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USC Football: Three Juniors That Could Play Final Home Game vs. Notre Dame


Last year against UCLA, Senior Day was full of anxiety for the Trojans as it was uncertain as to whether Matt Barkley would return for his senior season or not. Barkley had nearly a perfect game against the Bruins, a long farewell hug with Lane Kiffin and conducted the band seemingly forever to make everyone think his NFL declaration was a forgone conclusion. This season, USC faces the same predicament for three players who very well could go either way. They won’t get Senior Day fanfare on Saturday, but it could still end up being a swan song.

Nickell Robey, CB

Current NFL Projection: 2nd Round
Gut feeling: Enters NFL Draft

Robey started as a freshman in 2010 and had a stellar season, earning honorable mention Freshman All-America honors and tallying four interceptions. Last year his season was defined by a well-timed pick six against Andrew Luck. Nowadays, Robey has become the Pac-12′s Nnamdi Asomugha, as teams just aren’t throwing in his direction, opting to go after Torin Harris and Josh Shaw on the opposite side of the field. Yet, Robey’s lack of production –he has just four pass breakups and one interception– has not hurt his draft stock, and it could actually improve it, despite struggling against UCLA due to a lower body injury. Robey spoke with Pedro Moura about the prospects of forgoing his senior season, saying he hasn’t focused on the looming decision. While that may be the case, the reality is that Robey shouldn’t have a difficult decision. With his second round draft projection and personal struggles highlighted by the loss of his mother before he enrolled at USC, it’s in Robey’s best interest to enter the draft and achieve his dreams. Losing Robey would put the Trojans’ secondary behind the eight-ball, but Robey has too much to lose to risk returning, especially with safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling graduated.

Robert Woods, WR

Current NFL Projection: 2nd Round
Gut feeling: Enters NFL Draft

Robert Woods is in a unique situation. Going into the season, he was a lock to leave. Halfway through the season, he was a lock to leave. Then the Barkley-to-Lee connection became stressed above all in the USC offense and Woods started to be underutilized and his season bottomed out against Arizona State when he recorded two catches for a loss of three yards. To some, the lack of production is a reason for Woods to return for his senior season and better his ‘slipping’ draft stock. But the reality is that Woods isn’t regressing just because he’s not the featured receiver anymore. He’s still one of the best route runners in the nation and is NFL ready as a possession receiver, much like the No. 2 before him, Steve Smith. Though he’s had a slew of communication problems with Matt Barkley and body language suggests that the relationship between the two may have started to fray, don’t expect him to return to be a weapon for a first-year starter at quarterback. He would be competing with Lee for both receptions and draft positioning, and barring an unforeseen injury, wouldn’t win either of those friendly battles. With a second round projection and Kiffin’s love affair with Lee, there’s no chance Woods comes back. For the Trojans, Nelson Agholor’s bigger role in the USC offense, a bench including George Farmer, plus commit Steven Mitchell make the post-Woods era sound promising and not crippling.

Morgan Breslin, DE

Current NFL Projection: 2nd Round
Gut feeling: Returns for senior season

A year ago, Morgan Breslin enrolled at USC without fanfare. He was a junior college transfer that arrived with All-America honors, yet even going into fall camp, he was buried on the depth chart. Devon Kennard’s season-ending pectoral injury opened the door slightly and Breslin flat out beat J.R. Tavai in August to win the starting job. So here we are, discussing the junior as a potential NFL star. Through 11 games, Breslin is tied with former Trojan Jarvis Jones for fifth in the nation in tackles for loss yardage, and is just one sack off the national lead. At times, he’s been USC’s most dominant defensive player, and when the Trojans have struggled to show poise, Breslin has played like a grizzled veteran, working hard and playing every snap as if it was his last. His workmanlike attitude will go a long way in the NFL, and it’s already paying dividends, as seen with a second round draft projection. While a case can clearly be made for this being Breslin’s perfect opportunity to jump ship due to a rising draft strock, the return of Kennard and three committed defensive ends, Breslin’s attitude suggests that he’ll stay. He doesn’t talk to the media and the team’s most selfless player.  Should he return, the Trojans will return the entire front seven, if you swap Wes Horton for Kennard. Gut says he returns and Ed Orgeron keeps the most valuable player under his tutelage. Plus, wouldn’t it be weird for Breslin to go the entire season without speaking, only to hold a press conference to forgo his senior season?

Tags: Football Morgan Breslin Nickell Robey Robert Woods USC Trojans