With all the change surrounding the USC football program recently, it would be crazy to predict that the Trojans would end the 2010 campaign undefeated. Call me crazy. The USC Trojans will be undefeated in 2010 and I will tell you why.
After careful review, and especially because of the change at head coach, the stars appear aligned for a USC run at the BCS title. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in love with Lane Kiffin at the moment, but I love his assistants and they are the No. 1 reason why they will be better.
All hail Monte! New Trojan defensive coordinator, co-inventor of the Tampa-2 defense, and father of the head coach, Monte Kiffin will make an immediate impact. In only his first year in college football, Kiffin was able to make the Tennessee defense very aggressive and competitive immediately.
While the UT defensive talent level is high, the athletes he inherits at USC are, on average, much faster. Kiffin's signature Tampa-2 defense requires speed and big hitters, solid corners, and strong, gap shooting linemen. All of which the Trojans have.
Most vital to the Tampa-2 scheme is a savvy middle linebacker who is able to drop into coverage over the middle. USC middle linebacker, junior Chris Galippo, seems perfect for this system. In his first year starting at middle linebacker, Galippo had 70 tackles and two interceptions, proving himself adept in pass coverage.
Not only is the Tampa-2 scheme extremely effective against high scoring teams in general, but it encourages teams to take risks downfield, giving them a chance to beat themselves.
USC's likely challenger for the Pac-10 title, Oregon, showed throughout the year (and especially during the Rose Bowl) that they are capable of beating themselves if given the chance. Kiffin's scheme lengthens the field, forcing teams to continue to make plays over and over.
Over the last four years, USC has suffered from reading its own press and being overconfident. While all teams get up for the USC game, the Trojans have shown the ability to take some games off.
While being manhandled by Stanford and Oregon, they meandered their way through the Washington and Arizona losses. At least for the defense, Monte Kiffin won't let that happen.
Next, the offense will be greatly improved over 2009. Say what you will about Lane Kiffin as head coach, but as a play-caller he is a dramatic improvement over Jeremy Bates.
Bates is a good coach with a strong record in the NFL but he never seemed quite comfortable calling plays while at USC. Whether it was his occasional lack of confidence in freshman quarterback Matt Barkley or a lack of creativity, the result was the same. USC offensive sequences seemed more random collections of plays and less like orchestrated drives.
USC's attack next year will quickly seek to establish Barkley as an effective downfield passer in order to open up the running game. If not, teams will line up eight in the box to shutdown the run until Barkley and Kiffin prove USC is once again an effective passing team. Simply nibbling at the passing edges via one bubble screen after another won't do the trick.
And the Men of Troy will still have the horses for Kiffin to call plays for.
Around Barkley will be Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable as the featured backs. Ronald Johnson, David Ausberry, Travon Patterson, and Brice Butler will lead a group of talented wideouts looking to make a name for themselves now that Damian Williams is gone.
USC also has one of the nation's most multi-faceted weapons in fullback Stanley Havili. Not to mention USC's confirmed warehouse of four and five-star recruits.
Lastly, Southern Cal faces a much more favorable schedule in 2010 than in 2009, although just slightly. The improvements: USC gets Cal, Oregon, and Notre Dame all at home, and Oregon after a two-week layoff. The challenges: three of the first four and three of the final four on the schedule are all on the road.
The non-conference schedule is interesting but not terror-inducing. The Trojans open on the road against Hawaii, come home to Virginia, and then back on the road at Minnesota. Notre Dame comes calling the next-to-last game of the regular season, this time without Golden Tate or Jimmy Clausen.
The Pac-10 conference is improving on the whole and will showcase a bevy of quality quarterbacks in 2010, led by the versatile Jeremiah Masoli of Oregon. Even with Masoli, Oregon, while deserving of a preseason top-10 ranking, still won't be strong enough on defense and must rely solely on their offense to win games.
USC, with a stronger defense and much improved offense, will beat Oregon at home on Oct. 30.
The scariest games on the USC schedule are Oct. 9 at Stanford and Nov. 20 at Oregon State. Both games face teams that are a combined .500 against USC over the last four years and are led by two of the best coaches in the country. Beating Stanford and Oregon State will require USC to play their most disciplined games of the coming year.
While Pete Carroll was very successful in winning the big games while at USC, he did have problems keeping his team focused in every game over the last few years. That should change under Monte Kiffin, if not under Lane. While USC should still be a fun and loose place to play, they should be a much more disciplined unit game in and game out.
Undoubtedly, USC will be more potent than in 2009. With an improved overall team discipline and focus, a better, more creative offense coupled with an improved and more consistent defense playing a somewhat favorable schedule, USC fans can look forward to another run at the BCS title in 2010. Anyone who thinks otherwise is crazy.