With Everson Griffen announcing his decision to enter the NFL draft, the inevitable chain of questions begins for USC players: Who will leave? Who will stay? What type of Trojan team are we going to see on the field next year?
Thankfully, no exodus could match the massacre of 2009, when the Trojans lost three linebackers with starting NFL talent—two of whom could very well win Rookie of the Year. Add QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner, NT Fili Moala, K David Buehler, and DBs Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris. Those were many gaps left by talented players.
USC will not be struggling to fill that many holes this time around, as both its offense and defense are relatively young, and look to carry over most of their starting talent. Infuse the current roster with some solid recruits, and 2010 looks to bring the Trojans back to dominance.
The defensive secondary looks to be USC's biggest struggle this coming offseason. With three out of four starters graduating (including a certain #2 that you might be familiar with), there will be a great deal of changeover in what was already a maligned secondary.
CB - Shareece Wright
Sidelined for most of the season due to academic ineligibility, Wright returned in a huge way for the Trojans during the Emerald Bowl, recording an interception. Originally intended to start this year, Wright definitely has the talent, and looks to be a bright spot in next year's defensive backfield.
CB - T.J. Bryant
An injury to Josh Pinkard forced Bryant into action throughout the year, allowing him to gain some valuable experience. He played nickel back throughout the season, where his play drew praise from Pete Carroll, "He's learned a lot and hasn't been exposed much." (latimes.com)
FS - Drew McAllister
Pictured above, Drew McAllister will have some pretty big shoes to fill. As Taylor Mays' backup the last two years, McAllister has seen limited playing time. Although, during his freshman year, Drew led the NCAA in interceptions per playing time. While he may not be a heavy hitter like Taylor Mays, McAllister's ballhawking skills will definitely contribute to the Trojan defense.
SS - T.J. McDonald
While it would be cool to have a "Mac Attack" at both safety positions, T.J. is not a sure bet for the starting SS spot. This year, he was fresh out of high school, yet still #2 on the depth chart behind Will Harris. By pure depth chart alone, he projects to start next year. However, things may change as spring competition commences.
Not much looks to change for the Trojan linebackers, as all three starters will return next year with an added season of experience. Although, Pete Carroll always preaches competition, so do not be surprised if the LB spots are shaken up.
SLB - Michael Morgan/Devon Kennard
Entering his senior season in 2010, Morgan has one more chance at a championship. Although, Devon Kennard threatens to take his spot. As Morgan faded during the season, Kennard only played stronger. Kennard recorded more total tackles than Morgan this season, and also forced a fumble. Look for spring ball to shed some light on this competition.
MLB - Chris Galippo
Galippo had a strong showing this season, replacing the ball-attacking, free-flying Rey Maualuga. While his play was solid, there was definitely room for improvement. Look for this years experience, combined with time on the practice field and the weight room, to further Galippo's development, and allow him to become a stalwart in next year's defense.
WLB - Malcolm Smith
Malcolm Smith knows how to play ball. In what looked like a reactive defense for most of the year, Smith stepped it up against UCLA and made an aggressive move, reading the eyes of the QB Kevin Prince and snagging a crucial interception. When he is aggressive, Smith is a danger due to his athleticism. Look for coaches to cultivate his talent as he enters his senior year.
With Griffen gone, an often-troubled defensive line will find itself without its best player.
DE - Wes Horton
Horton played every game of this season, recording a respectable 23 tackles. However, for all the game time, he failed to record a sack. Look for Horton to compete with Arnold Armstead, but win due to experience and quickness. Horton's speed makes him a more prototypical 4-3 DE than Armstead, who has DT size. Armstead, who switched from DT to DE this season, might be better suited making the switch back if he wants to start.
DE - Nick Perry
Look for Nick Perry to pass up Arnold Armstead in the DE race. Showing his ability, Perry recorded a sack in the Emerald Bowl, providing pressure from a D-line that often struggled to hurry the QB this season.
