This year I expect USC to learn what Notre Dame learned two years ago—what it is like to lose greatness. When Notre Dame lost Brady Quinn they lost the best quarterback they had in a long time, probably since Joe Montana.
They also lost Jeff Samardijiza, who proved the old saying that white men can't jump to be false. The Irish also lost running back Darius Walker.
Quinn, Samardijiza, and Walker were Notre Dame's version of the triplets. They were the heartbeat of that team. When these guys were lost, the 3-9 season followed.
This year it is USC who has lost the great players. Last year USC had the best college defense I have ever seen. The heartbeat of that unit was their four great linebackers.
Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, and Kaluka Maiava were all drafted within the first four rounds. With those guys gone, USC has some major holes to fill.
Notre Dame replaced Quinn with Jimmy Clausen, Samardijiza with Golden Tate, and Walker with Armando Allen. The transition wasn't smooth, and the new unit struggled. They do look ready to break out this year but they definitely had their struggles.
USC was hoping to replace one of their great linebackers with Manti Te'o. However, Te'o had other plans, and they involved going to South Bend.
Now USC plans to use Michael Morgan, Chris Galippo, and Malcom Smith to replace their linebacking unit. These unproven no-names have some very big shoes to fill.
To be fair, I am sure that Morgan, Galippo, and Smith have the talent—otherwise they wouldn't be at USC. However, the talent is raw, and they will be tested early and often.
I wouldn't get too excited about USC losing all those defenders, because I was sure that Mark Sanchez would have stepped up as a leader. The offense could carry the team until the defense was more seasoned.
But then Sanchez chose to go to the NFL, and he is now with the New York Jets.
So now USC is really back to square one. Sanchez will be replaced by Aaron Corp—another no-name with big shoes to fill.
In comparing USC to Notre Dame two years ago, there is one major difference. USC won't be replacing the greatness with true freshmen.
The guys that are there have been in the system. Therefore, USC probably doesn't go 3-9, but to think they won't take a step back is probably hoping for a bit much, even for mighty USC.
What this does mean, though, is that a Notre Dame victory over USC is much more possible than the USC fans and ND haters will acknowledge at this point.
One game I will be watching with curiosity is the Trojans showdown with Ohio State early in the year. That will be a clear sign of where both of those teams are with their new players.