How does USC set reasonable goals after what happened last season?
It's quite simple. Don't expect your team to be the greatest thing since a DVR and take more of a "wait and see" approach.
After the disappointing 7-6 season last year, setting reasonable goals shouldn't be that difficult this time. Even if every starter from last year was returning and Vince Lombardi miraculously became head coach, there is no way predictions for the upcoming season can get out of hand.
Trojans fans and most of the media fell for that once already.
So while you are scratching your head and trying to find a happy medium, let's see some of the attainable goals for USC this season.
More Balanced Running Game
It is still baffling to see that USC finished last season ranked 76th in the country and seventh in the Pac-12 in rushing yards. Injuries to running backs or not, you figured the backfield was talented enough to at least crack the top 50 in rushing yardage per game.
This year's squad should have no problem doing just that. Silas Redd returns for his senior season and should be used a lot like he was in Penn State where he was the workhorse, averaging 15-20 carries per contest.
A combination of a healthy D.J. Morgan, Tre Madden, Javorius Allen and Justin Davis should then be good enough to provide the depth that wasn't there last season.
Redd has the ability to carry the load and get back to his 1,000-yard rushing days, while Madden and Davis provide a nice change of pace and can score quickly. USC will likely rely heavily on the running game with questions still up in the air at quarterback. The depth and talent is certainly there for this rushing attack to average closer to 200 yards a game.
Although a 50-yard increase on the ground per game doesn't sound reasonable, the Trojans are in a little better position than last season.
Similar Defensive Pressure
One of the few things that went right for USC last season was the defensive pressure generated. The Trojans finished fourth in the Pac-12 with 45 sacks, producing a total of 279 lost yards by getting to the quarterback.
The good news is that a majority of the guys who made that relentless pressure happen are returning for another season.
It all starts with defensive lineman Morgan Breslin, who was responsible for 13 of those sacks. But Leonard Williams and George Uko also return, and they accounted for another 13 between them. The athleticism of linebackers Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson will also pose a scary threat to opposing quarterbacks.
USC has also added an elite defensive tackle in Kenny Bigelow, who will see significant playing time in his freshman year. His quickness off the ball and ability to shoot the gap is scary for somebody so young.
New USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is an aggressive play-caller who will show a variety of different looks to confuse offenses and take advantage of the team's athleticism.
How the secondary will pan out remains a mystery, but the pressure up front will remain the same.
After what took occurred last year, expectations must be knocked down a few notches. There should be no predictions of Heisman Trophies, national titles or even conference championships at this point.
Sure, USC is a program that always has the talent to get the job done and should never be counted out, but last year's team looked to be one of the best in recent memory and fell flat on its face.
Questions remain at quarterback and the secondary isn't exactly looking great at the moment. There are also issues with the play-calling, which cost this team some games down the stretch. Does anybody actually trust Lane Kiffin to get the job done late in games?
The Pac-12 took giant steps forward last season and this year's schedule isn't a cakewalk. Road trips to Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon State are tough sledding. That doesn't even include UCLA, Stanford and even Arizona on the schedule as well.
This season should still be successful and could produce a BCS bowl with a bounce here and there. But expecting anything more than nine victories at this point would be a stretch.