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Depth-challenged USC knows injuries are enemy

The SportsXchange

No one disputes that USC has a starting group of 22 that can compete for a national title. It's the depth that is the worry.

"Right now, we kind of feel like we're in a perfect storm with so many good things going," coach Lane Kiffin said at Pac-12 Media Day.

Soon after he said that, some rain clouds moved in.

Projected starting defensive end Devon Kennard suffered a torn pectoral muscle while lifting weights. The injury could keep him out until at least the middle of the season.

USC can't afford too many of these kind of injuries, especially on a defensive line in which the interior is inexperienced and now the edges are more suspect, too. Depth at running back is a concern (pending the potential addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd); the offensive line isn't deep; more receivers need to emerge behind superstars Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

The Trojans will need some good luck to be able to cleanly navigate their season to the BCS championship game. USC has only 75 scholarships -- 10 fewer than the maximum -- because of NCAA sanctions.

But that USC is even able to talk about a run to the national title is a testament to how well Kiffin and his staff kept the program from fracturing following two years of a postseason ban.

Athlon projected the Trojans as the preseason No. 1 team.

"We're two years removed from what was handed down as people saying 'SC is over,' " Kiffin said. "Being a preseason No. 1 team two years later is extremely exciting for our university and for our fans."

All of this is possible because the surprising senior return of quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman front-runner.

"These guys are my best friends, and you saw it toward the end of last year, how much fun we were having playing together and playing for each other," Barkley said.

"I think we've got to keep playing like that this year. We can play for a national championship and bowl games, but we can't forget how we got here. You were playing for your buddy. I think especially this year we can't forget to do that."
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