USC came out swinging. It swung once, twice, three times. It knocked it out of the park, seven times in fact. Matt Barkley shined like the supernova he's been suspected to be since he was 15 years old, and Ronald Johnson looked like he might be the guy to finally fill the hole that R***** B*** left five years ago. Together, they might be the most lethal combination in the entire Pac-10. But as they say, "All That Glitter is not Gold". The problem? The defense. The defense swung too, often in the wrong direction.
When Pete Carroll scampered off to Seattle, he left presumably the most talented defense in the Pac-10. For all we know, he did. But it didn't show. Not last year and certainly not last night. I never once feared for the victory, but I did fear for our season and the season's to come. Kiffin (in)famously banned tackling at the beginning of the summer. When I heard about this, I was sympathetic, but I never imagined this. I counted only one open-field tackle all night. What will we do next year when our recruiting lass looks disheveled and our top defenders are off to greener pastures in the NFL. Kiffin's father, Monte Kiffin is a savvy, veteran coach. His experience is unparalleled, but watching Devon Kennard helplessly defend the deep ball multiple times, I couldn't help but wonder if he knew what he was doing the last few months. Of course, the coaches can't shoulder all of the blame, they don't control how their players actually perform. The Trojan D was out of position and got pummeled. When I went to bed, I had nightmares about a man with a large "O" on his visor, laughing at me.
For now, it seems our offense must be our redeemer. I won't lie, I've been on the Matt Barkley bandwagon since he was a sophomore at Orange County powerhouse, Mater Dei. I praised him as a freshman, replaying his highlights over and over again, and overlooking his mistakes. But seeing him toss five touchdowns without an interception gave me a jolt of confidence in his ability to be great. Seeing him adjust the play at the line a number of times made me confident in his ability to lead this team to greatness. As much as I hate high scoring shootouts, it looks like we may be in for a few this year. Along with Oregon, both Notre Dame and Arizona State has switched to the spread offense, which looks like trouble for Troy.
Aside from those, games against Washington, at Stanford, at Arizona, and at Oregon State all look like they have the potential to hand the Trojans a loss. This might be the best year in a long time for the Pac-10 and for the quarterback position. A number of those quarterbacks reside in the west. Jake Locker and Andrew Luck posted good numbers a year ago, but both look to have exponentially improved upon those stats under the two most promising coaches in all of college football, Steve Sarkisian and Jim Harbaugh. Those games may pit Barkley against each of them, presenting a duel-like atmosphere.
Looking at Washington, I see USC coming out very motivated, and shutting down the Huskies running game, forcing Locker to play all by himself. With a reborn Marc Tyler, USC could easily cruise to victory due to its high-octane offense outmatching Washington's young and underdeveloped defense. If the Trojans hope to beat Washington, this is the year to do it, Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies on the rise and with recent commitments from five-star tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams, Washington could soon move into place as the Pac-10's new powerhouse. With a win, Lane Kiffin will have a highly motivated team that wants nothing more than to roll in to Palo Alto and roll over the Stanford Cardinal.
When Barkley and Luck face one another, it could be billed as two future number 1 NFL draft picks battling for the top spot in the Pac-10. If the Trojans struggle to slow down the Cardinal's young and talented running backs, Andrew Luck will most definitely tear the Trojans secondary apart with the play action. Stanford's defense might be the key however. If they can slow down Marc Tyler and ruffle Matt Barkley's feathers and force him into bad throws, the scoreboard might be familiar to anybody who witnessed Stanford's shellacking of the Trojans the year before.
USC heads to Arizona later in the season where they'll meet up with Nick Foles and his Wildcats. I think Foles will either be great this year or disastrous. At 6'5", 245 lbs. Foles is almost sure to be drafted. He was the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-10 last year and hopes to improve on that this year. If he plays well and does improve, he could force himself upon a couple of Heisman ballots, and could lead Arizona to a Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Again, if the Trojans can shut down the run and take the play action away, they'll force Arizona into a one dimensional offensive scheme and win handily. If not, the Wildcats could potentially win the game in a close contest.
Now Oregon State is a completely different monster. They have three very important and distinct advantages. James Rodgers, Jacquizz Rodgers, and the state of Oregon. The brothers Rodgers are the most dynamic brothers/teammates in college football history (all due respect to Kellen and Kirby Moore), they're small but incredibly strong and extremely quick. They both have the ability to blow any game open. They also play in the state of Oregon, and play host to the Trojans this year. Oregon is the scariest state in the nation if you love USC, and not just because of what happened there on Halloween last year. USC last won in Oregon in 2005 when Matt Leinart and Reg- Lendale White ruled college football. I honestly can't find a way that the Trojans win this game unless they are absolutely stellar on both sides of the ball.
If SC can win these four key games, they'll have a great chance at a perfect season and an AP National Championship, but if they slip up in any of them, they could easily lose five games, possibly even dropping their last three at Oregon State, at home against Notre Dame, and at the Rose Bowl against UCLA. The answer will lie with the defense. If the Trojan D struggles throughout the season as they did last night, Kiffin and co. could be in for the longest fall at Heritage Hall in years, but if the front seven can live up to the potential and hype, and the secondary can improve, these Men of Troy have a shot at something special.