Catching Up With An Old Friend
Lane Monte Kiffin of Bloomington, Minnesota. Most Tennessee fans hate the man. I've had people tell me they'd rather have a drink with Osama bin-Laden or Adolf Hitler. What's he been up to? He has been quietly leading the Trojans through the maze of NCAA sanctions. That's what. Here's an overview of the Trojans heading into year four of the Kiffin regime.
Four-year starter Matt Barkley, overrated as he was, as evidenced by his NFL draft position and his play against UCLA, among others, is a Philadelphia Eagle. Max Wittek, Cody Kessler, and uber recruit Max Browne have been battling it out this spring, but I don't think it's very likely anyone but Wittek takes the first snaps against Hawai'i. Wittek saw action last season against Notre Dame, UCLA, and Georgia Tech, but he put up below average numbers. Given Kiffin's penchant for molding QBs (ask the father of Jonathan Crompton) this position seems like much less of an issue than if we were talking about the team in Baton Rouge or Gainesville. Furthermore, the running game should be decent in 2013. Former 1,000-yard rusher Silas Redd returns for his senior campaign, and freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac have impressed Kiffin and Co. this spring. The Trojans WR corps is thin, but it features the most talented WR in the nation: Marqise Lee. The Junipero Serra product is coming off a sophomore season in which he hauled in 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs. Sophomore Nelson Agholor seems primed for a breakout season. He has enough talent to replace USC all-time leading receiver Robert Woods' production and prevent teams from zeroing in on Lee. Former Rivals five-star prospect George Farmer and four-star prospect Steven Mitchell are both out for the season with injuries. At tight end, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are back and will pair to form one of the nation's deadliest tight end combinations. The duo of juniors combined for 9 touchdowns in 2012. The offensive line returns largely intact. Max Tuerk started last season as a true freshman. Junior and former freshman All-American guard Marcus Martin takes over for the departed Khaled Holmes at center. Aundrey Walker, Kevin Graf, and John Martinez will form the rest of what should be a good line. The Trojans rushed for around 1,800 yards between Redd, Curtis McNeal, and D.J. Morgan in 2012.
Overall, the offense may take some time to become better versed in their responsibilities, but it will have the pieces to be one of the more formidable offenses in the nation.
The defensive line is the best unit on the team and one of the best defensive lines in the country. Freshman All-American Leonard Williams returns for his sophomore campaign. The Daytona Beach product recorded 64 tackles and 8 sacks as a true frosh. George Uko, who recorded 31 tackles and 5 sacks in 2012, also returns. Former Taft High star Antwaun Woods will start at nose. Super-recruit Kenny Bigelow is poised to crack the rotation at defensive tackle. Cody Temple and J.R. Tavai have some experience at DT. Sack artist Morgan Breslin, who procured 13 in 2012, returns, and Devon Kennard is healthy. Breslin may get looks in the 2nd-4th rounds in the 2014 NFL Draft. Greg Townsend Jr., Jabari Ruffin, and Kevin Greene seemingly provide decent depth, though they have only recorded a combined 1.5 sacks. Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson return to form the starting LB corps. Anthony Sarao and Scott Starr may see a lot of time in back up roles. Former LB Dion Bailey has moved back to safety. Dawson will be relieved of his Derrick Brooks role in the Tampa 2 and the game should come much simpler to him, which will allow for faster play and a breakout season. The secondary is an area of concern for the Trojans. Nickell Robey is gone. Jawanza Starling and T.J. McDonald graduated. Corner Torin Harris returns, but he has not received rave reviews during his time in L.A. The starting corners appear to be sophomore Kevon Seymour and either Harris, Anthony Brown, or freshman Chris Hawkins. Losing Jalen Ramsey to Florida State really hurt the Trojans. Safety, another concern, seems to be in promising hands. Florida transfer and Palmdale native Josh Shaw and Gerald Bowman return, but everyone is raving about freshman superstar Su'a Cravens. Armwood alumnus Leon McQuay III completes the best freshman safety duo in America.
First year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast takes over for Monte Kiffin. Pendergast has installed a 5-2 defense, which suits USC's current roster. It also appears to be a counter punch to the physical style of play of David Shaw's Stanford program, while also attempting to combat the spread, a scheme with which USC has experienced much difficulty. Pendergast has proved somewhat solid against the spread. His unit held the Ducks to 15 points in a nailbiter in 2010.
