CFN Preview 2013 - USC Trojans
USC WR Marqise Lee
USC WR Marqise Lee
Posted Jul 2, 2013 2013 Preview & Breakdown - USC Trojans

USC Trojans

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Lane Kiffin
Fourth year: 25-13
Returning Lettermen
Off. 26, Def. 28, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best USC Players
1. WR Marqise Lee, Jr.
2. OLB Morgan Breslin, Sr.
3. DE Leonard Williams, Soph.
4. LB Hayes Pullard, Jr.
5. RB Silas Redd, Sr.
6. SS Dion Bailey, Jr.
7. DE George Uko, Jr.
8. TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.
9. OG John Martinez, Sr.
10. OG Max Tuerk, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/29 at Hawaii
9/7 Washington State
9/14 Boston College
9/21 Utah State
9/28 at Arizona State
10/10 Arizona
10/19 at Notre Dame
10/26 Utah
11/1 at Oregon State
11/9 at California
11/16 Stanford
11/23 at Colorado
11/30 UCLA
Rome wasn't built in a day. Last fall was proof positive that Troy won't be either.

Just about everyone jumped the gun on USC in 2012, predicting that the program would explode out of the NCAA slammer by not only competing for a Pac-12 title, but national supremacy as well. It never happened. In fact, the Trojans degenerated into one of the biggest disappointments in recent memory, plummeting from No. 1 in the preseason AP poll to 7-6 following an utterly embarrassing effort in the Sun Bowl. Long gone was all of the goodwill amassed during the prior season, which started cranking up the hype machine in the first place.

USC is not at a crossroad. Its head coach, though, is a very different story. Few coaches, if any, are staring at more pressure to turn things around than Lane Kiffin, the face of last season's second-half derailment. Kiffin, hailed for keeping the program on the rails in 2011, is in danger of squandering more of his job security if the Trojans even resemble the squad that went 1-5 down the stretch last fall.

Kiffin did in the offseason what most coaches do when the temperature starts rising, reshuffling his staff and changing coordinators. Clay Helton now leads the offense, but his promotion pales in comparison to the hiring of Clancy Pendergast to lead the beleaguered D. Pendergast has already been a breath of fresh air in Los Angeles, preaching a 5-2 defense that will attempt to attack from a multitude of different angles. USC has a chance to be very good in the front seven, led by all-league contenders Leonard Williams, George Uko, Morgan Breslin and Hayes Pullard. However, Pendergast's first-year grade might eventually hinge on a secondary that's feverishly working to develop stoppers at cornerback.

The main priority on offense for Helton and Kiffin will be to determine who out of three underclassmen replaces four-year starting QB Matt Barkley. It's a toss-up, though few doubt that sophomore Cody Kessler, a third-stringer in 2012, has had the best offseason so far. The heir apparent to Barkley will have the luxury of teaming up with college football's best wide receiver, Marqise Lee, veteran RB Silas Redd, a tight end tandem that would make Stanford jealous and four-fifths of last year's starting O-line.

USC is looking forward these days. Looking back to 2012 is a prescription for nightmares at Troy. The Trojans will continue to endure problems with depth, the byproduct of the NCAA-sanctioned reduction in scholarships. Even tougher, however, might be the fish bowl that the program—and its head coach—will be living in throughout 2013. Yeah, USC always grabs attention, but as Kiffin's margin for error narrows, the team is about to go even further under the microscope.

What to watch for on offense: The race to replace Matt Barkley. Lane Kiffin's future could rest on the right shoulder of a young and relatively untested quarterback. Sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek and blue-chip true freshman Max Browne duked it out during the spring without a starter being named. By most accounts, Kessler was the sharpest of the trio, but the battle begins anew in August. The new starter won't be expected to play as if it's Barkley's fifth year. He will, however, need to minimize his mistakes, while maximizing the potential of the skill players, like WR Marqise Lee.

