The University of Southern California saw a dominant decade of football come to a crashing skid last season, finishing with a 8-5 record, including 5-4 in the Pac-10. The Trojans were hit hard last summer by NCAA probation resulting in a two year ban from postseason play and a reduction in scholarships. Despite being young at several positions (returning 12 scholarship seniors), USC is returning enough talent to make a run at the Pac-12 South this season.
Players to watch for (Offense):
MATT BARKLEY (QB): Barkley looks to improve on an impressive sophomore season. Last year, the talented quarterback threw for 2,791 yards while completing 62.6 percent of his passes including 26 touchdowns. A two-time O’Brien semifinalist, Barkley looks to be one of the two best quarterbacks in the country this season.
ROBERT WOODS (WR): Last year as a true freshman, Woods lived up to the hype with 792 yards receiving and 12.2 yards per catch, good enough to receive Freshman All-American honors. With more experience under his belt, Trojan fans will be seeing a lot of the Barkley-Woods combination this season.
Players to watch for (Defense):
NICK PERRY (DE): Despite a down year for the Trojan defense last year (allowed 26.7 ppg and 400 ypg), there is high expectations for the unit in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s second year. Kiffin will be relying heavily on Perry, a 6-foot-3, 250 lb pure athlete. Perry led the Trojans in sacks with 8 in 2009, but only started 9 games last year due to an ankle injury. Look for Perry to regain his footing this year and anchor a solid defensive line for the Men of Troy.
T.J. MCDONALD (S): McDonald was one of the few bright spots in the USC secondary last season leading the team in tackles. Now, McDonald will lead a vastly more experienced Trojan secondary, which returns seven of the top eight from last season. Look for McDonald and company to have a bounce back season.
Fearless prediction: USC is 2-0 against the Orange with a 16-0 shutout in 1924 in Los Angeles and a 34-16 blowout in the KO Classic opener in 1990 in New Jersey. The Trojans are 15-1 when hosting non-conference opponents since the 2002 season and this matchup should be no different. Although the USC does not have the same talent it did under former coach Pete Carroll, the 2011 Trojans will have no problem getting by the Orange.