AN OVERALL ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION
Kiffin inherited a roster devoid of the talent Pete Carroll to which Pete Carroll had become accustomed. There was no Brian Cushing nor Rey Maualuga at linebacker. The program that had reached four consecutive Rose Bowls on the heels of a 2003-2005 stretch of 37-2 was no longer a glistening diamond in the ghetto of Los Angeles. The unraveling began in 2009. The Trojans would finish the season 9-4 in San Francisco with a victory over Boston College. However, that season's on-field disappointments are not as pertinent to Lane Kiffin as the other side of the college football coin: recruiting. We can start by looking at Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery, a USC commitment, and current Chicago Bear, switched his commitment to the less significant USC- South Carolina. Cincinnati Bengals head-hunter (no pun intended, Roger Goodell) Vontaze Burfict, a USC commit with grade issues, signed with the academically lax Sun Devils of Arizona State. Manti Te'o, for whom the Trojans' ferociously competed against Notre Dame, spurned the sunny beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu for the dreary cold and drizzle of South Bend. Signing day was a disaster. The Trojans were left with some highly-regarded recruits, including Newport Beach's Matt Barkley, Phoenix's Devon Kennard, and Fresno's T.J. McDonald, but the disaster class was just beginning to fall apart. Frankie Telfort, a ballyooed-recruit from the football hotbed of Miami, found out a heart condition would preclude him for ever playing football again. Patrick Hall, a Rivals five-star prospect, an elite status in today's age, was a flop at safety. Further damning the future of Kiffin, Jarvis Jones was not cleared medically by USC doctors, so he transferred to Georgia, where he became a star and went on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kennard returns this season as a holdover from the '09 class, but he is not expected to be a 1st round pick. Sure, Barkley was a good quarterback in college, but he wasn't great. He was busy throwing interceptions at UCLA before he suffered a season-ending take-down at the hands of a hungry Bruin. Sure, Robert Woods was an All-American. Marqise Lee is the best WR since Keyshawn Johnson was donning the cardinal and gold. Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith are now franchise tackles. However, that has not been the issue. The Trojans haven't have trouble scoring points. In 2012, the Trojans racked up 36 and 51 points, respectively, against Arizona and Oregon. Both were losses. Southern Cal only scored 20 combined against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, but those games were without Matt Barkley at the helm. Stanford did beat up on the Trojans offense, but that's due to a Khaled Holmes injury and a complete lack of talent by Cyrus Hobbi. In 2011, the only two losses accumulated by USC were contests in which they scored a respectable 22 and a robust 48. That season was a double-edged sword for Kiffin. First, it proved Lane can win big games. The victory over Oregon on the road is, thanks to Terrence Cody's tits preventing an upset over Alabama at Bryant-Denny, the highlight of his coaching career. It also proved he could produce a successful season. 10 wins isn't bad. 10 wins while under constricting sanctions, which reduced the numbers available, as evidenced by Malik Jackson's transfer to Tennessee, and limited the amount of contact in practice, which any player would tell you has an effect on in-game performance, is a feat with no peer. Butch Davis didn't do it at Miami. Alabama didn't win 10 under sanctions. The downside to the success of 2011 was the expectations that arose from it. The Trojans returned everyone from a squad that had just went 10-2 with around 9-4 talent. The 2012 season was disastrous. The Trojans lost to the physical Cardinal of Stanford, and they lost the schematic battle to two excellent coaches in Rich Rodriguez and Chip Kelly. The proverbial wheels fell off against UCLA. Matt Barkley was injured, a game was lost to Notre Dame, and some weird stuff went down in El Paso. That's Lane Kiffin's hitherto on-field dossier, but another important facet of a good coach is his recruiting ability. How has Kiffin performed in that departed? He signed more Rivals five stars than any other program in 2013. He accepted transfers Josh Shaw, Thearon Collier, and Silas Redd. He was very close to landing A'Shawn Robinson, Matthew Thomas, Jason Hatcher, Torrodney Prevot, and Eddie Vanderdoes, as well. To boot, Texas Tech stud DT Delvon Simmons has announced he will be transferring to USC, and he will gain eligibility in 2014. Kiffin has overhauled his staff and brought on spread-beater Clancy Pendergast, who will eploy a 5-2 defense, in order to keep the ship moving in the right direction. USC is poised for at least a taste of success within the next years, whether Pat Haden uses ill-judgment or not, because of Lane's heavy lifting. Keeping him around will ensure at least a chance to restore what was lost in the disgraceful NCAA beatdown of the Trojan program.
vs. Washington State
vs. Boston College
vs. Utah State
@ Arizona State
@ Notre Dame
@ Oregon State
Record: 11-4 with a victory in the Alamo Bowl. The Trojans will lose four of their matchups among Arizona State, Arizona, Notre Dame, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, the Pac-12 title, and the bowl game. Oregon is off the schedule until the possible Pac-12 title game.