Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

USC Football: 2013 Expectations are Baffling

By anyone’s standards, not just USC standards, the 2012 season was horrific for the Trojans, who began the season as the AP Preseason No. 1. The Trojans have serious issues, there’s no question about it. But in looking toward 2013, the attitude of an impending apocalypse of USC football is both startling and surreal, and not quite sagacious.

Look around. The consensus is that the Trojans will win six or seven games next year, in a 13 game schedule. Scott Enyeart tweeted it yesterday. A commenter with our friends over at Conquest Chronicles echoed those sentiments over the weekend.

Six wins? Has the bar really dropped that low?

Sure, the Trojans lose Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and the entire starting secondary, sans Josh Shaw. Of course, they played their worst game in over a decade two weeks ago in the Sun Bowl. Without a doubt, Lane Kiffin was routinely out-coached in 2012 and there’s no guarantee he can return to his stellar 2011 self.

As said, there’s issues with this football team and the program in general, as the Trojans appear to be regressing midst sanctions. But is that really rationale for prognosticating a season without bowl eligibility?

Not quite, considering the determining factors leading into 2013.

Looking at the talent that does return and most importantly, the Trojans’ schedule, there’s no reason not to believe that USC won’t improve on their 7-6 record from 2012.

If you swap in Devon Kennard for Wes Horton, the entire front seven returns. The Trojans’ defensive line was their biggest strength of the 2012 season, as they finished fourth in the nation in sacks per game, despite losing Kennard for the season before fall camp even started.

Plus, the Trojans bring in a recruiting class that could feature as many as three five-star defensive tackles, should Eddie Vanderdoes and A’Shawn Robinson join Kenny Bigelow on Signing Day.

The story in 2012 was that the linebackers regressed without Joe Barry and with more of an emphasis on dropping into Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense to defend the pass, which continually put Lamar Dawson out of position. Perhaps it was Kiffin using Ed Orgeron’s stellar play from the defensive line as a comfort blanket, allowing the linebackers to play the pass and not worry about rushing or defending the run.

Either way, it didn’t work.

But while looking ahead to 2013, that doesn’t matter anymore, as Monte Kiffin is gone, as is his famed Tampa-2 defense.

That doesn’t guarantee that the Trojans will improve on defense under a new defensive coordinator, but it’s very probable that the linebackers could regain their 2011 form that earned the numerous postseason accolades for the trio of Dawson, Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.

On offense, five players with starting experience up front will be back, as well as the Trojans’ leading rusher and the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner. Troubled play calling or not, no one in the Pac-12 South matches USC’s talent on offense, even with an experienced quarterback at the helm.

But even with offensive struggles destined to play out, the biggest sign that the Trojans can improve in 2013, is their competition, which is significantly more advantageous.

USC plays just one team that will deploy a zone-read spread-option(Arizona), has seven home games and misses both Oregon and Washington.

They start with Hawaii, Washington State, Boston College and Utah State, the final three of those coming at home in the Coliseum. Even though Utah State won the WAC and finished with an 11-2 record, the Aggies lose 10 starting seniors and their head coach, Gary Andersen, who has taken the same position at Wisconsin. If USC can weather the storm against Mike Leach’s air raid in Week 2, the Trojans should open the season 4-0.

Following those four games, the Trojans get the Arizona schools.

In 2012, USC’s defensive line picked ASU apart, sacking Taylor Kelly seven times. Plus, the Sun Devils had just 250 yards of total offensive, which was both their lowest offensive output of the season, and the Trojans’ best defensive outing of season. Even though USC travels to Tempe, as previously noted, the entire defensive line returns for the Trojans.

Next up is Arizona, on a Thursday night in the Coliseum. With Ka’Deem Carey returning for the Wildcats, it’s by far USC’s biggest test of the early season. They’ll run Rich Rodriguez’s zone-read spread-option and for the first time in six games, the Trojans will likely have to out-score their opponent. It’s without a doubt, a toss-up game.

At that point, going into South Bend for the biennial October clash with Notre Dame, the Trojans could very well be 5-1, with a conservative 4-2 prediction if you’re expecting USC to underachieve as they did to close 2012.

Now, going into 2013, you would be a fool to have your head in the clouds and predict a national championship or a Rose Bowl off the bat. That’s unrealistic at this point. It’s just that thinking six wins is a likely outcome is just as equal of an unrealistic outcome.

Even with a conservative 4-2 record heading into South Bend, a six-win season would mean that the Trojans would need to finish the season 2-5 and drop at least one game to either Cal, Utah or Colorado.

Looking at 2012’s ending or not, predicting a defeat in Berkeley or Boulder is as much of a stretch as saying the Trojans will sweep Stanford, UCLA and Notre Dame.

Neither is happening.

The Trojans may have looked awfully bad in the Sun Bowl and Kiffin has looked out of place. However, with a favorable 2013 schedule, even the Kiffin play chart and 75-man limit doesn’t equate to six wins.

Let’s be realistic for once.

A year ago, the last six games of 2011 forced some to prematurely buy airfare to Miami for this year’s National Championship Game, and everyone to proclaim the Trojans as preseason favorites. All of the hype left everyone scratching their heads when the Trojans vastly underachieved.

Here we are 12 months later, and the opposite is in full effect. Six games of underachievement have prompted a fan base and media alike to leave the Trojans for dead.

While it may feel right in the moment, proclaiming USC to be DOA in 2013 is as reactionary as crowning them as preseason No. 1.

Allow retrospect to point out that middle ground has the safest footing. Look for at least eight wins.

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