USC Football: 5 Trojans Under the Microscope
As is the case every year, each college football season brings new challenges, and for the 2013 version of the USC Trojans, this could not be more true.
Coming off of one of the most disappointing seasons in their storied history, the men of Troy will be looking for redemption in the upcoming campaign.
To get there, head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff will need improved performances from some key members of his team.
Some of these players will be new to the starting lineup while others will need to step up their level of play this year.
This slideshow will look at five of these players whom the Trojans will be counting on now rather than later.
While an inspired effort will be required collectively for USC to succeed, much will ride on the individual play of those profiled here...
Kris Albarado (Punter)
photo from bigstory.ap.org
While much of the attention will be focused on some of the more glamorous player slots, a critical but often overlooked position of the special teams unit will find a new starter making his debut in 2013.
Kris Alabarado—a redshirt sophomore—will be taking over for Kyle Negrete as special teams coach John Batxter's primary punter.
Did I say "primary punter?" Rather, Albarado is the only punter listed on the official 2013 roster.
As such, it will be critical for Albarado to recapture some of the high school magic that saw him average over 45 yards a punt as a senior in 2010.
With only place kicker Andre Heidari to serve as his backup, it will also be critical that he remains healthy for 2013 as well.
Because he will be replacing a very good punter in Negrete and will need to stay healthy while doing it, Kris Albarado will be under the microscope this year.
Soma Vainuku (Fullback)
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Another guy to keep a very close eye on is fullback Soma Vainuku.
A redshirt sophomore, Vainuku started four games in 2012 but played in all 13 while delivering less than impressive statistics.
Vainuku's blocking improved throughout last season but in compiling only 26 yards rushing to go along with eight receptions, he fell well short of the potential that the multi-skilled bruiser was expected of.
Now Vainuku has some serious competition for his starting position.
Sophomore Jahleel Pinner also played in all 13 games and even started against Oregon and the 5'11", 225-pound bulldozer acquitted himself quite nicely.
Though he had no offensive stats, Pinner became more comfortable as the season wore on and now figures to be much more involved in the Trojan offensive game plan.
For 2013, Vainuku will enter as the likely starter but with his skill set, he will have to produce or risk being overtaken by Pinner for his starting slot.
Aundrey Walker (Left Tackle)
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One of the units under the microscope in 2013 will be the offensive line, and among that unit, no one will be more closely scrutinized then left tackle, Aundrey Walker.
Walker, who came to the Trojans as part of the 2011 class, spent his first year shedding about 75 pounds or so, and the prevailing thought was that he would be the next dominant USC left tackle.
However, 2012 proved to be a very uneven campaign for Walker, and he found himself replaced by true freshman Max Tuerk towards the end of the year.
Now many think that Walker would be better placed at a guard position where he would not have to deal with blocking in space.
While that sentiment has not been shared so far by the coaching staff, Walker will be watched very closely to see if his performance merits his inclusion at such a critical position.
Max Wittek (Quarterback)
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Other than Lane Kiffin, there has been no other person associated with the program that has been more polarizing to the fan base than quarterback Max Wittek.
Wittek, who took over for Matt Barkley after he was hurt in the UCLA game, has been less than scintillating in his limited appearances.
After an average performance at best against Notre Dame, Wittek—like the rest of the team—was horrible in blustery conditions against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
For that effort, young Max has now been the target of many Trojan fans who seem content to write him off despite only having two games on his resume.
Perhaps it is the association that Wittek has with his head coach (is it a coincidence that most of those that dislike Wittek are also Kiffin bashers?), or maybe it is because USC's other sophomore QB, Cody Kessler has been having an impressive spring camp.
Whatever the case, Max Wittek will be operating under the white-hot lights of scrutiny this year.
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Okay, so this spot isn't taken by a single player but rather a whole unit.
The reason for this is because the Trojans will be replacing the entire defensive secondary in 2013.
By the time this season starts, new defensive coordinator (and secondary coach) Clancy Pendergast will have to decide who those players will be.
Two favorites for spots in the defensive backfield are cornerback Kevon Seymour and safety Dion Bailey, who is returning to his former position after spending the last two seasons at inside linebacker.
Beyond that, it is a crapshoot, although the Trojans have several players who have the talent to step up to a starting spot this year.
Regardless of who does get the nod as starters, they will be under the microscope both individually and collectively in 2013.
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After such a disappointing 2012 season, there will be plenty of Trojans—along with the coaching staff—who will be under the microscope in 2013.
But with depth concerns also being a primary consideration, it won't just be the starters who will have to perform this year.
Rotation players will also have to step up for the Trojans to return to elite status and as such, they too will be looked at very closely once the season starts.
But if things go as planned, the players (and secondary) featured in this slideshow will be a big part of any success USC plans to enjoy in 2013.
Now fans of the program will just have to hope that each and every player will hold up well to the scrutiny that comes with this year's uncertainty.
And perhaps the magnification of that microscope will be of the lower variety.
For the Trojans sake, they better hope so.