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USC junior wide receiver Marqise Lee.
Prediction: 10-4, 6-3 (Tied-1st in Pac-12 South)
Finally off probation with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Matt Barkley, USC was the the No. 1 team in the country entering the 2012 season. Unfortunately, everything completely fell apart.
Lane Kiffin’s Trojans went 7-6 and failed to win their own division, the Pac-12 South. With Barkley gone and Lane Kiffin’s seat getting hot, there is a lot on the line in LA this year.
The biggest question mark on the offensive side is who will succeed Barkley?
Redshirt sophomore Max Wittek started the last two games of the 2012 season when Barkley was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler will be the other challenger in the quarterback battle, while top ranked incoming quarterback recruit Max Browne is no longer a part of the race. Kessler had a successful spring, meaning Wittek and him will be neck and neck for the starting job.
Undoubtedly, whoever starts at quarterback will have the best receiver in the country to go to. Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee was one of the bright spots last season by finishing with 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He also won the Biletnikoff Award and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. Lee will continue to be a dangerous threat this season.
The offense loses receiver Robert Woods, meaning sophomore Nelson Agholor, who had a solid freshman season, will be the No. 2 receiver. Tight ends Xavier Gamble and Randall Telfer will also be critical in the Trojan passing game.
The running game hasn’t been the biggest strength for the USC offense since Kiffin arrived.
Penn State transfer Silas Redd came in last season and rushed for 905 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Redd should be the starting running back depending on if he is healthy enough after knee surgery in the spring. If not, it will likely be freshman Justin Davis. The offensive line returns four players from last season, but has to replace All-Pac-12 center Khaled Holmes.
After what the nation witnessed last season, it was time for Lane Kiffin’s father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, to leave USC after a rough year defensively.
Giving up 62 points and 730 yards at home against Oregon last season basically sums up the defense from 2012. In comes former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast though, who will install a 5-2 defense.
The linebacking corps is led by linebacker Hayes Pullard, who recorded 107 tackles last season. All three starting linebackers return from last season, but Dion Bailey will switch to safety because of the new defensive scheme.
The line should be talented with 2012 freshman defensive player of the year sophomore Leonard Williams and senior Morgan Breslin. Breslin had 13 sacks last season and will play the end/linebacker hybrid position. The secondary will be the weakest defensive unit on the Trojan defense, as Josh Shaw is the only starter that is returning from last year's secondary.
USC opens up at Hawaii and then has three straight home games. The Trojans should be 4-0 when they head to Tempe to face Arizona State on Sept. 28. This is a crucial South Division game that could come to haunt them at the end of the season if they are to lose.
USC will travel for a non-conference game against bitter rival Notre Dame on Oct. 19 and travel to Oregon State on Nov. 1, where they have not won since 2004.
The last two of three games will be critical in the Trojans advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game. They get both Stanford (Nov. 16) and UCLA (Nov. 30) at home. In truth, the game against UCLA will likely be the deciding game for the division.
If USC can get its quarterback situation figured out, expect Kiffin and company to surprise many this season.