2011 record: 10-2 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st in South)
2011 postseason: ineligible due to NCAA sanctions
2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/ineligible
Head coach: Lane Kiffin (25-13 overall; 18-7 in two years at USC)
Offensive coordinator: Kennedy Polamalu (third season)
2011 offensive rankings: 51st rushing offense (162.6 ypg); 15th passing offense (294.2 ypg); 21st total offense (456.7 ypg); 16th scoring offense (35.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: eight
Defensive coordinator: Ed Orgeron (third season)
2011 defensive rankings: 18th rushing defense (111.4 ypg); 102nd passing defense (263.3 ypg); 54th total defense ( 374.7 ypg); 45th scoring defense (23.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607; grass)
Last conference title: 2008
2011 statistics: [view]
What’s not to like about USC in 2012? Coming off a two-year bowl ban and a 10-win season to close out the postseason NCAA sanctions, the Trojans are AP’s preseason No. 1 and are loaded for Bear… and Duck and Bruin and Buffalo and, well, you get the point. One of the most glaring weaknesses was at the running back position, and that hole was filled in late July by transfer Silas Redd, the 1,000-yard rusher from Penn State who will be eligible immediately and will be expected to play a significant and pivotal role from the get-go.
Thanks to the NCAA sanctions, USC is limited to 75 scholarship players this year, so injuries/suspensions/etc. will be critical as depth is not the Trojans’ strong suit. Already this offseason, they’ve lost starting defensive end Devon Kennard to a pec injury that could prove to be the season-ending variety. One of those types of injuries the Trojans can withstand; a handful or more? Given the roster situation, USC is simply not built to withstand and overcome myriad injury issues.
Speaking of injury issues, All-American wide receiver Robert Woods has been dealing with his own ankle situation since last season. He underwent surgery in the offseason, missed spring practice and, is participating in camp but not quite at 100 percent. Whether that injury issue bleeds into the regular season remains to be seen, although, fortunately for the Trojans, receiver is one of the few positions on the roster capable of withstanding a loss of this magnitude. Provided George Farmer’s own injury issue isn’t a long-term deal either, of course.
Make-or-break game: vs. Oregon, Nov. 3
No offense to Stanford or UCLA (chuckle) or Notre Dame, this is the game Kiffin & Co. will have circled on their calendars — and probably have had circled since the curtain closed on the 2011 season. As winners of the past three Pac-12 titles, the road to a conference conference championship runs straight through the school in Eugene. If as expected both squads hold serve through the first two months of the season, an early-November match-up of 8-0 teams could very well be in the offing — as well as a preview of a Pac-12 title game that would be rife with BcS implications The good news for the Trojans is that the regular-season game will be in Los Angeles. The bad news? The Trojans have dropped two of the last three to the Ducks — including Oregon’s last trip to the Coliseum in 2010.
Heisman hopeful: quarterback Matt Barkley
Forget the best Heisman hopeful for USC; the senior will likely be the preseason favorite of the vast majority of Heisman prognosticators. And it’d be hard to blame them. Barkley is coming off a season in which he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions in nearly 450 attempts, made a surprise decision to return for his senior season and will lead arguably the best team in the country – it’d be an upset if Barkley weren’t the leader heading out of the clubhouse. Add that to weapons at the receiver position — don’t forget Marqise Lee is also in the mix — that are criminal in at least a dozen states, the addition of Redd and all of the attention USC will garner in the preseason, it goes without saying that Barkley will be the lead dog in the hunt for the Heisman.