESPN’s No. 1-rated recruit in California for 2011 was sophomore George Farmer—a former Gardena Serra HS teammate of Robert Woods—is the least prominent player on this depth chart. Farmer is currently listed as a kick or punt returner.
Officially, Woods is listed as the go-to back on returns with McNeal and Lee backing him up.
That's it Trojan Fans!!! Four days to go until we face Norm Chow and the Hawaii Warriors! FIGHT ON!