After a disappointing 7-6 season in 2012, expectations aren't particularly high for the USC Trojans in 2013. As their spring game approaches, however, there is still hope for a talented USC squad that needs to replace some big-time losses.
The Trojans are always considered a threat to win the Pac-12, and this year is no different, but they appear to be firmly behind both Oregon and Stanford in the pecking order. Losing key players like quarterback Matt Barkley, wide receiver Robert Woods and safety T.J. McDonald has much to do with that.
Even so, this is an exciting time for USC and its fans. The failure of last season is now in the past, so everyone can focus on moving forward. The Trojans are a definite wild card, but perhaps onlookers will be able to gain a better understanding of what type of team they'll be once their spring game comes and goes.
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
When: Saturday, April 13 at 4 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Live Stream: XfinityTV.Comcast.net (Subscription required)
Position Battle to Watch: Quarterback
With Matt Barkley entering the NFL draft, the Trojans are left with plenty of uncertainty at the most important position on the team. Barkley didn't bring USC to the Promised Land like many hoped he would last year due to injury and inconsistent play at times, but there is no question that the Trojans will miss the Pac-12's all-time leader in passing yardage, completions and touchdowns. With that said, USC has plenty of exciting options.
The leader in the clubhouse is likely sophomore Max Wittek. When Barkley went down due to injury late last season, head coach Lane Kiffin turned to the then-freshman against rival Notre Dame as well as against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. USC lost both of those games, but the experience Wittek received is invaluable. He threw for just 388 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions in those two contests, but it's tough to expect much more from a freshman being thrown into the fire.
Competing with Wittek will be fellow sophomore Cody Kessler and incoming freshman Max Browne. Kessler is certainly the dark horse of the group, although he did earn some game action last season as he completed both passes he attempted for a grand total of nine yards. That may not seem like much, but at least the coaching staff knows what he's all about. Browne may be the most talented of the group as he was the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year at Skyline High School.
Player to Watch: Max Browne
Speaking of Browne, there is no question that most of the USC faithful will have its eyes on the talented freshman during the spring game and throughout the offseason for that matter. It's impossible to tell at this point if Browne is ready to step up and start right away, but that is likely what Trojan fans would like to see. Wittek and Kessler both have ability, but neither seems to be as dynamic as Browne potentially can be. From a pure talent perspective, USC may be best off throwing the freshman into the fire immediately.
If that is going to happen, though, he'll have to earn it first. Barkley started as a freshman in 2009, and although he went through some expected growing pains, he was ultimately better for it. Barkley gradually improved each season and helped ensure that the Trojans were a force to be reckoned with. Provided Browne wins the starting job there will definitely be some mistakes made over the course of the season, but that type of learning curve is necessary.
There is a lot riding on the spring game when it comes to the quarterback position, but Browne's chances of winning the job appear to be pretty solid. Even though both Wittek and Kessler have an experience advantage, neither is as highly touted as Browne. Some freshmen have a penchant for playing cautiously and trying to not make mistakes at this juncture in the year, but if Browne lets his natural ability take over, then he could very well be under center for USC when the real games start.
How many games will USC win this season?
After finishing 7-6 during a season in which many expected them to contend for a National Championship, the Trojans haven't been talked about quite as much heading into 2013. Having to replace key players like Barkley and Woods will be tough, but USC has talent throughout the roster and could still contend in the Pac-12 if things break right. For as much talent as the Trojans are losing, they will return eight starters on offense and seven on defense, so there is still a lot to like about this squad.
The players who are returning probably learned a lot from last season as they crumbled under the pressure of high expectations. That could very well drive them to perform better, especially with those expectations being lowered significantly. In addition to the quarterback position, running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Marqise Lee are worth watching on offense.
Redd rushed for over 900 yards last year after transferring from Penn State and Lee is arguably the best receiver in the nation as he 118 balls for 1,721 yards. It remains to be seen who will be tabbed to get him the football, but whichever quarterback wins the starting job will have an elite target to aim for.
The defense has plenty of talent coming back as well. The defensive line remains largely unchanged as the tandem of Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams, who combined for 21 sacks last season, will remain in the picture. Also, a trio of junior linebackers in Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson should provide some stability this season.
It may seem like USC is in dire straits to outside observers due to the loss of Barkley and Woods coupled with the Trojans' struggles last season. USC has an extremely talented team, though, and certainly shouldn't be slept on ahead of the 2013 season.
The Trojans' success in 2013 depends upon how the quarterback situation plays out in a lot of ways, but expect USC to improve despite the players it has lost to the NFL.
Projected Record: 10-3 (6-3 in Pac-12)
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