USC Football: 6 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Trojans

Rick McMahanSenior Writer ISeptember 8, 2013

USC Football: 6 Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Trojans

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    A year that began with doubt reached certainty only two games into the season and what we now know for sure is that USC isn't very good.

    Delivering that message loud and clear was Mike Leach and his Washington Cougars who embarrassed the Trojans 10-7 on a warm September night in front of a stunned Coliseum crowd whose "fire Kiffin" chants displayed more focus than anything the embattled Trojan coach could muster from his inept offense.

    Now USC faces the prospect of a 2013 season that is likely to go south in a rapid fashion, and fans of the program are left wondering how such a storied program could be so bad.

    This slideshow will look at some of the early storylines that has led to this sad predicament the Trojans find themselves in.

    In a year that appears over before it really began, here are some of the things we have learned about this year's version of the men of Troy.

At Least the Defense Is Good

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    Okay, lets get the good news out of the way...

    USC is in possession of a very, very good defense. In fact, if the Trojans had an offense that even remotely resembled the quality of their defense, USC would be a national title contender.

    Against Mike Leach and his vaunted "Air Raid" offense, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast dialed up a variety of looks that stifled the Cougars to the tune of 222 total yards and three measly points.

    Of course, as it turns out, those three points were the difference between a tie and a loss. However, that certainly is not the fault of a Trojan defense that has now given up a total of 16 points through two games.

    In addition to the stingy scoring defense, USC has also only given up 453 total yards to go along with seven turnovers and 11 sacks.

    All in all, a very impressive beginning for a unit that was much maligned in 2012.

    Too bad the same can't be said for the other side of the ball.

Tre Madden Has Been the Lone Offensive Bright Spot

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    In an otherwise dismal offensive start to the 2013 season, running back Tre Madden has truly been a revelation.

    Coming back from a knee injury suffered in 2012, Madden has been a reliable option who has single-handedly kept the Trojans in games by offering a running attack that has mitigated the horrible passing game.

    Averaging 130 yards per game, Madden has been a rock for a Trojan offense that hasn't been able to get out of its own way this season. Also, he has done it in place of Silas Redd whose knee injury has prevented him from playing so far in 2013.

    Although Madden's productivity hasn't resulted in many USC offensive points, can you imagine where the Cardinal and Gold would be without him?

USC's Quarterbacks Have Been Horrible in 2013

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    This won't be a surprise for anyone who has had the misfortune of watching USC in 2013, but quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek have been simply awful this year.

    Combined, the two-headed "monster" of Kessler and Wittek has completed 26 of 50 passes for 226 yards (113 yards per game) to go along with three interceptions against one touchdown thrown.

    But what can't be shown in the statistics is the rudderless leadership these two guys have provided in running what may be the worst Trojan offense in decades.

    When taken in its entirety, the Trojan offense has been miserable, but some blame must also go to an inconsistent offensive line and a receiving unit that has not lived up to the preseason hype.

    For certain, Lane Kiffin is running out of options, but there is still one that remains which leads us to...

Will Kiffin Be Forced to Burn a Redshirt Year for Max Browne?

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    Whatever you think about Lane Kiffin—much of which can't be printed here—you still have to feel badly for the guy.

    After all, he is fighting to keep his job with arguably the two worst quarterbacks in the conference and things are getting much worse instead of better.

    As Cody Kessler and Max Wittek battle to see who is more inept, their head coach must now entertain a notion that was inconceivable only three weeks ago.

    Should he now turn to his 5-star mega recruit, quarterback Max Browne?

    Though still raw, Browne is a 6'5", 220-pound gunslinger whose prototypical size and arm may be USC's last, best hope to salvage a season that is spiraling out of control.

    Given the complete futility of Kessler and Wittek so far in 2013, the better question for Kiffin is not whether he should give Browne a try but rather, can he afford not to?

The "Fire Kiffin" Watch Has Now Officially Begun

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    It was going to take an outstanding season for Lane Kiffin to quiet his detractors this year and now two games into it, that possibility has fallen by the wayside.

    With chants calling for his ouster still ringing in his ears, Kiffin has to somehow craft a recovery plan to salvage a season that now looks bleak to say the least.

    And the pressure is not on Kiffin's shoulders alone.

    Despite saying he is "100 percent behind Lane Kiffin," athletic director Pat Haden is now forced to entertain the notion that his coach may not last the season.

    Whether or not Haden makes a change during the season is only one consideration. However, to be certain, he will have to make a decision one way or another before the 2014 college football season arrives.

    In a year where supporting his coach was going to be difficult anyway, last night's debacle against Washington State just made that job all the more vexing.

Conclusion

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    For fans of the program, the 2013 season has turned into an unmitigated disaster.

    The presumed 4-0 start to this year's campaign is now a 1-1 nightmare. Even what was thought to be a walkover win next week against Boston College must now be looked at with concern.

    Although USC's defense may be as good as any over the last decade or so, if the offense can't produce points, it will be all for naught.

    Combine that with poor special teams play, which resulted in a blocked field goal and another missed by Andre Heidari, and you have the recipe for multiple losses to follow.

    This is especially true when USC gets into the meat of its schedule and has to play teams that are highly regarded such as Stanford, Notre Dame and UCLA.

    For now, Trojan fans can only shake their collective heads and mutter "wait until next year."

    That is all well and good, but the bad news is that this season has just begun.