Well, Trojan fans, the strangest 2010 football season is over for USC. No bowl game courtesy of the benevolent NCAA and its circus conductor, Mr. Paul Dee.
So, what are the keys to a successful 2011 season for USC?
Let’s look back first.
First-year head coach Lane Kiffin did not consider 2010 a successful season (8-5, 5-4 Pac-10 for third place), including an unexpected loss to archrival Notre Dame following another season-low loss to the Oregon State Beavers at Corvalis.
He has a point.
However, considering the new coaching staff, transfers and lost recruits due to NCAA sanctions, lack of depth and experience, no tackling in practice to avoid injury, new Athletic Director and the largest compliance staff in college sports, there were three plays that prevented an 11-2 season.
Okay, maybe not by the standards during most of the preceding decade, but not much different from the 9-4 and Pac-10 fifth place finish in 2009 under Pete Carroll.
The Trojans had the seventh toughest schedule in the nation according to the highly respected Sagarin ratings, and that included seven road games.
This was the first season ever that USC had five games decided by three or less points and six games decided by four or less points including three losses.
The USC 2010 season was characterized by inconsistency. Sometimes the offense was unstoppable, and much of the time the defense couldn’t stop the passing attack of any team. The offense seemed to get worse and the defense better as the season progressed, but it was never certain which would do better.
The two exceptions were the California Bears game that USC dominated in all areas with a 42-0 half time lead, and the Oregon State fiasco when it looked like the team quit while suffering a 36-7 loss.
Penalties were a huge problem the first half of the season, then got much better after the Pac-10 appeared to have done something after the Stanford game clock problems cost USC the game. They refuse to discuss what they did.
Special teams played well in all games with the only exception some very close field goal misses.
Throughout the roller-coaster season, the team supported each other and the coaches. It was a great locker room.
Many fans attribute the inconsistency to inexperienced players and the offense trying to out-think the opponent and too complicated defensive schemes.
Lessons Learned from 2010
The Trojans are a very athletic team, and seemed to do best when playing aggressive. For example, there was no such thing as a “prevent” defense because it almost always resulted in allowing the opponent’s offense to quickly march down the field to a touchdown.
If there was one lesson learned from 2010 it is “KISS” (keep it simple stupid). The 2011 team is likely to have even less experience due to all the new recruits expected (more on that later).
The coaching staff inherited athletes who were bigger “projects” than realized because they were not taught properly by the previous coaches.
Now that the coaches have had a full season to evaluate all their players, they will make better distinctions between player’s physical ability and the skills needed for a particular position.
These skills, e.g., technique, knowledge, instincts, intelligence, heart, desire, character, leadership, etc., are not easily identified until performance in game conditions is readily observed.
Skill is more important than athletic ability to execute a game plan, which explains why a time like USC with superior athletic ability can repeatedly lose to teams with less physical ability.
USC coaches consistently cited execution as the problem this year. There may be some surprises on next year’s depth chart, and expect changes in offensive/defensive schemes and game planning strategies.
The Trojans lose 16 seniors, including some key players. These include FB Stanley Havili, WR Ronald Johnson, C Kris O’Dowd, LB Malcolm Smith, RB Allen Bradford, CB Shareece Wright, RD C.J. Gable, WR David Ausberry, LB Michael Morgan, G Butch Lewis, K Joe Houston, K Jacob Harfman, TE Jordan Cameron.
All Pac-10 first team juniors DT Jurrell Casey and OT Tyron Smith will leave for the NLF draft according to sources close to the USC football program today. The NFL lockout is looming, maybe in March 2011, and it would be a mistake to leave if that occurs like many believe.
Top returning players (year of eligibility for 2011)
USC’s 48-man, two-deep depth chart returns 27 players and 14 starters (seven offense, seven defense) excluding DT Christian Tupou, a former starter, Casey and Smith.
QB: Matt Barkley (QB, Jr.), Jesse Scroggins (QB, Fr.)
RB: Dillon Baxter (RB, So.), D.J. Morgan (RB, Fr.), Marc Tyler (RB, Sr.)
WR: Brice Butler (WR, Jr.), Brandon Carswell (WR, Sr.), De'Von Flournoy (WR, So.), Kyle Prater (WR, Fr.), Robert Woods (WR, So.)
TE: Blake Ayles (TE, Sr.), Rhett Ellison (TE, Sr.), Christian Thomas (TE, So.), Xavier Grimble (TE, Fr.), Randall Telfer (TE, Fr.)
