The USC Trojans were 8-5 in 2010 (finishing third in the Pac-10), but only three plays and a Stanford time clock operator from an 11-2 season.
Not bad for a team with a new coaching staff and only 71 scholarship players after NCAA sanctions allowed junior/senior players to transfer without sitting out a year.
The Trojans had the eighth-toughest schedule in the nation according to the highly respected Sagarin ratings, and that included seven road games.
In spite of the harshest NCAA sanctions since the 1987 SMU death penalty, Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff realized a top-four recruiting class with 30 new athletes for the Trojans in 2011.
No other college has had this success after similar NCAA sanctions and it reflects the top academics, football tradition, NFL pipeline status, location, and the hard work of the USC coaching staff.
USC is now poised for its best season since 2008, although the Trojans may not be allowed to play in the Pac-12 championship or bowl game if the NCAA appeal is denied as expected.
If USC can achieve a 9-3 season or better, then the stage will be set for a possible national championship run in 2012 when there is no bowl sanction.
But will the schedule cooperate?
USC's revamped 2011 football schedule incorporates revisions made to accommodate the expanded Pac-12 Conference.
As a member of the Pac-12 South division, the Trojans will play every Pac-12 South opponent in 2011, as well as Pac-12 North foes California, Stanford, Oregon and Washington. USC will not face Pac-12 North teams Oregon State and Washington State in 2011.
The Trojans play the first three games of 2011 at home and seven home games.
USC spring practice begins March 22 and concludes with the spring game on April 23 at the Coliseum.
Here's a game-by-game look at what lies ahead for the USC Trojans.
P.S. Rick McMahan published an excellent article on the five USC road games this season including travel information.
Here are changes made by USC to improve the game day experience courtesy of Michael Lev of the OCR.