The USC Trojans football players are off for the rest of May, so this is a great time to review what must be done before the 2011 season kickoff on September 3 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
A lot has to be done in the next 108 days, and you can bet that the coaching staff and athletes know what has to be done. They showed during the winter workouts and spring practice that they are motivated to get the job done and improve over the third-place Pac-10 finish in 2010.
Here is USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s must-do list.
It has been four months since the NCAA USC-appeal hearing. The NCAA said it would be four-to-eight weeks for a decision. What are they waiting for?
Of course, they took almost six months to deny the USC coach Todd McNair appeal in what should have been a slam-dunk reversal due to all the errors and lack of due process by the NCAA.
We all know that the NCAA changed the rules so that past precedent no longer is a consideration the day before the McNair decision. Rumors are that this was done to take away the USC defense, since there is no question that the NCAA could not justify the sanctions based on past precedent.
But the NCAA delay is ridiculous, and the Trojans deserve a timely appeal decision so they can finalize plans for their 2012 recruiting and know if there will be a bowl possibility in 2011.
Many Trojans fans, while hoping for the best, realize that it is unlikely that the NCAA will grant the USC appeal based on the agenda driven, mistake prone and biased handling of the USC case. The NCAA doesn’t admit mistakes.
At this point, Lane Kiffin is more concerned about getting the NCAA decision than worrying about it. The NCAA has already done enough damage to USC, and there is no reason to keep piling it on.
Of course, winning the appeal and planning for a 2011 bowl would be a big motivation for the USC football players.
If it is denied, USC should move the September 17 USC-Syracuse game to December 10, the last date a team can play a regular-season game, in Shanghai. This could become the first Pac-12 venture into the Pacific Rim and there is no better team than USC to kick it off.
USC has six verbal commitments for the 2012 recruiting class. Depending upon the NCAA appeal results, the Trojans may only be able to give out 15 scholarships, and there are some high-priority needs.
These freshmen will be bowl eligible and could join a team that competes for the 2012 national championship.
Kiffin, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron and the other coaches are working the recruiting as hard as any other team. Based on the 2010 and 2011 top-five recruiting classes, there is no reason not to expect them to be very successful.
The offensive and defensive lines are the most important positions and, fortunately, the 2012 class is loaded in this area. The Trojans already have a commitment from probably the best DL in Arik Armstead.
Kicking was a weakness in the 2010 USC team and cost it a few games.
The Trojans have two freshmen kickers this year. Placekicker Andre Heidari was an early enrollee and routinely kicked 50-yard field goals in practice.
However, he missed two-of-three attempts in the spring game, and that concerned some people. Not special teams coach John Baxter, though, because he knows what Heidari can do.
But until Heidari hits consistently during the games, this will be a question mark.
Punter Kris Albarado arrives this summer. He is a top high-school punter who like Heidari has been well trained and kicking like he was in college.
Trojans fans need to trust John Baxter again on him, but that shouldn’t be too much of a risk.
LB Malcolm Smith leading the band after a USC win
Last season, it seemed like the seniors, with neither a bowl game nor a Pac-10 title to shoot for, cared more about self-preservation and their own futures in football. This was apparent by the midseason.
For the nine that were drafted, this made sense since most had their degrees, and it was good for them.
But this season must be about USC: team, school, program and tradition all matter here.
USC has a legitimate shot at the national championship in 2012 if this happens. And that will be better for everyone!
USC will find out soon if RB Curtis McNeal qualifies academically. The Trojans have three other very good tailbacks with Marc Tyler, D.J. Morgan and Dillon Baxter, but McNeal is a different type of running back who could help the offense and special teams when needed.
There are six incoming freshmen who need to qualify academically.
As stated in the USC 2012 Recruiting and Scholarship Math article:
DT Antwaun Woods and J.R. Tavai both have multiple core classes to still complete. Woods did not receive a good ACT score on his last attempt, but he has two more chances to take that and the SAT to raise his qualifying score. Otherwise, he must raise his overall core GPA.
According to Tavai, the only thing standing in the way of his dream of becoming a Trojan in the fall is his SAT score. He said that if the SAT doesn’t come in like he expects, he may have to take a summer class, but he will be eligible.
Defensive end Steve Dillon also has a core class to finish and must raise his GPA and take his SAT for a higher score, and a tutor is helping him.
OT Cody Temple still has one core class to complete, but he has completed his most challenging courses.
Athlete Marqise Lee is missing some classes from Morningside High School, but he made good strides last semester.
CB Isaiah Wiley was short on an elective when he tried to enroll at USC last January, but he had final exams last week, and his transcripts will be sent to USC shortly after.
Center Khaled Holmes is key to the USC offense in 2011
The Trojans have 10 players that need to get medically cleared so they can participate in summer workouts and fall practice.
These include defensive tackles (Armond Armstead, Christian Tupou), linebackers (Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard, Shane Horton, centers (Khaled Holmes, Abe Markowitz), offensive tackle (Kevin Graf) and defensive backs (T.J. Bryant, Torin Harris).
Except for the OL, the Trojans have depth at the other positions. But these are some of the best players on the team, and their health will ensure the talent, experience and depth for a successful 2011 season.
USC coaches Monte Kiffin and Lane Kiffin
Due to a lot of starting defensive players missing in spring practice, the defensive scheme was kept simple. Guess what happened?
Yes, the defensive players reacted quickly and consistently outplayed the offense.
The coaching staff didn’t miss this point, and it is expected that the defensive scheme will remain less complicated in the fall.
The Trojans defense is deep and is going to be a lot fresher in 2011 than 2010, even against teams like Oregon where the Trojans faded after leading in the third quarter.
USC's offensive line starters remain the biggest question for the Trojans
As noted previously, many possible starters were missing from spring practice. In addition, there will be 23 new freshmen joining summer workouts and fall practice. Some of these are potential starters.
The challenge for the coaching staff is to finalize the starting lineup as early as possible so that they have a chance to play together. This is especially important and difficult for the offensive line, which could make or break the team in 2011.
QB Matt Barkley must lead the Trojan offensive schemes
The offensive line is expected to be the lone weak spot for the 2011 Trojans. Most of the starters have not been determined, and there is a lack of experience.
It is important for the coaching staff to recognize this weakness, which they do, and adjust the offensive schemes accordingly.
USC has a great quarterback and both wide receivers and tight ends. The running backs are also very good.
Expect the use of a modified spread offense at times and quicker plays.
The offensive line will get better as the season progresses, so the coaching staff can make further adjustments then.
Los Angeles Coliseum
The Trojans will not lose three games during a single season at the Coliseum again. The theme of this summer has to be to make the Coliseum an impossible road win for opposing teams, and that includes Utah and Stanford this season.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s need to sell state landmarks is good for USC. It won’t be much longer before the Trojans “own” the Coliseum in more ways than one.
As you can see, Lane Kiffin has a busy agenda. But he has a great coaching staff and the full support of Athletic Director Pat Haden and Associate AD for Football Operations J.K. McKay.
He also has the full support of the players and Trojans fans.
They all know how important it is to win and what it takes. The next 108 days will set the stage.