2010 record: 8-5, 5-4 (T-3rd, Pac-10)
2010 bowl: ineligible
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/ineligible
Coach: Lane Kiffin, second year; 8-5 overall, 5-4 conference
Offensive coordinator: Kennedy Pola, second year
2010 offensive rankings: 37th, scoring offense (31 ppg); 26th, total offense (431.5 ypg); 25th, rushing offense (189.3 ypg); 41st, passing offense (242.2 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Ed Orgeron, second year
2010 defensive rankings: 63rd, scoring defense (26.7 ppg); 84th, total defense (400.1 ypg); 49th, rushing defense (140.5 ypg); 109th, passing defense (259.5 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (grass; 92,000)
Last league title: 2008
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: For the second consecutive season, NCAA sanctions will prevent the Trojans from playing in the postseason, including the first-ever Pac-12 championship game. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Men of Troy have nothing to play for (well it kinda does but just play along).
For the third consecutive season, the offense will be in the capable hands of quarterback Matt Barkley and will continue putting points on the board at a rate that would normally scream double-digit wins — provided a somewhat suspect and inexperienced offensive line doesn’t permit Barkley to be mugged and/or maimed on a regular basis.
The problem, however, is keeping points off the board, at least at the rate they went up in 2010. Yes, once again, the biggest question mark will be the defense; how that unit improves will in large part determine whether Lane Kiffin & Company can improve upon last year’s eight-win season. The good news is the Trojans are stocked with talent along the defensive front, especially if end Armond Armstead can return from a heart issue. Beyond the front four, there are question marks. While there’s talent there — safety T.J. McDonald, linebackers Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo among them — the on-field production needs to begin to match that on-paper talent. If not, if the defense can’t turn around what was, in all honesty, an embarrassing display in 2010? The efforts of a productive offense that will only continue to get better will once again be wasted.
And Kiffin could very well find himself sitting on a seat with a rapidly increasing temperature. Simply put, an athletic director who didn’t hire you will not stand for four- and five-losses seasons, especially at a storied football factory like USC and especially when there’s an NCAA cloud still hanging over the coach from his time in Knoxville. In other words, Kiffin, live by the motto of one of your favorite former bosses: just win, baby. A lot.
Make-or-break game: Oct. 29 vs. Stanford
You could certainly make a case for a couple of games prior to this matchup. Conference games against Utah in early September and at Arizona State later that month could easily qualify, as could the annual showdown with Notre Dame, played this year in South Bend. It’s the home game against the Cardinal the week after the Irish, however, that will be telling. Not only is it a Pac-12 tilt — yes, still aware they aren’t eligible for the title game — but it’s one against a team that, along with Oregon, could very well be in the thick of the BcS chase deep into the season. Given there’s no postseason awaiting the Trojans, they need a game that serves as both their bowl game and a measuring stick for where they are as a football program in relation to the best their conference has to offer. The Cardinal game certainly offers the best of both those worlds, with the added bonus of possibly being able to spoil what could be a very special season for the Palo Alto school.
Heisman hopeful: Barkley
C’mon. Like you didn’t see this one coming. Barkley has put up nearly 6,000 yards and 41 touchdowns in his first two seasons as the starter. Given the talent returning around him — Robert Woods might be the most underrated receiver from a Big Six conference in the country — and yet another year’s worth of experience, Barkley should see a fairly sizable rise in production, which in turn should lead to his name being littered on Heisman watch lists far and wide. Perhaps the biggest nit to pick when it comes to Barkley and his ability to take it to the next level is turnovers, specifically interceptions — he’s thrown 26 of them during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Provided he cuts down on the INTs, and provided his team maintains some semblance of national exposure, Barkley will likely be mentioned as a stiff-armed contender deep into the season.
Postseason projection: Ineligible