Friday, May 28, 2010

Pre-Season Preview: USC Trojans

2009 Record: 9-4 (5-4 in Pac-10)
2009 Bowl: Emerald Bowl (beat Boston College 24 to 13)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: #22
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (1st year at USC, 7-6 Overall)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Hawaii (9/2), Virginia (9/11), at Minnesota (9/18), Notre Dame (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 26.5 points per game (6th in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 166 (4th in Pac-10)
Passing Yards/Game: 212 (5th in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 389 (5th in Pac-10) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 19.8 points per game (1st in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 128 (5th in Pac-10)
Passing Yards/Game: 251 (11th in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 340 (5th in Pac-10)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: 0.0 per game (6th in Pac-10)
Penalties: 61 yards per game (8th in Pac-10)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 6
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Matt Barkley, Soph (211 of 352 for 2735 yds, 15 TD, 14 INT, 227 ypg)
Rushing: RB Allen Bradford, Sr (115 carries for 668 yds, 8 TD, 5.8 ypc, 51 ypg)
Receiving: WR Ronald Johnson, Sr (34 rec, 378 yds, 3 TD, 4.3 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Malcolm Smith, Sr (72), LB Chris Galippo, Jr (70)
Sacks: DE Nick Perry, Soph (9)
Interceptions: LB Chris Galippo, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Lindy's: #12
Mark Schlabach: #20
Rivals: #5
Scout: #15
Sporting News: #16
Sports Illustrated: Not Ranked
Athlon Sports: #3

2010 Pre-Season Pac-10 Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #1

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Rose Bowl (vs Boise State)

Pete Carroll took over the reigns of USC and after a rebuilding year promptly took them to 7 straight double digit win seasons until last years 9 win team. Carroll has gone pro again and USC made the decision to hire Lane Kiffin as Head Coach. Kiffin went 5-15 as a coach in the NFL and 7-6 in a rebuilding year at Tennessee last year. Is he the man to keep USC as the team to beat in the Pac-10? The USC blog The Trojan Empire took some time out of their regularly scheduled programming and answered some questions for us about the state of USC football.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the team?

The major strength may be at quarterback, where Matt Barkley now has a full season of experience. One of Pete Carroll's mistakes may have been playing him as a true freshman, and it began to show, especially seeing that the Trojans had one of the nation's worst third down efficiency ratings in 2009. Lane Kiffin has already gone on record as saying he wouldn't have started Barkley last year. The media engaged in Barkley hero worship after the Ohio State game. But if you watch tape of that final drive, Joe McKnight put in the bulk of the work, and received very little credit for it.

The biggest weakness is in the offensive trench. It's not that it's lacking in talent. It lacks depth. This is where most injuries occur during the course of a season, and USC is short on able bodies to plug in when teammates go down. The Spring depth chart listed only three offensive tackles, which included freshman Seantrel Henderson, who wasn't even on campus or participating in spring drills.

Another area of weakness will be the secondary. The Trojans lost both cornerbacks and both safeties to graduation and/or the draft.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test and why?

This team will be tested the entire season, since they have no identity. The first major test may be the September road trip to Minnesota. It's a big stage against a major conference opponent, and it's important to see how this group of Trojans will respond. The quality of the Golden Gophers doesn't matter, because it's not like USC has never lost to bad teams. Dropping a game early to Virginia or Minnesota can be mentally damaging, causing a trickle down effect that can wreck the remainder of the season. They can lose those games and still win the Pac 10, but the pride of USC goes beyond that.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Oregon State is probably the more feared, and mostly because of venue. Even though they were ripped by the Ducks a year ago, USC will host them this fall. Oregon has always been a different team away from home. USC was also embarrassed by Stanford, and have to travel to Palo Alto to play. But the Cardinal lost a major weapon when Toby Gerhart opted for the draft. The team to fear is the Beavers, who are playing at home. The Trojans have lost a game in the State of Oregon in each of the last four seasons.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

It's probably Shareece Wright.  He's a shutdown corner that missed all of the 2009 regular season with academic issues, before appearing in the Emerald Bowl. He's one of the best defensive backs in the country.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

My pick for best offensive player isn't any at the skill positions. It's the center, Kris O'Dowd. If the entire offensive unit was draft eligible, O'Dowd would be the only player selected in the first round of 2011. He made his mark playing as a true freshman in 2007. He battled injuries a year ago that eliminated him from first team all American honors, but if he stays healthy, his name will be listed in December.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

I would say there are two defensive players that will have a major impact on the unit. One is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Much was made of the ineffectiveness of the young linebacking group last year, but the criticism was somewhat unfair. It all begins up front, and the Trojans weren't getting it done on the defensive line. Along with Everson Griffen, Casey was one of the only bright spots, and I expect more from him this season. The other player is Devon Kennard, who Monte Kiffen moved from the hybrid position to middle linebacker. Personally, I'm not crazy about the move, because Kennard has the potential to be one of the best outside linebackers the Trojans have ever had.  That's saying a lot, when you look at Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews that came through the program. Kennard will now split time with Chris Galippo in the middle.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

That's easily Brice Butler. Matt Barkley has established chemistry with Ronald Johnson, but to free RoJo from double coverage, another receiver, Brice Butler, needs to step up his game. He's a good kid, a perfectionist that is really down on himself for dropped passes, so he'll always work hard and give it his all. But until he shows consistency, the pass attack will be crippled by the lack of a supporting cast.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Barkley all had something that John David Booty didn't, and that's a playmaker. Leinart had Bush, Sanchez and Barkley both had Damian Williams. Williams is now gone, and Dillon Baxter will become that highlight reel player. Baxter enrolled early and became the buzz of the spring. Only a freshman, he's already drawing comparison's to Reggie Bush, which isn't always a good thing for the player. But if you ever get the opportunity to watch him on tape, you'll see why the comparison is made.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I don't anticipate any youngsters having much of an impact on defense. They've replaced the secondary, but with guys that have all played before. The newcomers that may have an impact defensively are coaches Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron. Pete Carroll was a defensive mastermind, and one of the people he worked with in the NFL, and learned from, was Monte Kiffin.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

My gut feeling is 10-3. Besides the Beavers, there's a desert trap set in Arizona, and you can never completely rule out the defending Pac 10 champion Ducks. USC football is a tradition of excellence, though it had periods of lows. The only thing that makes a season successful is to be in the running for a national championship. Let's just put it this way, Tennessee erupted in a near riot because a 7-6 coach decided to leave. The Empire's reaction would not be the same.

Fight On!

Thanks again to The Trojan Empire. Visit their website here for all your USC football needs. You can also follow them on Twitter @TrojanEmpire.

Next Up: Washington Huskies

2010 Previews
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big Ten- Michigan WolverinesMinnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers
Conference USA- Houston Cougars
MAC- Temple Owls
Mountain West- Utah Utes
Sun Belt- Troy Trojans


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