USC Football: Players Who Must Step Up for Trojans to Rebound in 2013

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2012

Max Wittek has to replace an all-time great in Matt Barkley.
Max Wittek has to replace an all-time great in Matt Barkley.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Matt Barkley announced he was returning to USC for his senior season, the Trojans became an instant national championship favorite. 

Unfortunately for the Trojans, 2012 was far from a championship performance, and the season-ending 22-13 loss to No. 1 Notre Dame only epitomized the inconsistency that left fans and writers around the nation perplexed at how a team so talented could come up short in big games. 

With Barkley wrapping up a prolific, but ultimately fruitless four-year career with the Trojans, the scene shifts to 2013, which should mark the beginning of a new era of Trojan football with quarterback Max Wittek. 

The 6'4" gunslinger tops the list of Trojans who must step up in 2013 if Lane Kiffin and Co. hope to rebound after a disappointing campaign. 

For a player with just one career start and 32 attempts, that's a lot to ask for. 

By the way, he's only replacing Barkley—USC's all-time leader in passing yards (12,327) and touchdowns (116). 

Wittek has only started one game in his short career, but that one start against Notre Dame showed a lot of promise for the redshirt freshman. 

Although the Trojans ended up on the losing end of the nationally televised battle, Wittek impressed with his cannon for an arm, completing 61 percent of his passes against a ferocious Fighting Irish defense. 

Known as a gunslinger, Wittek did toss two picks in the nine-point defeat, so he'll have to clean up the turnovers if he hopes to challenge any of Barkley's records. 

Now that he gets to develop chemistry with future top-five pick Marqise Lee, the sky is the limit for the former 4-star recruit

If Wittek has any chance of succeeding, it falls on the big shoulders of left tackle Max Tuerk. 

The 6'6", 285-pounder became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Trojans and fared well throughout the season. 

Blessed with an incredible frame, a nasty demeanor and great explosion, the former 4-star recruit has all the makings of an All-American left tackle. 

Whether it's Anthony Munoz, Tony Boselli or Matt Kalil, USC has established a tradition of producing elite NFL left tackles. 

Tuerk already has the mental makeup to be great, but he needs to add more bulk to his frame if he wants to take the next step. 

An offseason in the weight room and a year of experience under his belt should help Tuerk ascend as one of the nation's premier offensive lineman, and his development will be absolutely necessary if the Trojans hope to rebound in 2013. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans were a mess in 2012. 

For a unit that's sent guys like Nick Perry, Taylor Mays, Keith Rivers and Sedrick Ellis to the NFL, this year was a joke. 

However, the talent is still there for the Trojans' defense to be respectable in 2013. 

If the unit hopes to return to form, the story begins and ends with the defensive line, and in particular George Uko

After arriving at USC as one of the most heralded defensive tackles in the country, Uko has had a solid yet unspectacular career. 

He redshirted in 2010, was used as a backup in 2011 and finally broke into the starting lineup last season. 

However, while true freshman Leonard Williams shone with 50 tackles (13 for loss) and 7.5 sacks and junior Morgan Breslin emerged with 53/18/12, Uko managed just 25/7.5/4.5. 

Those aren't terrible numbers, but for a player who was rated the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country by, more is to be expected.

Uko has terrific quickness and has the natural skills to become an elite defender, so the Trojans need the talented defensive tackle to step up in 2013 if they hope to return to greatness.