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USC's NFL Roster Spells Trouble For The Trojans

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IAugust 26, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01:  Head coach Lane Kiffin addresses the team following the  USC Trojans spring game on  May 1, 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

While NFL coaches struggle to pare down their rosters to the 53-man limit by September, Lane Kiffin is already there.

The only problem is that Kiffin no longer coaches in the NFL but at USC, and his Trojans will be forced to go against opponents with 85 scholarship players on their rosters.

When Kiffin and his staff took over for Pete Carroll in January, they found the roster substantially below the 85-player limit since Carroll was only offering 18 to 20 scholarships per year as opposed to the allowed 25-scholarship limit.

After NCAA sanctions permitted upperclassmen to transfer without penalty, Kiffin and his staff were looking at a depleted roster of 70 scholarship players. 

Then fall camp began and the injuries mounted, not to mention the NCAA Clearinghouse which has taken two more recruits, quarterback Jesse Scroggins and defensive back, Demetrius Wright.

Suddenly finding himself facing an NFL-size roster, Kiffin has had to cut back on two-a-day practices and reduce the amount of tackling in team drills and scrimmages.

As a result, Kiffin and his staff really don’t have a firm idea of just what kind of football team the Trojans will put on the field this season.

Yet, the soothsayers and prognosticators continue to shower the most unrealistic expectations on this severely handicapped roster.

For example, Bruce Feldman and others have looked at the Trojans’ schedule and predicted that they would wind up 11-2.

Uh!  Pardon me while I choke.

The AP Poll ranked this year’s team at No. 14.  What are they thinking?  Is the Pac-10 really that weak?

I don’t think so.

Sure, they can do it in the NFL.  They can limit tackling in practices during the season.  After all, players in the NFL have been going hard for years, all through their college and pro careers.

But Kiffin needs to use kids who were in high school just a few months ago.  And many of his returning players are only a year or two removed from the prep ranks.

Are you telling me they know how to hit hard?  How to block and tackle some of the best opponents in Division 1?

Whoever believes the Trojans can go 11-2 must also believe that President Obama will have all of our economic problems solved by the November elections.

Not only is the roster depleted, not only has fall camp lacked hard contact in order to cut down on injuries, but inexperience seems to loom at the most important positions.

And they have the receivers to bust any game wide open.

USC cannot count on cornerback Shareece Wright, who is suffering from a hip injury, to cover the entire field.  The rest of the defensive backfield is talented but also very inexperienced.

Nickell Robey, a fantastic prospect, who will start opposite Wright at the other corner, is a true freshman.  And an undersized one at that – although he does have a great vertical leap.

Robey has the ability to come up with the interception, but being inexperienced, as are the Trojan safeties, he will no doubt make some mistakes.

And against the likes of Locker, Foles and Luck, a mistake could get you hosed.  And Hawaii’s Bryant Moniz is no slouch either.  He led one of the top passing attacks in the nation last year.

Of course, the Trojans can count on sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley and his corp of receivers to keep them in games even though a few of them are true freshman.  But Mitch Mustain, Barkley’s senior backup, has sore ribs and has been limited in practice this week.

The number three quarterback, Jesse Scroggins, isn’t even matriculated yet and probably won’t be - a victim of the NCAA Clearinghouse.  The other alternate at quarterback, Dillon Baxter, a tailback, has been suspended for the Hawaii game.

All-American fullback, Stanley Havili, who does it all, has been hampered recently by a separated shoulder, the kind of injury that keeps recurring.

His replacement is now the backup tailback at UConn.

Like quarterback, the linebacker corps is experienced but very, very thin.  If any of the starters go down, there isn’t an experienced backup to replace them.

Need I even mention the offensive line?  You know - the guys who are supposed to open holes for Marc Tyler and Allan Bradford and protect Matt Barkley.

If a couple of starters don’t make it all the way through the 13-game season, we could see the numbers begin to mount in the loss column.

While I would really like to, I cannot swallow any of that 11-2 or undefeated AP National Champions Kool-Aid at this point.

With all that the Trojans are going through, I think 8-5 will be a very successful season, and Lane Kiffin will deserve a medal, if not Coach of the Year.

I know Trojan fans don’t want to hear this, but with a few more key injuries, the Trojans could easily be 5-8.

It is not exactly a case of the sky falling. But, if you take off those rose-colored sunglasses, you will notice that the Trojans are flying under a pretty low ceiling.

So why all those optimistic predictions?  Irrational exuberance?  Well, maybe on the part of the Trojan faithful who desperately hope that USC can stay at the top after last year’s mediocre performance despite the sanctions.

But with the media, I believe it is a deliberate setup to make Lane Kiffin out as a perennial failure should the Trojans fall short of 11-2 or 10-3.  He just seems to be the kind of guy they like to kick around.

Kiffin is always good fodder for a story – as long as it’s a negative one.

I don’t expect an 8-5 will get him a pat on the back and a ‘Way to go, Coach" from anyone at ESPN.

Actually Kiffin has already succeeded in two regards where most college coaches fail. 

First, he has managed to alter his ways.  I’m not talking about his conservative, all-business approach since he has been at USC.  Rather, he has not been afraid to change the way the Trojans practice.

He has shown the intestinal fortitude to sacrifice wins in order to save his depleted numbers.  Think about it.  That is a hell of a thing for a top-ranked Division 1 head coach to implement. 

He could have said to hell with it.  We’re going with the 22 guys who are left standing no matter what.  This is football, and players need hard contact.

But even more impressively is the success he has had academically.  An all-around win-win for the Trojans new head coach.

Kiffin had the foresight to hire special teams coach John Baxter from Fresno State to implement his academic gameplan, and gave him free reign.

Result: This spring the football team had its highest spring semester GPA in seven years and the most 3.0 athletes for a spring semester on record at USC.

For that, I will say, “Way to go, Coach.”  Enjoy it, you might not hear that again for some time.

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