Most of the time preseason expectations are not met, but to have seen the 2012 Southern California Trojans not even finishing in the Top 25 after being picked by many as the best in the country and to compete for a BCS Bowl would have been outlandish thought. At 7-6, 5-4 USC is perhaps closer to the smoke of mediocrity than the sunshine to blossom. Whether it’s more of Pete Carroll’s or Lane Kiffin’s fault can be debated, but what cannot is the Trojans accepting defeat and average.
With Kiffin under the gun of possibly being fired after another tumultuous year Southern Cal needs to not worry about the past, no matter how beautiful, breathtaking, despairing or dreadful it was and worry about the present. “Carpe diem.” “Seize the day.” As touted as quarterback Matt Barkley was he failed to live that mantra and his supporting cast was part of the blame (10 of 11 starters return). Replacing Barkley won’t be easy as sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are the favorites to fill the void at QB and it will be important to establish senior running back Silas Redd early in games. Junior wide receiver Marqise Lee (118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns) will not only need to post big numbers but have fun as a decoy. If Lee can’t be content with catching less than six passes a few games and the Trojans winning then his NFL Draft stock will decline as will as USC’s camaraderie.
Offensive players’ unhappiness of lack of play calling their way will have a trickle-down affect to the Trojans defensively. Clancy Pendergast has the tall challenge to oversee a talented, quick and arrogant bunch who frankly hasn’t been up to Southern Cal’s high standards in a number of seasons. The Trojans can’t expect to keep opposing offenses under 300 yards each week, but they to do better than allow 38, 39 and 62 points to UCLA, Arizona and Oregon. There’s no reason USC should yield 62 to anyone, much less at home on the site of College GameDay. The Trojans gave up 35, 41, 43 and 46 in four 2011 games triumphing in two of them and were assaulted for 36 twice, 37 and 53 in 2010. Southern Cal began well defensively against the run, but finished 69th in the country conceding 169 yards per outing. A new 5-2 scheme may limit the points (seniors strong safety Dion Bailey and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin will be key elements), but until proof on the field tells me otherwise I’ll still have my doubts.
The Trojans will also rely on Lee in the return game. Helping Lee on kickoffs and punts will primarily be sophomore WR Nelson Agholor and junior corner back Anthony Brown. Junior place kicker Andre Heidari had a bit of a sophomore slump for USC making 10-of-16 field goals and 39-of-41 extra points. Heidari’s freshman campaign couldn’t have been better sinking 15-of-17 FGs and all 50 XPs.
I wasn’t kidding the Trojans could be closer to enduring harder times than resurfacing to competing in BCS Bowl Games. At Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State doesn’t sound particularly challenging although anything less than 4-0 will have Hollywood up in arms and throwing in the towel already on Southern Cal even before the end of September. At Arizona State Sept. 28 starts a brutal stretch which picks up off a bye with Arizona, at Notre Dame, Utah, At Oregon State, at California and Stanford. All of those schools except for the Golden Bears and Utes had winning records and don’t think for a second Cal and Utah will be layups for the Trojans who were humbled by Georgia Tech New Year’s Eve 21-7 at the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Hosting Pacific-12 Conference South Champion UCLA could be for a spot into the Rose Bowl; however, don’t bet your life savings on that as USC won’t get more than eight victories. The Beavers, Fighting Irish and Sun Devils are losses and I just don’t see the Trojans going though the Los Angeles Coliseum gauntlet unscathed with the Cardinal and Wildcats the two likeliest candidates to keep Southern Cal reflecting on the past.