OL: Kevin Graf (OL, So.), Khaled Holmes (OG, Jr.), Matt Kalil (OT, Jr.), Abe Markowitz (C, Jr.), John Martinez (OG, So.), Michael Reardon (OL, Sr.)*
DL: Armond Armstead (DL, Sr.), Hebron Fangupo (DT, Sr.)*, DaJohn Harris (DT, Sr.), Wes Horton (DE, Jr.), Nick Perry (DE, Jr.), Christian Tupou (DT, Sr.), George Uko (DT, Fr.)
LB: Chris Galippo (LB, Sr.), Shane Horton (LB, Sr.), Devon Kennard (LB, Jr.), Hayes Pullard (LB, Fr.), Marquis Simmons (LB, So.)
DB: Brian Baucham (CB, Jr.), Anthony Brown (CB, Fr.), T.J. Bryant (CB, Sr.), Tony Burnett (DB, Jr.), Patrick Hall (DB, Fr.), Torin Harris (CB, So.), Marshall Jones (S, Sr.), Drew McAllister (S, Jr.), T.J. McDonald (S, Jr.), Nickell Robey (CB, So.), Jawanza Starling (S, Jr.), Demetrius Wright (S, So.), Dion Bailey (S, Fr.)
LS: Chris Pousson (LS, Sr.)
*There are also rumors that OL Michael Reardon may call it quits due to battles with a hip injury, and DT Hebron Fangupo might leave for unknown reasons.
The Numbers and 2011 Recruiting
USC can bring in 10 early enrollees by January and count as 2010 scholarships. There are 10 redshirts. USC appealed five of the 10 annual scholarship reductions, so the Trojans can add 20 due to the delay in the NCAA appeal decision until after the February 2 signing day.
The Trojans had about 70 scholarship players in 2010. There are 16 seniors and redshirt seniors leaving. There could be up to five other players leave. There could be 10 early enrollees + 10 current redshirts + 20 recruits = 40 additional scholarships. Assuming 21 players graduate/leave, then there could be up to 19 additional scholarship players less any new redshirts, and this would result in a roster of 80 scholarship players (sanctioned limit during the NCAA appeal, will be 75 if USC loses appeal) next season.
USC has the best recruiting staff in the nation. Head coach Lane Kiffin, defensive coordinate Ed Orgeron, running backs coach Kennedy Pola, and linebackers coach Joe Barry know talent, and how to get them to see the benefits of a USC education and football tradition, which includes more players in the NFL than any other college team.
The secret to Pete Carroll’s success was recruiting, and now USC has the coaches back who were responsible for much of that success.
Freshman wide receiver Robert Woods acknowledged more talented players must arrive. He said, "We've got to bring competition back and make practices just like the games.”
QB: Cody Kessler (QB, Bakersfield), Max Wittek (QB, Mater Dei)
WR: Victor Blackwell (WR, Mater Dei); George Farmer (WR, Gardena)
OL: Marcus Martin (OL, Los Angeles), Cody Temple (OG, Bakersfield); David Garness (OT, City College of S.F.)
DL: Charles Burks (DE-LB, Edison), Steve Dillon (DE, Palmdale), Jalen Grimble (DE, Las Vegas), Antwaun Woods (DT, Woodland Hills), J.R. Tavai (DE/DT/FB, Manhattan Beach); Devante Wilson (DE, Corona)
LB: Tre Madden (LB, Mission Viejo), Kent Turene (LB, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.); Dallas Kelley (MLB, Rancho Cucamonga)
DB: DeAnthony Thomas (CB, Los Angeles); Isiah Wiley (S, Yuma, Arizona); Daimon Stafford (S, Rancho Cucamonga)
P/K: Kris Albarado (P, Lake Charles, La.), Andre Heidari (K, Bakersfield)
LS: Peter McBride (LS, Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Top recruiting targets:
OL: Troy Niklas (OT, Servite), Torian White (OT, Lakewood), Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Hyattsville, MD)
DL: Viliami Moala (DT, Sacramento), Brennan Scarlett (DE, Portland, Ore.), Greg Townsend Jr. (DE, Beverly Hills)
LB: Lamar Dawson (LB, Danville, Ky.), Colt Lyerla (LB, Hillsboro, Ore.), Lateek Townsend (LB, Bennettsville, S.C.)
