Over the last three seasons we have witnessed the fall of Troy.
Gone are the glory days ushered in by the likes of Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll—mostly thanks to Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll. Southern Cal is a shell of its former Pac10-dominating, national championship-winning self.
The sanctions levied by the NCAA as a result of the Bush saga are partially to blame. But, the USC we grew accustomed to during Carroll's tenure could have crushed the NCAA's punishment.
Vacation of all victories from 2004-05? "Who cares? We all know what happened."
Reduction of scholarships? "Have you seen who we recruit? Our 15 LOI's will trump your 25, anyway."
Disassociation with Reggie? "Sorry, Reg. But, once again, everyone knows what happened."
No postseason? "We are SC. Enough said."
At least that's the impression we were left with after nearly a decade of an unparalleled combination of dominance and defiance. Pete Carroll made you believe.
Lane Kiffin is not Pete Carroll. He has no track record of winning. He doesn't have much of a track record, at all—unless you're talking about his history of infuriating his former bosses and fans of his former teams. There's no way he can keep this ship afloat. The reality of Southern Cal's predicament is simple: They are doomed to trade places with Oregon for the foreseeable future ... right?
Kiffin's 2011 recruiting class is ranked fifth by Scout.com and boasts 10 players from the ESPNU 150—including the nation's top wide receiver, George Farmer. Early on, his 2012 class ranks seventh on ESPN Insider, which lends evidence to the notion that, for whatever reason, Kiffin does have credibility with the 16-18-year-old demographic.
While this does not pacify concerns regarding his lack of, you know, actual game victories, it does hint at the potential for a quick turnaround in Los Angeles. After all, the first step to winning in January is winning in February.
That pesky second step will be winning this fall. In what will likely be Matt Barkley's final season as a Trojan, Kiffin needs to capitalize on the capabilities of the quarterback he inherited. The schedule isn't necessarily easy, but it's not impossible either. Ten wins are in play.
Anything less than eight could signal trouble.
It's time for Lane Kiffin to show us something.
The Trojans return one of the country's top signal callers in Matt Barkley. Year two for the former Gatorade National Player of the Year provided vast improvements relative to his freshman campaign. Year three could feature an explosion.
Barkley will have no trouble finding viable targets. Robert Woods is set to emerge as one of the best in college football. Joining him in the starting lineup will be the consensus No. 1 receiver in the 2011 recruiting class, George Farmer. Redshirt freshman Kyle Prater will likely push Farmer for playing time. Rhett Ellison provides a reliable option at the tight end spot.
You won't find Reggie Bush and LenDale White in the Trojan backfield in 2011. But that doesn't mean that Southern Cal is without a legitimate runner. Senior Marc Tyler will carry the load of both the running game and lofty expectations into fall camp. Challenging Tyler for carries will be sophomore Dillon Baxter and redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan. Any of the three could emerge as a playmaker.
Despite the plethora of toys for Kiffin to play with, the success or failure of the offense depends on the development of an offensive line that returns only two starters. SC will look to junior Matt Kalil to anchor the line at left tackle.
Remember the glory days of the previous decade, when guys like Troy Polamalu, Lofa Tatupu, and Rey Maualuga roamed sideline-to-sideline for one of the nation's top defenses?
Those days couldn't have seemed further away than they did a season ago.
The 2010 unit surrendered 400.1 yards per contest and looked nothing like a USC defense or a Monte Kiffin defense. That has to change.
Senior Chris Gallipo and junior Devon Kennard lead a group of linebackers that have disappointed of late. They will be expected to finally live up to expectations in 2011. If not, highly touted freshman Lamar Dawson is waiting.
The secondary could be a strength, with all-conference candidate T.J. McDonald at free safety. Elsewhere, sophomore Nickell Robey and junior Tony Burnett are the likely starters at the field and boundary corners, respectively. Senior Marshall Jones and junior Jawanza Starling will push each other for playing time at strong safety.
Ultimately, the defensive line will be looked upon to carry the weight of this unit. Three returners have starting experience, including another all-conference candidate in junior end Nick Perry.
The specialists are a question mark, if only due to youth and inexperience.
The Trojans will see freshmen at both place kicker and punter in 2011. Andre Heidari will handle the kicking game in its entirety while Kris Albarado punts.
There is no shortage of elite level ability in the return game, as Robert Woods, George Farmer, Curtis McNeal and Dillon Baxter all figure to settle under a kick at some point.
Nov. 19 @ Oregon
The Ducks blasted USC to the tune of 100-52 in 2009 and 2010—affirming and re-affirming a changing of the guard.
If the Trojans are to get back on top of the mountain, they'll have to go through Oregon.
The NCAA's refusal to lift the postseason ban a year early means SC will get only one shot at dethroning the Ducks in 2011.
The options are plentiful in Troy—especially within the passing game.
Matt Barkley heads into 2011 as a Top 10 fantasy quarterback in most formats. Couple his ability level with the weapons he has around him, and you'll come up with a high percentage for success. He's long gone by the end of the fourth round.
Robert Woods has the potential to do for fantasy owners what Damian Williams did before him: Put up consistently big numbers. Williams wasn't the most athletically gifted receiver to come through Southern Cal, but his timing was impeccable. Once Pat Turner departed, No. 18 got the vast majority of Barkley's throws. The same can be said for No. 2 with Williams gone. Woods is a Top 10 receiver in most formats. Wait any longer than mid-third round and you'll be looking elsewhere.
Five-star freshman George Farmer is an intriguing prospect. He'll likely go in the later middle rounds of your draft (think 12-15), and presents considerable upside. Much like West Virginia's Ivan McCartney, Farmer is a relative unknown with the potential to make an impact.
The USC backfield won't be getting anyone overly excited come draft day. But for the price, Marc Tyler is as good a running back as you'll find. He's a Top 50 back with Top 20 potential. You can acquire him as late as the 12th round.
With four of its first five games in the comfort of the Coliseum—vs. five opponents who all figure to be un-ranked at the time of their meeting—Southern Cal has a chance to get off to a hot start. Sustaining it could be a bit tougher, with back-to-back road meetings with California and Notre Dame, preceding Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal's visit to Troy.
Still, the overall schedule sets up nicely. If the defense can keep opposing offense's in check for a change, the Trojans look to have the fire power necessary to regain some momentum in 2011.
Projection: 9-3 (7-2)