The University of Southern California was at the top of the college football world in the mid-2000’s. It was a last second Vince Young touchdown away from being the national champions for three years in a row(one was shared). Then, a rebuilding year came and freshman QB Matt Barkley stepped in. By the end of that year, Barkley had found senior-form. He stood up in the pocket and delivered the ball to his receivers with authority. He became a leader and directed the offense like he was a veteran. USC looked like it was ready to step back into the spotlight. Then, Reggie Bush happened. The 30 scholarship reductions happened. The two-year bowl ban and the loss of an entire year of wins, including the 2004 National Championship, happened. USC disappeared into the woodwork. No one mentioned the Trojans and no one cared. There are only a few people who could tell you USC finished last year ranked sixth in the country in the AP. Matt Barkley was in the Heisman Trophy race in terms of stats and no one mentioned his name.
It’s time to take notice now, because the bowl ban is over. Barkley is a senior now and if you didn’t notice, the AP has his team ranked first in the country. Barkley could have been a top-10 first round draft pick in the NFL had he left, but he came back to be a national champion. USC has waited for this moment, but can it really win it all this year?
Simple answer: yes.
USC’s starting team is arguably the best in the country. It has 19 returning starters and a QB who is already the preseason favorite to win the Heisman. USC was the 16th best offense last year and had the 15th best passing attack, which looks to get better with the addition of Silas Redd, ex-Penn State starting RB. USC uses a pro-style offense, which matches up well against almost any team scheme or style in college football today. If you need any proof in its effectiveness, look to Alabama in recent years or Miami and Ohio State in 2001 and 2002. The team also features what is easily one of the best receiving corps in the country. Last year, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the top two receivers on the team, caught a combined 184 passes for 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns. The defense is also primed to be better than last year because it is getting seven starters back. The unit will not rank in the top five, but it will be as good as many defenses that have been on National Championship winning teams.
USC also benefits from an easy schedule. The Pac-12 is in a down year after ex-Stanford QB Andrew Luck left for the NFL and the rest of the conference has been playing less than stellar lately. The only exception is the Oregon Ducks, who sit at number five in both major polls. Outside the conference, USC will play Notre Dame, Hawaii and Syracuse. All of those games should be easily won, except perhaps Notre Dame. It’s unrealistic to think USC will be challenged by any team other than Oregon if USC goes into every game with the right mindset.
However, this team is not perfect and there are things that could derail its title hopes.
The biggest weakness of this team is how shallow it is. The scholarship reductions and bowl ban have damaged recruiting immensely and the talent level for each position fades quickly as you look down the depth chart. Any injury to a player in a skill position could doom the entire season. Teams like LSU and Oklahoma could suffer an injury and plug in an almost-equal backup, but USC will not have that luxury. The Oklahoma Sooners won the National Championship in 2000 with every starter playing every game, so it is possible to avoid injury. The players will just have to be cautious.
Another problem is that the defensive line is very inexperienced. has a veteran in Wes Horton but the younger players will have to stop rushing plays and pressure opposing quarterbacks. Sometimes losing some defensive linemen is hardly an issue, but USC coach Lane Kiffin hasn’t been known for his defenses in his recent stints as head coach of Tennessee and USC.
USC is not a virtual lock for the National Championship, but it haa a legitimate shot at it. The talent and motivation of this team will rival any other contender and I look forward to seeing what happens.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
-Marty F. Nemec