Spring football 25: USC Trojans

Dr. Saturday will be looking at the 25 most interesting teams headed into spring football through March, examining which programs have the biggest questions, the most expectations and the best storylines. This isn’t a list of the 25 best teams going into the spring, just the 25 we’re keeping the closest eye on. Previously: Florida State.

What happened in 2012
USC became the first team in the history of the Associated Press poll to start the season No. 1 and finish the year unranked. It’s not exactly a designation the Trojans want to celebrate.

USC was supposed to be a national championship contender. Quarterback Matt Barkley was supposed to be a Heisman contender. This was supposed to be the best USC team since the days of the “Bush Push.” But an early season loss to Stanford threw the Trojans off course and it was never able to recover.

Add to that Barkley’s season-ending shoulder injury against UCLA, fighting in the locker room and an apathetic effort against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, and the Trojans have a lot of work to do this spring.

What makes them interesting in 2013
USC is interesting because no one knows exactly what to expect in 2013. There are a couple key players missing – Barkley, receiver Robert Woods, cornerback Nickell Robey and center Khaled Holmes – but the Trojans return 15 starters from last season and a bevy of talent, including star receiver Marquise Lee. Even though this team didn’t live up to expectations in 2012, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t rally and make 2013 special.

What needs to happen this spring
All eyes are on the quarterbacks this spring. Max Wittek earned valuable experience after Barkley was injured, but failed to inspire much confidence with his lackluster effort in the Sun Bowl. Wittek also missed some time this spring with a knee injury, which opened the door for Cody Kessler and freshman early enrollee Max Browne.

Kessler has shined this spring, putting up fantastic numbers in scrimmages while showing the poise of a starter. Browne hasn’t been as lucky. He’s experienced the growing pains of learning the offense and playing against faster players than in high school. Browne might ultimately be the future at quarterback, but he’s not quite there yet.

On the other side of the ball, the defense is getting a major overhaul with coordinator Monte Kiffin out of the picture. The focus has to be on stopping spread offenses because that seemed to be the Trojans’ weak spot in 2012. Enter Clancy Pendergast from Cal, whose numbers with the Bears were pretty mediocre (93rd nationally in total defense and 96th in scoring). However, Pendergast inherits a defensive line that ended up being one of the team’s strengths a year ago and a linebacking corps that was one of the best in the Pac-12. If there’s a concern, it’s in the secondary where the Trojans have just one returning starter.

Game changers
Early enrollee Su'a Cravens has been turning heads this spring at safety, which is great considering the Trojans are going to need a lot of help in the secondary. There might be a little concern because Cravens did miss some time late last week for an undisclosed reason, but he's getting high praise from the coaching staff.

"One of the offensive coaches said, 'He looks like a senior in college out there,'" Kiffin said.

Guard Marcus Martin is emerging as a possible replacement for Holmes at center and has been stellar on the line throughout the spring.

Wild cards
Running back Silas Redd was supposed to be the Trojans' premier back with Curtis McNeal gone, but after needing surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered this spring, it’s going to be interesting to see whether Redd comes back to full form by the fall. In the meantime, the Trojans have a stable of backs in D.J. Morgan, Javorius "Buck" Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, who has missed time because of a broken finger. However, with the exception of Morgan, who had 201 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries last season, the experience is sparse.

Key games
Sept. 28 at Arizona State
Oct. 19 at Notre Dame
Nov. 16 Stanford
Nov. 30 UCLA

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Check out Dr. Saturday's other spring previews: Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford, South Carolina , Baylor, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Clemson, West Virginia, Missouri , Tulsa, Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Louisville, Northern Illinois.

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