This team was ranked #1 by many in the preseason poll and ended the season on a three game losing streak and with a 7-6 record after losing to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. This qualifies as one of the most disappointing seasons in recent years for a team that was ranked so high in the preseason.
Lane Kiffin is only 32-19 in four years at the FBS level after coming from the NFL and 25-13 at USC. While the record isn’t horrible it is below what many expected after inheriting such a talented team that seems to be loaded at nearly every position year in and year out. Kiffin could be on the hot seat if USC struggles through another season around the .500 mark.
It’s hard to replace a quarterback that set virtually every record for your school during his four year tenure as a starter. Matt Barkley is now in the city of Brotherly love and there is an air of uncertainty at the position for the first time in a number of years for USC. Max Wittek played at the end of the year when Matt Barkley suffered his season ending shoulder injury and he struggled completing only 52% of his passes with 3 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and an efficiency rating under 100. Wittek is the best pro prospect at quarterback and has the most lively arm but fellow sophomore Cody Kessler makes less mistakes and seems to manage the game with far more confidence. The job is up for grabs although it seems like it is Wittek’s to win, he has yet to grab the job and run with it. I would like to see Kessler win the job or get the bulk of the time as the team just seems to respond to him more than they do Wittek. Running back Silas Redd should take a lot of pressure of the quarterback(s). The Penn State transfer will be completing his second and final season with USC and his 905 yards showed his effectiveness but USC failed to get him involved in the passing game and catching the football is one of his strengths. Hopefully Redd, can get more than 12 catches this year as it will help a young quarterback.
Best Draft Prospect: Silas Redd RB 3rd Round 2014.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
As much as USC lacks a true top end quarterback the same cannot be said for the targets being thrown to. It all starts with Marqise Lee, a player who was a draft eligible sophomore in 2012 but decided to come back for what most assuredly is his last season before he turns pro. Lee is the best player at the wide receiver position in the country and should be the first at his position taken in the draft. Lee should be a top 10 selection and could even be taken in the top 5. Lee is coming off a magnificent 118 catch season for 1,721 yards and 15 touchdowns. These numbers are also getting Lee some serious Heisman talk for 2013 although replicating these numbers with an inexperienced quarterback is going to be virtually impossible. I honestly found it surprising that Lee would not leave for the draft although he has stated that USC’s lackluster 7-6 record had a lot to do with his decision to stay. Lee had a great receiver opposite him in Robert Woods who had over 70 catches and 800 yards but he is now in the NFL after being a 2nd round draft selection. This leaves sophomore Nelson Agholor as the new starter with Lee and Agholer had a dynamite freshman campaign. USC has not one but two tight ends who are serious NFL prospects in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Combined they had 41 catches last year although 9 went for touchdowns so they have a nose for the end zone. All four of the targets I mentioned should have a home in the NFL in the next few years.
Best Draft Prospect: Marqise Lee WR 1st Round 2014 (Should declare early and be the first wide receiver off the board and will likely be drafted in the top 10 overall).
The offensive line has a few concerns moving forward as the Trojans have major gaps to fill at left tackle and at center. Aundrey Walker and Max Tuerk will man the left side of the line while Marcus Martin slides in at the center position. The Trojans like most of the other positions on the football field have a number of very solid recruits and potential players who can make it to the next level but most of them are very young as the Trojans may have had the finest recruiting class in the country as far as offensive lineman. Kevin Graf is the only player that I see with pro aspirations at this point that has more than a season under his belt. I currently have the senior right tackle rated as a 5th round prospect for the NFL and he will be joined by a player who might get a look as he continues to improve, right guard John Martinez. The Trojans line looks like it is built more for the running game which should indicate we will see more of Silas Redd for 2013 but the Trojans have to pass at some point since they employ so much play action pass in their play calling.
Best Draft Prospect: Kevin Graf OT 5th Round 2014.
