Debriefing: The old aura is long gone, but USC fights on

The least you should know about the 2011 Trojans. Part of Pac-12 Week.

What are we fighting for? USC was picked to finish first in the South Division, but that doesn't mean a whole lot since the Trojans can't play in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game due to NCAA sanctions. They also can't participate in a bowl game. So what exactly is USC playing for this year? Mostly pride and showing that some NCAA sanctions aren't going to change the tradition of stellar football at USC.

"Yeah, we're not thinking about the negative aspects of the season," quarterback Matt Barkley said during Pac-12 media day. "We have so much going for us this year, so much talent and the special teams with the character and leadership that we have on this team. We're taking it one game at a time."

If there's one thing USC can do this year, it's right the ship that's gone a bit off course during the past couple years. USC has lost nine games during the past two seasons. The Trojans had only lost nine games total from 2003-08. Yeah, there's no carrot at the end of the 12-week stick, but this year is definitely laying the groundwork for 2012.

Dear Marc Tyler, please stop talking.: There is no player in college football -- or maybe any sport for that matter -- who has issued more apology press releases/quotes to the media than running back Marc Tyler. His latest rant on gossip show TMZ -- in which he joked that USC players were paid -- landed him at least a one-game suspension and possibly little to no playing time for the former senior starter. But as Tyler remarked in that TMZ interview, USC is "RB-U" and there are several players lining up to take his place. D.J. Morgan, Dillon Baxter and Curtis McNeal are all in the mix along with true freshman Amir Carlisle. McNeal is actually trying to pass a summer class to stay eligible, and freshman Javorious Allen is finishing up high school summer classes to be able to join the team.{YSP:MORE}

USC averaged 189.3 rushing yards per game a year ago, mostly behind Tyler, who led the team with 913 yards and nine touchdowns. With the exception of Baxter, who had 252 yards and a score, there isn't a whole lot of experience in the backfield.

What, the defense worry? The most shocking disappointment a year ago was by far USC's porous defense, especially with venerable defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin pulling the strings. The Trojans allowed 400 yards per game, one of the worst numbers in school history, and just shy of 27 points per game. Eight of those starters are back, including defensive end Nick Perry, who had four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss a year ago. The entire front line should be the strength of the Trojans' defense with tackles Armond Armstead and DaJohn Harris also returning. That line has to get into the backfield to take some pressure off of a passing defense that was abused a year ago (259.54 yards per game). Free safety T.J. McDonald could be a difference-maker there, but he'll need some help from cornerback Nickell Robey and Tony Burnett, who turned heads in the spring.

Planting the seed. Hyped freshman wide receiver George Farmer has already turned heads, and camp is barely a couple days old. Coach Lane Kiffin called him "explosive" and said he has a good chance to start the season opener against Minnesota. Farmer, along with returning leading receiver Robert Woods (65 catches, 792 yards, six touchdowns as a true freshman), could be just what the USC offense needs to put the passing game back on par with some of the unstoppable attacks of the glory days.

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