As the Trojans continue their trek through the 2011 season, their improvement, especially in the last few games, has been remarkable.
Almost all facets of USC's game has been on the upswing and even those areas that held the deepest concern have been elevated in terms of their play.
But with two tough games on the horizon, Lane Kiffin and his boys can't be satisfied with where they are today.
For the Trojans to end the season with a head of steam going into 2012, they need to win a minimum of two out of the last three they have left on the schedule.
And in order to do that, USC will need to shore up some units that still need tweaking.
What are these areas of concern?
Let's find out.
For all of the excellence that special teams coach John Baxter brings to his unit, the one area that is lacking is the return game. Despite a wealth of talent to return kicks and punts, such as Robert Woods and Nickell Robey, this unit has been faltering of late.
Against Colorado, USC averaged 12.3 yards per kick return and only 1.5 yards in its return of two punts.
And this is not a single-game phenomenon either.
Over their last three games, the Trojans have averaged 16.9 yards per kick return.
This will not get the job done against teams like Oregon, for sure.
Though this hardly constitutes a "crisis," it does need to be addressed.
While there has been marginal improvement from this unit over the last few games, pressure on the quarterback is still lacking from the interior line.
This is a veteran group that should be excelling in this portion of the game, but sacks have been few and far between. If you give guys like Oregon's Darron Thomas and Washington's Keith Price time, they will carve you up.
While this unit has been pretty darn good in containing the run, it also hasn't been forcing many turnovers via fumbles.
For the defensive line, a lack of turnovers and a dearth of sacks are two areas the Trojans need to see improvement from soon if they hope to end the season with a smile on their face.
That this unit only merits No. 3 on this list tells you how far it has come since the beginning of the year.
Coming into this season, the offensive line was identified as the primary area of concern for the Trojans, and at the start there was little to abate the worry.
Lately, however, the big guys in the trenches have been pretty good, and they should only get better as the season winds down.
After beginning the year equal parts young and inexperienced, the O-line has has grown immeasurably and it is now beginning to become a strength of the team.
Still, it will have to continue to grow for the Trojans to control the line of scrimmage against a team like Oregon, which has quick athletes on the defense.
For obvious reasons, in that game especially, USC will want to hold on to the ball as much as possible and the running game will be huge in that department.
Which means that blocking will be paramount.
Improvement still needed?
Yes, they are young. Inexperienced? Definitely
But, dammit, they are good.
Now they need to be consistent.
And they can be, too, but it will take the return of a very special player
For the Trojans, it is crucial they get Dion Bailey back soon from his time off from a concussion, because without him the Trojans lose the quickest linebacker they have.
Bailey has been the glue that has held the unit together, and though true freshman Tre Madden did a serviceable job against Colorado, a healthy Bailey could be the difference against Washington, not to mention a fast team like the Ducks.
If Bailey comes back strong and redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard continues his growth, this unit can be very good.
Otherwise, the Trojans will continue to be exploited underneath like they have been all year.
And that has to stop.
Though there has been marginal improvement lately, there is no getting around the hard truth: USC's pass defense has been pretty bad in 2011.
After "improving" to 70th in the nation, the Trojans secondary has been alternating between awful and horrible for most of the year.
Cornerback Nickell Robey has been steady all year, but safety T.J. McDonald, whom the Trojans looked to for a big year in 2011, has been disappointing.
Lately, new cornerback Isaiah Wiley has been OK and safety Jawanzza Starling has been coming on, but overall, this unit needs significant improvement.
And it doesn't have much time to do it.
If the secondary can find its way quickly, USC can finish the season up right.
If not, those Trojan smiles seen lately might turn upside down real fast.
Before I am accused of unmitigated negativity, I should note the Trojans improvement over the last few games has been nothing short of remarkable.
Just the fact that this list only contains five areas of improvement speaks volumes about how far USC has come since the early part of the schedule.
Still, success breeds expectations, and the Trojans and their fans have those in abundance right about now.
With the prospects for 2012 shining brightly, the need to finish up this year on a positive note is critical to build momentum for Lane Kiffin's boys.
As mentioned in the introduction, USC needs to win two out of three to create a lot of buzz over 2012.
If they can run the table, Trojan fans will breathlessly count the days until the opening kickoff next year.
But to do that, USC needs to keep progressing, and it can start by firming up the five things noted here.
Of course, no one associated with Cardinal and Gold will complain if they get even better elsewhere, too, but is that asking too much?