The USC Trojans still have to play in the Sun Bowl (Monday, Dec. 31), but after their horribly disappointing season, now seems like a fine time to look ahead to 2013.
The Trojans will be losing some major contributors to graduation and the NFL draft, including quarterback Matt Barkley, center Khaled Holmes, safety T.J. McDonald and wide receiver Robert Woods (if he decides to leave early).
However, with an experienced group returning next season, as well as the top-ranked recruiting class heading to southern California (according to Rivals.com), the Trojans will have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 championship.
Of course, as USC found out this season, talent doesn't always translate to wins. Success in college football takes a relentless work ethic and unwavering confidence in the people around you. The Trojans will have to be focused and dedicated to improve in 2013.
While the entire team must adopt this committed mindset, it starts with a few key players. If USC is able to return to national prominence next season, it will likely be because of the contributions of the following players.
Max Wittek - QB
The redshirt freshman performed well in his lone collegiate start, completing 14-of-23 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame.
The 6'4" quarterback has a cannon for an arm, and he showed some serious poise against the Fighting Irish. With Barkley injured, Wittek stepped into a nationally televised game with perhaps the nation's most fearsome defense waiting on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Despite the circumstances, Wittek showed no signs of fear. He was calm and collected throughout the game, carrying himself with a confidence that defied his age.
He did throw two interceptions on the day, and with his reputation as a gunslinger, he could run into more turnover troubles in the future. But if he learns how to take care of the ball, he will put the Trojans in a position to win plenty of games next season.
Cyrus Hobbi - C
With Holmes heading to the NFL, the all-important center duties will likely fall on Cyrus Hobbi's shoulders.
The redshirt freshman is inexperienced, but he did get some playing time this season, filling in for Holmes after he suffered a leg injury against Syracuse.
Hobbi isn't as big as Holmes, but at 6'3", 285 pounds, he should be able to succeed against Pac-12 defenses. He also has excellent technique and is exceptionally talented, as evidenced by his status as a 2010 Parade All-American.
If Hobbi can learn the finer points of the position and develop a chemistry with Wittek and his fellow linemen, he should help USC's offense maintain its current explosiveness.
George Uko - DT
The Trojans defense was awful at times this season, giving up 24.6 points per game. They allowed three of their opponents to score at least 38 points, including Oregon, who lit the Trojans up for 62 back in November.
In order to improve on those numbers, USC will need George Uko, a redshirt sophomore, to turn into a dominant force in the middle.
The explosive defensive tackle was solid this season, recording 25 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks. Still, as a 6'3", 285-pound man with incredible power and quickness, he should be more of a factor than that.
Uko certainly has the talent to become a game-changer defensively. If his work ethic and dedication match his physical attributes, he can turn the Trojans D into the stingiest unit in the Pac-12.