As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each Wednesday over the summer. Next is USC, who SU will play in Week 2.
Syracuse will play USC at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, September 8 in New York’s College Classsic. In preparation for the game, we spoke with Anthony Nelson from The Trojan Empire to get a scouting report on USC.
The Juice Online: Tell us about The Trojan Empire.
Anthony Nelson: The Trojan Empire is entering its fifth season covering USC football. It operates independently and without censorship. You can follow me on Twitter @TrojanEmpire for player status, team updates, and roster changes as the calendar continues to flip closer to USC-Syracuse on the 2012 slate.
TJO: Can you give us an overview of the 2012 USC team?
AN: Syracuse and USC will finalize their home-and-home series on September 8th, and the Orange can expect little change in the personnel responsible for the 38-17 drubbing in Los Angeles. Since the last meeting, the Trojans have lost a couple of key contributors to the NFL draft, but the larger body of performers remains intact.
December was the bearer of good news for Southern California. It marked the end of the 2011 regular season, which signified the end of an NCAA mandated 2-year postseason ban. The Trojans of 2012 will be bowl eligible and able to compete for conference and national championships. The news would get better on the 22nd day of the month, when quarterback Matt Barkley announced his intentions to return to USC for his senior year. The Trojans, by virtue of that announcement, were quickly hoisted into the top-5 of the earliest rankings.
Matt Barkley stated “unfinished business” as the reason for his return, and “unfinished business” has become the motto for 2012. The Trojans are national title contenders and more motivated than ever to bring new hardware to Southern California. The championship road begins in Los Angeles, and winds through New York and several other U.S. cities. Unlike the SEC, it’s a single-elimination tournament for Pac 12 programs vying for that crystal ball, so every game is of equal importance. With a heavy congestion of voters along the east coast, it’s also important for the Trojans to make good on an opportunity to leave a lasting impression on those holding opinions that will affect future rankings.
TJO: What are some of the question marks for the Trojans?
AN: Barkley will enter the upcoming season with questions of security, specifically on the blind side. Left Tackle Matt Kalil was the fourth overall pick in the recent draft, and several players are now vying for the opportunity to replace him. The earliest candidates appear to be sophomore Aundrey Walker (6’6, 320) and junior Kevin Graf (6’6, 295), with both possessing the physical tools to be the next star tackle, but both also lacking game-time experience. On the defensive side, the program must replace Nick Perry, the 28th overall pick in the 2012 Draft. The defensive end was quiet in last year’s game versus the Orange, but finished the season with a team high 9.5 sacks.
If there is one critical area on the Trojan roster, it’s at running back. Through graduation and transfers, the position has been stretched thin. One quick answer for the coaching staff was to convert linebacker Tre Madden to add depth to the backfield. It was a successful experiment, though temporary. Madden would later tear his ACL during spring practice and be lost for the upcoming season. The injury means USC is entering the fall with only two scholarship running backs (Curtis McNeal, D. J. Morgan) on the roster. McNeal rushed for 79 yards on only 5 carries against the Orange last September.
TJO: Who should we be watching out for?
AN: What USC is returning is youth on parade. The team finished the 2011 season with three freshmen starting linebackers. Two of the three, Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, received Freshman All-American honors. And with the inclusion of Lamar Dawson, Syracuse will face a more experienced sophomore linebacker corps. Also receiving Freshman All-American honors was wide receiver Marqise Lee, who followed teammate Robert Woods in receiving the same recognition a year prior. Syracuse will be introduced to the third member of the trio from Serra High School, as George Farmer will surface this fall as another field stretching threat for Barkley. Farmer was still clinging to a redshirt when the Orange visited the Coliseum last September, until Lane Kiffin attempted to utilize his talents at running back later in the year. He was moved back to his natural position this spring.
Though youth is the focus, the Trojans are certainly not lacking in experience. T.J. McDonald returns for his senior season at safety, rated top-5 nationally at the position. Thorpe Award candidate, Nickell Robey, will begin his third season as a starter, after the junior proved to be more than a track star, but also a legitimate lockdown cornerback.
TJO: What are your predictions for the game?
AN: Since 2002, USC has lost just once in the regular season to an out-of-conference foe (Notre Dame). And though I respect Syracuse and the rebuilding of the program, I don’t expect any change in that number.