NT - Christian Tupou
Tupou is a relentless player. However, his size is an issue, as he was often pushed around with ease by opposing O-Linemen. If he does not spend time in the weight room, he could lose his job--perhaps to Armond Armstead, who has 3 inches and 10 pounds on the smallish Tupou, or even incoming 300-pound recruit George Uko.
DT - Jurrell Casey
Casey was a bright spot on the Trojans line this year. Recording 66 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 sacks (including one in the Emerald Bowl), Casey was all over the place. Unless something catastrophic occurs, the DT job is his.
K - Jordan Congdon
Congdon is accurate, but does not have the strength to kick field goals beyond 40 yards. Look for recruit Matt Darr to compete.
P - Someone other than Jacob Harfman...please
The Trojan's punting game looked awful this year. Hopefully, there will be change--and not from anyone currently on the Trojan roster. Walk on from soccer, anyone?
Bye, bye, Byers. After six years in the Cardinal and Gold, Jeff Byers will finally be leaving his spot on the offensive line. Three other seniors--Charles Brown, Alex Parsons and Nick Howell--also graduate this year.
LT -Tyron Smith
Smith started at right tackle this year. Next year, he could fill the hole left by Charles Brown. If Smith does not take the spot, Butch Lewis may end up here. Because the LT is crucial in protecting Matt Barkley's blind side, only an experienced Trojan lineman will end up here.
LG - Zack Heberer
Heberer will face stiff competition from Khaled Holmes, but his experience in the system will likely win out.
C - Kris O'Dowd/Michael Reardon
Barring his entry into the draft, O'Dowd is a dominating presence inside. However, he is projected as the #1/#2 C in many mock NFL drafts, so only time will tell if he returns. If he does not come back, look to Michael Reardon to fill O'Dowd's spot.
RG - Butch Lewis
Butch played guard most of the season, and should stick where he has the most game experience. He will be a solid player on the Trojan line.
RT - Brice Schwab (RECRUIT)
While Schwab will be a freshman, and could possibly be redshirted, I like his chances to start at right tackle. Schwab will be the biggest lineman on the Trojan roster, at 6'8" and 320 lbs. While he won't have the quickness to pass block on the left side, he will be solid on the right side as a run blocker. Opposing defenses will be hard-pressed to set the edge against such a massive human being. If Schwab is redshirted, Matt Kalil, whose brother was a two-time champion with the Trojans, could get the starting nod.
With one more season, McKnight could develop his patience and cultivate his draft stock. At this point, he is only the #5 RB on the board. Joe will likely spend another year at 'SC to prepare himself for the next level.
TB - Joe McKnight/Allen Bradford
McKnight and Bradford were a great one-two punch. As McKnight works on his decisiveness, the duo should only get better. Look for Marc Tyler, who was injured this past season, to compete with Bradford for the role of bruiser.
FB - Stanley Havili
Stanley has struggled with injuries this past season, and should be returning. This guy cares about winning, and it showed in the Emerald Bowl. Once again, Havili will be a great weapon for Matt Barkley in both the running and passing game.
With experts saying Damian Williams is likely to leave, USC could be without its most talented wide receiver. That being said, they are about to bring in some stellar talent, leaving Barkley with a bevy of options.
WR- Ronald Johnson/Kyle Prater (RECRUIT)/Brice Butler
RoJo will continue to be a staple on this offense. Apologies to Brice Butler, but despite his development over the course of the season, Kyle Prater will immediately overtake him on the depth chart. Prater, ranked by Rivals.com as the overall #2 player in the country, has Calvin Johnson size and speed. At 6'5" and 206 lbs, Prater runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. Despite his reputation as a physical receiver, he has yet to put on enough muscle to fill out his frame. When he does, he will be even more of a force.
TE - Rhett Ellison/Blake Ayles
Ellison and Ayles will cap the ends of USC's standard 1RB/2WR/2TE set. Neither has been terribly impressive over the course of the season, but hopefully they will improve.
QB - Matt Barkley
Pete Carroll has made it clear that Barkley is his man. Barkley has shown sparks of brilliance this year, and sparks of being a freshman. Thankfully, next year he won't be a freshman.