What to watch for on defense: Old faces in new places. One of the numerous challenges the defense is facing in 2013 is the repositioning of so many of the holdovers. Now that coordinator Clancy Pendergast has been hired, USC will operate a 5-2 scheme that shifts last season's tackles to end, ends to outside linebacker and one very valuable linebacker, Dion Bailey, to strong safety. Not only are the Trojans absorbing an entirely new playbook, with new terminology, but many of them are adapting to new positions as well.

The team will be far better if… holes are plugged in run defense. During USC's rough second-half stretch in 2012, it was the run D that got particularly exposed by the likes of Oregon, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Following the Colorado win on Oct. 20, USC was 17th in the country, allowing just 109 yards a game on the ground. At the close of the year, though, they'd fallen to 69th and a clip of 169 yards per week. The Trojans have to get stingier versus the run, especially when facing those Pac-12 teams who can get to the edge with their backs.

The Schedule: It's a 13-game schedule starting out the year in late August with a nice trip to Hawaii to rest and relax before the Pac-12 seasons starts up. The Trojans come back to open up conference play against Washington State followed up by games against Boston College and Utah State which need to be dominant wins if they're going to prove that things are different.

Missing Oregon and Washington from the North is a good break, and the schedule is just nice enough to potentially roll to a South title if all goes according to plan. Going to Arizona State won't be easy, but it's important with the only week off coming the week after before closing out with eight games in eight weeks. Going to Notre Dame starts out a run of three road trips in four weeks, but the away dates aren't that ad going to Oregon State and Cal and having a late November game at Colorado. Stanford and UCLA are both at home.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Marqise Lee. During the spring of 2012, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Lee was USC's top receiver, passing more experienced teammate Robert Woods. By the fall of the same year, it became clear that Lee was the country's top receiver, passing, well, everyone. Had the All-American been three years removed from high school, he'd surely be in the NFL right now, cashing the paychecks of a first-round pick. Instead, Lee will be looking to build on the best season ever for a Trojans wide receiver, catching 118 balls for 1,721 and 14 touchdowns.

Best defensive player: Senior OLB Morgan Breslin. As free agent pickups go, Breslin was one of the best in college football last season. Highly-touted coming out of Diablo Valley (Calif.) Junior College, Breslin exceeded all expectations by racking up 62 tackles, 19.5 stops for loss and 13 sacks, most by a Trojan in nearly 10 years. He operates with maximum intensity at all times, displaying an insatiable appetite for the opposing backfield. Breslin is moving this year from defensive end to outside linebacker, which could earn him even more opportunities to wreak havoc out in space.

Key players to a successful season: The cornerbacks. The Trojans have a chance to turn the corner in Clancy Pendergast's first season as defensive coordinator, but the secondary will need to cooperate. Troy has a lot of talent in the front seven, and a deep group of safeties ought to be just fine. The defensive backfield, though, is holding its collective breath regarding the cornerbacks. At both spots, there's a veteran, Torin Harris and Anthony Brown, attempting to hold off surging kids, such as Kevon Seymour, Chris Hawkins and Devian Shelton. Out of that mix, a stopper or two must emerge.

The season will be a success if ... USC wins at least nine games … and the Pac-12 South. The Trojans are no longer the team that everyone expects to contend for a national championship, but the lesser Pac-12 division surely shouldn't be out of reach for this program. Like a year ago, Troy should get off to a fast start, opening with Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State. The key will be to maintain that level of play once the schedule gets tougher, beginning with a Sept. 28 trip to Tempe.

Key game: Nov. 30 vs. UCLA. Losing to the Bruins—and losing QB Matt Barkley on a vicious hit from Anthony Barr—sort of became microcosms for USC's collapse down the stretch in 2012. The Trojans desperately want to regain the upper hand on their crosstown rivals in a game that could also go a long way toward determining the South Division representative in the Pac-12 title game. USC has lost a lot of ground to UCLA. Holding serve in the Coliseum would be a step toward restoring the order around Heritage Hall.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing first downs: USC 92 – Opponents 131
- Touchdown passes: USC 39 – Opponents 20
- First-quarter scoring : USC 80 - Opponents 89

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