USC's absence from the elite was a short one. As in two years.
The Trojans' run of seven consecutive 11-win seasons ended in 2009 with a 9-4 mark, and an 8-5 record followed in 2010. But the Trojans again won double-figure games last season, going 10-2, and this season is setting up as a potential title-winning campaign.
Third-year coach Lane Kiffin oversees a team returning 15 full-time starters, and the Trojans will have one of the most potent offenses in the nation thanks to the return of QB Matt Barkley and the nation's best receiving duo (WRs Marqise Lee and Robert Woods). Four starting offensive linemen are back, as is starting TB Curtis McNeal.
Coach: Lane Kiffin (3rd season)
Last season: 10-2 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12
Spring practice dates: March 6-April 14
(minimum 7 starts last season)
Offense (9): QB Matt Barkley, T Kevin Graf, TE Xavier Grimble, C Khaled Holmes, WR Marqise Lee, G Marcus Martin, G John Martinez, TB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods
Defense (6): LB Dion Bailey, E Wes Horton, FS T.J. McDonald, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, SS Jawanza Starling
Special teams (2): K Andre Heidari, P Kyle Negrete
The offensive focal point this spring will be on developing depth along the offensive line and tailback.
There is more work to be done defensively, but the defensive staff has the luxury of knowing that any mistakes made by the unit can be erased quickly by the potent offense. Finding two new starting tackles is the priority for coordinator Monte Kiffin and line coach Ed Orgeron. Everything else is in place for a dominant defense.
USC also returns its kicker and its punter.
Man, it must be nice to be Lane Kiffin, huh?
Dan Weber of USCFootball.com – a Rivals.com website that covers USC – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.
[ Related: BYU looks to build on its momentum this spring ]
The biggest problem: Developing depth. There's no one overriding problem facing the Trojans. But there are several issues that must be dealt with. Depth on a young defensive line and a thin tailback group behind Curtis McNeal must be developed. Two early-departing juniors, OT Matt Kalil and DE Nick Perry, must be replaced. In addition, three new assistants hired in the past three weeks must be incorporated into the staff quickly.
On the spot: OT Kevin Graf. Graf, who started at right tackle last season, will get the first shot to replace Kalil on the left side. Graf could get tested by massive sophomore Aundrey Walker, slimmed down 60 pounds to 315. Walker will open the spring on the right side, but could move. Making sure that Matt Barkley's blind side is protected clearly is a spring priority.
On the verge: LB Lamar Dawson. Flanked by sophomore OLBs Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, who had their breakout seasons in 2011, will be Dawson, the new man in the middle. Dawson, a former four-star prospect from Danville (Ky.) Boyle County, made four starts last season as a true freshman and showed why the USC staff considered him a run-stopper extraordinaire. The job is all his starting this spring.
General overview: On both sides of the ball, the Trojans seemed to have figured things out in the second half of last season. But there has to be a sharpening of Monte Kiffin's defensive focus with two new assistants, linebacker coach Scottie Hazelton and secondary coach Marvin Sanders, in a scheme that allows the defense to play more of an attacking style. Barkley will take over more play-calling duties. The only new special teamer will be long-snapper Peter McBride.
For in-depth coverage of USC athletics, go to USCfootball.com
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