As the week rolls on, Reign of Troy gets closer and closer to revealing the top team in the country. Today brings part three of our five part series. Included in this list: the Trojans of USC. While it’s hard to predict how the team will respond mentally, the talent is in place for USC to be an elite team. The Trojans are eligible to be ranked in the polls and could theoretically win the Associated Press national title in 2010 and 2011. Will the Reign of Troy continue?
22. Penn State
17. Georgia Tech
16. Louisiana State
15. Oregon Ducks
2009 Record: 10-3
Key Games: @Tennessee, v.Stanford, @USC, @Oregon State
Star Players: RB LaMichael James, LB Casey Matthews
Outlook: Throughout the offseason, the Ducks have had more than their fair share of run-ins with the law. As a result, last year’s quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the team. Chip Kelly now has the tough task of finding a replacement that can step in and run the spread option attack. Nate Costa is likely to open the season, but there are major questions about his capabilities. Despite all the negatives, 18 starters–9 on offense and 8 on defense–return to a team that won the Pac-10 and ran through the conference with an 8-1 record. Even if the offense isn’t as prolific as last year, the defense will be just as stingy as in 2009 and Oregon will be a tough out. Although they played well in the Pac-10, Oregon really struggled out of conference. The opener at Tennessee is a statement game. If Oregon beats a mid-level SEC team, they will gain some confidence. If they lose, their resume looks weak and the Pac-10 loses respect. With USC slapped by sanctions, the Ducks should be the Pac-10 representative in the Rose Bowl.
14. Southern California Trojans [Pac-10]
2009 Record: 9-4
Key Games: v. Washington, @Stanford, v.Oregon, v.Notre Dame
Star Players: QB Matt Barkley, RB Dillon Baxter
Outlook: After a disappointing 9-4 season a year ago, USC looks to rebound under first year coach Lane Kiffin. While the team won’t have the luxury of playing in a bowl game at season’s end, there is talent abound in Los Angeles. In addition to the young nucleus of talent from last year, Kiffin brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Until the loss at Oregon last season, quarterback Matt Barkley was in the Heisman discussion. He threw 14 interceptions a year ago, but that number should decrease. Also his ability to scramble and extend the play will be much better now that he has slimmed down. Freshman Dillon Baxter, who has drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush, has the potential to take it to the house at any moment. Defensively, USC should have the best unit in the Pac-10. The line could go six or seven deep. While the linebacking corp and secondary don’t have proven players, it’s hard to imagine that defense mastermind Monte Kiffin, along with Ed Orgeron, won’t be able to draw up great schemes every week. For now, the onus is on Lane Kiffin to extract the most out of his players, who may face motivational issues. On paper, USC should win the Pac-10, especially with Oregon having to visit the Coliseum.
13. North Carolina Tar Heels [ACC]
2009 Record: 8-5
Key Games: v.LSU in Atlanta, v.Georgia Tech, @Miami, v.Virginia Tech
Star Players: RB Shaun Draughn, DT Marvin Austin
Outlook: Twenty-one starters return from the 2009 campaign. Last season, North Carolina was inconsistent; they beat Virginia Tech and Miami but lost to Virginia and North Carolina State. Yet, Butch Davis has resurrected a program that just a few years ago was a cellar dweller. One of the top defenses from a year ago returns nine starters and may be the best in the nation. Offensively, the Tar Heels need to put the pieces together. Redshirt freshman Bryn Renner may just take the starting job from senior T.J. Yates, who did not have a very good spring as the signal caller. If the offense can keep pace with the defense, Butch Davis could take the Tar Heels to the BCS. Week 1 brings a tough test against LSU. The matchup pits two similar teams; both have incredible defenses and major questions on offense. With a win, the Tar Heels could leave Atlanta with the confidence to run through the ACC and upset Virginia Tech, who must visit Chapel Hill
12. Iowa Hawkeyes [Big 10]
2009 Record: 11-2
Key Games: @Arizona, v.Penn State, v.Wisconsin, v.Ohio State
Star Players: QB Ricky Stanzi, WR Marvin McNutt
Outlook: Iowa capped off the 2009 campaign with a win in the Orange Bowl. Could they get back there again? Iowa’s defense, the one that ranked eight in points allowed, returns eight starters and should be the best in the conference. While defense wins championships, Iowa will need to produce on offense. Ricky Stanzi returns after a very successful campaign last year. Things look bright as the offense returns most of the skill position players. The only real question surrounding this Iowa team is the offensive line. Can they protect Stanzi? If so, Iowa will win the Big 10. They have a very favorable schedule; Penn State, and Wisconsin and Ohio State all have to come to Iowa City. An early test will be the game at Arizona. Iowa used a home victory against the Wildcats last year to pick up steam.
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers [Big XII North]
2009 Record: 10-4
Key Games: @Washington, v.Texas, v.Missouri, @Texas A&M
Star Players: DT Jared Crick, CB Prince Amukamara
Outlook: Go ahead and pencil the Cornhuskers into the Big XII title game right now. Playing in the North, they don’t have any competition that will push them. The stingiest scoring defense in the country brings back seven starters. Yes, Ndamukong Suh is gone, but Bo Pelini believes the defense will be even better this year than last. It’s hard not to like this Nebraska team after the strides they made in the Holiday Bowl. They blew out Arizona 33-0 and should use that momentum to run through the Big XII North. The offense won’t be spectacular, but senior Zac Lee should improve with most of the skill players around him returning. In conference, Nebraska’s toughest games will be at home. With such an amazing defense, the sky is the limit for the Blackshirts. Coach Bo Pelini can use the regular season as a tune-up to get the offense on track if he wants to win the Big XII title game.