S: Marqise Lee (S, Gardena)
Ten Keys to Next Season
- Early recruiting: USC can sign ten players in January including some high school players who graduate early, and these won’t count against the NCAA sanctioned limit of 20 (due to the Trojans appeal of five). A key addition should be former Tennessee offensive tackle Aaron Douglas, who is attending Arizona Western College.
- Normal recruiting: The Trojans must sign at least 15 of the 20 high quality players including linebackers and offensive linemen. USC is currently one of the leaders in highly rated athletes.
- Fill Key Positions: Departing seniors FB Stanley Havili, CB Shareece Wright, WR Ronald Johnson, C Kris O’Dowd, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Michael Morgan, RB Allen Bradford, K Joe Houston, K Jacob Harfman, TE Jordan Cameron, and NFL early entrees DT Jurrell Casey and OT Tyron Smith require replacements who can step in and come up to speed quickly. USC has good commitments or high potential recruits for most of these positions or existing (including redshirts) players who can step in. FB, OL, LB, and maybe TE are concerns. Head coach Lane Kiffin has stated that he may use a modified spread offense depending upon the FB and OL situation, but hopefully this won’t be necessary except on a periodic basis like the Wildcat.
- Better Assessment of Player’s Skills: Now that the coaches had a full season to evaluate all their players, they will make better distinctions between player’s physical ability and the skills needed for a particular position. These skills, e.g., technique, knowledge, instincts, intelligence, heart, desire, character, leadership, etc., are not easily identified until performance in game conditions is readily observed. Skill is more important than athletic ability to execute a game plan, which explains why a time like USC with superior athletic ability can repeatedly lose to teams with less physical ability. USC coaches consistently cited execution as the problem this year and it has to be much better for 2011. There may be some surprises on next year’s depth chart, and expect changes in offensive/defensive schemes and game planning strategies.
- Improve the Pass Defense: USC finished 2010 ranked 109th in pass defense. This includes the entire back seven and there may be only one senior starter, LB Chris Galippo, in 2011. The coaching staff needs to decide if Devon Kennard is a middle or outside linebacker and possibly be used like Clay Matthews, and add other players who can contribute quickly like CB Nickell Robey and WR Robert Woods.
- Improve the Offensive Line: USC could return three starters to its OL, but the unit’s run blocking was erratic. The line must be consistent because the Trojan offense starts with the run. New players like Aaron Douglas and David Garness will add depth and experience.
- Bring Back the Trojan Spirit: USC must believe again that they are invincible and play like that especially at home. The Virginia close win, and Washington and Notre Dame losses were an embarrassment due to the flat performances and lack of energy. This requires four quarters of playing well, and never quit like the Oregon State game.
- Play Aggressive: The Trojans have great athletes and are physical. The 2010 team did poorly when playing conservative. The “prevent” defense did anything but that. The offense struggled when it switched to a conservative passing and running game. But, the offense and defense excelled when playing aggressively, and 2011 should be the same.
- Keep It Simple: USC will have a lot of new players (again) even though a lot of starters return. But, complicated defensive and offensive schemes didn't work well, and took away from the athletic advantage of the Trojans.
- Become Consistent: The offense, defense, and special teams must play consistently for four quarters. This requires players to have the skills to carry out the game plan. Penalties and turnovers must be minimized.
So, what is new?
USC always seems to have a more difficult schedule than most of the other top teams. However, there are seven home games so that helps.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Arizona State Sun Devils
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
South Bend, IN
So, what can we expect in 2011?
All of the Pac-12 teams in USC’s schedule will be very tough except possibly Colorado and UCLA. Notre Dame should be a better team than the one that beat USC in 2010.
Expect USC to beat Minnesota, Syracuse, Washington, California, Notre Dame, Colorado, and UCLA. Assume that Stanford (if Andrew Luck returns, but that is doubtful) and Oregon beat the Trojans because they will be very strong again. That leaves three games Utah, Arizona State, and Arizona that could go either way so let’s assume worst case is two losses.
Let’s also assume that USC loses the appeal of the second year bowl ban so there are only 12 games.
So, it appears that the Trojans could realistically end up somewhere between 10-2 and 8-4 if most of the keys are achieved. My prediction is 9-3.
That would be a significant improvement over 2010, and show that USC is moving in the right direction. A few more top five recruiting classes and end of sanctions will get the Trojans back to championship condition.
Okay, what do you think?
Please comment on what you think the Trojans need to improve for 2011, how they will do it, key new players and their roles, and/or the season record projection.