USC Football: Will QB Situation Hurt Marqise Lee's Heisman Hopes?

Rick McMahanSenior Writer IFebruary 17, 2013

When USC embarks on its 2013 college football season, it will do so with perhaps the nation's premier offensive player in wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and unanimous All-American choice, caught 112 passes last year to go along with 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns as the Trojans' primary weapon on the offensive side of the ball.

Hooking up often with quarterback Matt Barkley, the duo formed an almost unstoppable combination, which gave opposing defensive coordinators many sleepless nights trying to figure out ways to slow them down.

As you can tell by Lee's production last year, often their insomnia resulted in futility.

However, this year there will be no Barkley at quarterback to play catch with, and therein lies the problem.

USC will be breaking in a new quarterback. And while there is potential in either Max Wittek, Cody Kessler or true freshman Max Browne to be great, it probably won't happen soon.

And for a guy like Lee, who will be on everyone's short list for the Heisman Trophy, there will almost certainly be a major drop-off statistics-wise as the new QB finds his way in the Trojans offense.

Notice I said "new QB?" That is because even the identity of Barkley's replacement is a mystery.

With Lane Kiffin's plan to conduct a quarterback competition in the spring, the new signal-caller most likely won't be fully revealed until the fall.

Regardless of who the new quarterback is, he will be eased into a major role for the Trojans to be certain, as USC will attempt to rely on a stout running game to ease the transition to a reliable passing attack.

And then there is the graduation of Lee's former running mate, flanker Robert Woods, who also commanded attention from defenses and whose presence freed up Lee in 2012.

This will result in diminished production for Lee, at least early on.

Combine that with the knowledge that Lee will be a focus for opposing defenses and it could result in a very tangible reduction in the numbers that Heisman voters are looking for in 2013.

Of course, all of this hand-wringing may be for naught.

If the Trojans' offensive line can come out and dominate, it can open holes for an impressive stable of running backs and in turn, it can give opponents problems with a dominant rushing attack.

Silas Redd, D.J. Morgan and Tre Madden headline a potent running back unit, and with some effective work by the "big uglies" opening holes, they could free up the passing game—which of course, Lee would be one of the beneficiaries of.

Also, USC has some stud receivers just waiting to take Woods' place, and if a guy like Nelson Agholor or George Farmer Jr. can have a breakout season, that will also help Lee get those numbers that the postseason award voters crave.

All of which probably doesn't mean a thing to Lee because he isn't motivated by personal accolades or awards.

No, as anyone who witnessed Lee's reaction to any of USC's losses in 2012 knows, it is wins he cares about.

Though you can't spell "t-e-a-m" without "m-e," Lee only wants victories on the field, not in an awards banquet. And this is what makes him special beyond his obvious athletic ability. Because while he would gladly accept the Heisman Trophy, what defines him is his ability to help his team to victories.

And if USC can get a lot of those, he will be just fine if his name isn't mentioned at all when it comes to Mr. Heisman's stiff-arming little fella.