USC Football: 10 Biggest Questions for the 2011 Season

Will ToberAnalyst IJune 28, 2011

USC Football: 10 Biggest Questions for the 2011 Season

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    The USC Trojans are entering the 2011 football season with a plethora of questions to answer.

    The Trojans are coming off their worst season in the last eight years and returning only 13 total starters.

    On top of that, USC's appeal of the NCAA sanctions was denied, making the Trojans ineligible for postseason play—bowl games and PAC-12 Championship Game—for the second year in a row.

    Now, Lane Kiffin is being investigated for alleged recruiting violations during his time at Tennessee.

    The trouble with the NCAA isn't the only uncertainty heading into next season for the Trojans, though. USC has big questions they need to answer on both sides of the ball.

    Here are the 10 biggest questions the Trojans must answer heading into the 2011 football season.

10. How Will the Lane Kiffin Allegations Affect USC?

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    A few weeks ago, USC Trojans' head football coach, Lane Kiffin, appeared in front of the NCAA Committee of Infractions to talk about allegations surrounding his time at the University of Tennessee.

    No one knows for sure what will result from the NCAA investigation, but should the NCAA continue its vendetta against the Trojans, there will likely be some repercussions. 

    Even though Kiffin wasn't coaching at USC at the time of these allegations, there is still some precedent to support the penalties following him to USC.

    During his time at the University of Washington, coach Rick Neuheisel was not allowed to recruit off campus because of violations that he committed while coaching at the University of Colorado.

    Barring suspension, the penalties would not directly affect the Trojans until the 2012 season, but the Trojans will need to deal with the mental aspect of more sanctions, which could affect the 2011 season.

9. Who Will Emerge as the No. 2 Quarterback?

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    With Mitch Mustain out of the picture, three freshmen will be competing for the second string quarterback position at USC.

    Jesse Scroggins is the only returning player fighting for the position, while incoming freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler will be battling without any experience.

    Although Scroggins has been with the team for a year, don't expect that to help him too much in securing the second quarterback position.

    The Trojans will need to secure their quarterback depth chart in order to be prepared for both a Matt Barkley injury and a Matt Barkley departure after the 2011 season.

8. Can the Defense Regroup and Rise to the Challenge of a New PAC-12?

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    There are enough question marks on the defensive side of the ball for USC to make another slideshow, but for the sake of this article, I'll briefly cover all of them in one slide.

    First the defensive line. With the health of Armond Armstead uncertain, Lane Kiffin decided to move star linebacker Devon Kennard back to his natural position at defensive end.

    Even if this move works out for the Trojans, the absence of Armstead will undoubtedly hurt USC. Not to mention the fact that moving Kennard raises even more questions for a shaky linebacking corp.

    With Kennard no longer a linebacker for the Trojans, Chris Galippo and Shane Horton will need to step up. Linebacker was a bit of a problem for the Trojans last year, and that was with Kennard.

    USC's passing defense last season contributed to the Trojans 63rd ranked defense in the NCAA. To say that number is too high is an understatement.

    T.J. McDonald will need to evolve as a leader and become the All-American player he is capable of being if the Trojans want to have a defense like they had during the Pete Carroll era.

    The defensive line is probably the most talented aspect of the Trojan defense, but each area will need to improve and address some questions for the 2011 season.

7. Can Pat Haden Successfully Lead the Trojans Through Sanctions?

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    With the appeal denied, the USC Trojans will have to go through the 2011 season the way they went through the 2010 season—with no hope of a bowl game.

    Last year, it didn't work out for the Trojans as they finished with five losses, including a loss to long-time rival, Notre Dame.

    With Pat Haden's decision to accept the penalties given, rather than suing, USC will need to find some way of motivating themselves in order to have a better campaign in 2011.

    USC can play for an AP National Championship and a PAC-12 South Championship, but will that be enough to give the Trojans a different result this season?

    Only time will tell.

6. Who Will Be the Trojans No. 2 Wide Receiver?

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    The 2011 season saw true freshman, Robert Woods, clearly cement himself as Matt Barkley's No. 1 option.

    As he enters his sophomore season, Woods will again be the Trojans' best receiving option, but without Ronald Johnson, Matt Barkley will need another wide receiver for the offense to be successful.

    The good news is that there is not a lack of talent at the position. George Farmer, Brice Butler, Kyle Prater, Markieth Ambles, Brandon Carswell and even Rhett Ellison are all more than capable of stepping into that role.

    If Barkley can develop a connection with one or more of these talented receivers, the Trojan offense will be much more effective.

5. Will Marc Tyler Stay Healthy, Out of Trouble and Become Dominant?

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    The Trojans leading rusher from 2010, Marc Tyler, returns for his "super senior" season and has the opportunity to again be the anchor of USC's rushing attack.

    However, Tyler's career has been one characterized by injuries and questions of durability. 

    Now, with allegations of off-campus incidents involving alcohol and female students, Tyler is looking like he might disappoint again.

    With the numbers he was able to put up in 2010, though, USC fans are still hoping that Tyler will be able to figure out his off-the-field issues and become the dominant back everyone thought he would be when he was recruited.

4. Will Matt Barkley Play Up to His Potential?

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    In Matt Barkley's two years at USC, he has been an effective quarterback but not necessarily the one he is capable of being.

    Trojan fans have high expectations for Barkley this season, many hoping for a Heisman Trophy campaign from the true junior.

    Barkley is USC's best player, but he still has room to improve. Last season, he threw for almost 2,800 yards and 26 touchdowns but was a bit turnover prone throwing 12 interceptions.

    If Barkley can find another wide receiver weapon and gain a little more composure in the pocket, he has the potential to have a career season. The question is, will he do it? 

3. What Incoming Freshmen Will Be Instant Contributors?

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    The USC Trojans brought in another top recruiting class in 2011 with a lot of talent capable of having an immediate impact this season.

    Two of the most obvious candidates are the two kicking specialist that the Trojans signed in their most recent recruiting class. Andre Heidari and Kris Albarado will both need to have an impact on the Trojans' special teams.

    Heidari, who routinely was able to kick 50-yard field goals in high school, has the chance to take the pressure off a USC offense that wasn't able to kick in fourth-down situations many times in 2010.

    Albarado can greatly aid a defense that will be facing its own set of question marks in 2011 by pinning opponents back in their own territory and helping USC win the field position battle.

    The freshman kickers aren't the only members of the 2011 recruiting class that can have an impact though.

    Soma Vainuku will likely be the starting fullback this season for the Trojans, and he along with some other true freshman will have the opportunity to stand out.

2. How Will the Offensive Line Perform?

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    With only two returning starters on the offensive line and most of the recruiting help not coming until 2012, the Trojans have some big question marks on the line for 2011.

    After losing Tyron Smith to the NFL draft, the Trojans will only be returning star left tackle Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes, the team's starting center.

    That leaves the three other offensive line starting positions up in the air. No matter who starts though, the Trojans will be young, with no more than one senior starter on the offensive line.

    If Matt Kalil can lead the line to overachieve in 2011, the Trojans have an excellent chance at being very successful. 

1. Can USC Win the PAC-12 South?

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    One of the only tangible team goals the team will be able to meet in 2011 is to win the PAC-12 South.

    The Trojans definitely have the talent to accomplish this goal, and they were fortunate enough to avoid Stanford and Oregon in the southern division, but they still will have to overcome a few hurdles.

    As of now, Arizona State is the favorite to win the division, returning nearly their whole team from 2010.

    The Trojans will play the Sun Devils on the road this year in the second southern division matchup of the season, and the result of that game could determine the who will be the PAC-12 southern division representative.