You will only find a handful of teams across the country that employs the 5-2 scheme up front that the Trojans run. There is 1 true nose tackle while the two tackle that play beside the nose tackle are usually the size of an NFL defensive end and the pair of players lined up at end are more like linebackers at the next level. The Trojans have a pair of players that currently play tackle that look to play end at the next level and both look like they will be early selections on their respective draft days. Junior George Uko had 31 tackles with 9 coming for loss and 5 sacks in 2012. At 6-2 and 280 pounds he can play end in a 34- or a 4-3 system and may even line up as a speed rusher in some packages where he may be a tackle. The versatility Uko has and the quickness off the ball have him projected as a 3rd rounder for 2015 but he may declare early if he has an even bigger year in 2013. As good as Uko can be his line mate Leonard Williams projects even better. Williams was a terror with 13.5 tackles or loss and 8 sacks as a freshman a season ago and I currently have him rated as a 1st round prospect for 2016 with the distinct possibility he makes himself available for the 2015 draft.
Best Draft Prospect: Leonard Williams DE 1st Round 2016 (Possible early entry into 2015 class).
I stressed in the defensive line writeup that sometimes where a team plays a particular player is not where he projects at the pro level and that is the case with the Trojans top linebacker prospect. Morgan Breslin plays one of the end position for the Trojans but projects as a pass rushing linebacker at the next level as he led the Trojans with 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2012. These total placed Breslin near the top of the conference and he enjoyed 62 tackles overall while playing through a few nagging injuries showing toughness along the way. When you employ a front like the Trojans do and have only two linebackers in for most of your sets you have to field a pair of players who are sure tacklers and that is another reason why USC can get away with this gimmicky defensive front. Hayes Pullard is a star in waiting and the junior has a capable linemate in Lamar Dawson. The juniors combined for 184 stops with 10 coming for loss in 2012 and both look like they will be able to play at the next level with Pullard looking like a 2nd rounder who might be holding a press conference declaring for the draft at seasons end.
Best Draft Prospect: Morgan Breslin 1st/2nd Round 2014.
Dion Bailey is a safety for USDC but he has also seen time at cornerback and even linebacker. Bailey could be the most athletically gifted player on this roster and with the staggering number of players with NFL talent that is a high compliment. Bailey is currently projected as a 2nd round pick for 2015 and I think he will stay around for his senior season as he will try to show there is one position where he fits best and that his versatility is just an added bonus. This area was the Achilles heel for USC over the last few seasons and they lost underperforming players who were looked at as leaders in T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. There were issues before so imagine how the team and its fan base must feel with a lot of new blood in the secondary. This makes the Trojans quest to get to the quarterback and apply pressure even more important as they try to disguise the main deficiency they have had on defense, a secondary that seems to play as four individuals vice as a unit.
Best Draft Prospect: Dion Bailey S 2nd Round 2015.
Marqise Lee is also a gifted kick returner as he averaged nearly 30 yards per return in 2012 so we know who the top prospect is for this team in the special teams category. Andre Heidari is a very accurate kicker under 40 yards but beyond he was just 2-6 a year ago. If Heidari can improve the accuracy of his longer kicks he could be someone that gets a camp invite in 2015. Heidari has the leg strength as demonstrated by his 13 touchbacks in 2012 and he had a number of kicks where players brought his returns out of the end zone.
Best Draft Prospect: Marqise Lee WR/KR 1st Round 2014 (Early entry in draft).
There is no game with Oregon this year so USC has to be stark crazy about that aspect of the schedule. November is still very tough as te month starts out with a road game with Oregon State, a team that could surprise everyone and contend for a Pac 12 crown this season. Home games later in the month include Stanford and rival UCLA who beat the Trojans a year ago. Kiffin is already on thin ice with the fan base if USC drops a second consecutive game to UCLA those whispers for his job may turn into screams.
If you are a draftnik whose sole purpose is too watch a college game to get a glimpse of talent that could be playing professionally on Sundays just follow USC this season. USC has pro talent at nearly every position but it hasn’t translated into victories in recent years and this is an important year if Lane Kiffin wants to keep his job. Too often we have seen this team, especially on defense, look like a collection of star players who don’t seem like they gel and form a cohesive unit. Alabama and Florida State seem to be the only teams I can think of off the top of my head that have more individual NFL talent than USC.