Every season of college football for the past decade has seen USC figure prominently into the discussion, and you can be sure that 2011 NCAA football predictions will be the same way.
The Trojans are still serving the punishment imposed by the NCAA, and won't be eligible for postseason play this year. But they are brought in solid in recruits, have experience at some key positions, and are ready to make a statement loud and clear that they are still a force in the Pac-12 conference. Just how high should you have them finishing?
Last season was certainly a down year for USC football. New coach Lane Kiffin walked into a job and was surrounded by turmoil with loss of scholarships, a banishment from bowl games, and tons of controversy. So they stumbled a bit and finished up 8-5, a decent season for many programs, but a terrible year for USC, considering their recent successes.
Southern Cal also had some very uncharacteristic performances, such as losing back-to-back at home to Washington 32-31, then in a close game on the road at Sanford. They lost two in a row again later in the year, when they dropped games to Oregon State and rival Notre Dame.
2011 will be a rebound year.
Remember that the Pac-10 is now the Pac-12, and the conference is split into two divisions. The other two strong programs in USC's side of the conference are Arizona State and newcomer Utah, so USC isn't in a bad place.
The schedule isn't easy though, and in addition to facing those two squads, they meet both Oregon and Stanford, two top-five teams, as well as non-conference foes Notre Dame, Minnesota and Syracuse.
It's up to some of the veterans on the team to help take the squad to the next level and exceed many critics' predictions for the 2011 Trojans.
Matt Barkley is now a third-year starting quarterback, so there are no more excuses. There are size and talent on the offensive line, the defensive backfield has been boosted by some young talent, and there are good skill players on offense. In examining the roster, it resembles some of the USC teams of recent vintage, but today's players still have to earn their keep and prove their merits. They haven't accomplished anything yet.
The 2011 Trojans are a talented bunch with some experience under their belt and chips on their shoulders. That could mean trouble for everyone in the new Pac-12, but all of the pieces aren't in place yet, and some other Pac-12 teams are on the rise. It will be interesting to see how this conference shakes out and how your predictions for the buzzing Pac-12 end up faring.
Check out my 2011 college football predictions for the SEC West.