Throughout the land, it seems as though USC’s prowess is on hold as NCAA sanctions riddle the program. The widespread perception is that the Trojans are ready to fall back to Earth and join the rest of the conference. As Ted Miller–ESPN Pac-10 blogger–explains, don’t count out USC.
Of course my perceptions are skewed given the fact that I am an undergradate at USC and my allegiance sits with the Trojans so it is refreshing to hear a professional who regularly covers the league articulate positive thoughts the running through my mind.
Here are some highlights from Miller’s video:
“Don’t be surprised if USC plays more like the Trojans of 2002-2008 then the crewed that got macked around in 2009.”
Despite the sanctions, the players still have much to play for. In addition to pride, many of the players have NFL aspirations and need to impress scouts throughout the season to build up their stock. Furthermore, the attitude given out by most of the players seems defiant. They are on a mission to prove they can withstand these sanctions and seem to be fired up in a way they weren’t towards the end of last season.
“There is a real chance Lane Kiffin is a good football coach.”
Miller nails it perfectly in that he doesn’t definitely say Kiffin is a good coach. One thing is for certain: at his two previous stops he wasn’t given much to work with. Controversy aside, there is reason for optimism. As a Raiders fan, I acknowledge that coaches haven’t had much success and to pin the failure squarely on Kiffin is ludicrous. No one was able to win with JaMarcus Russell running the show, but it took Al Davis too long to realize it. Then, he made a stride–albeit a small one–in Tennessee. Before Kiffin arrived, Jonathan Crompton was a sub-par quarterback and Kiffin turned him into a guy who could go out and be productive. I am not saying Kiffin is a genius or even a good coach, simply that its too early to pass judgment. But as Miller points out, he has to have some talent if he landed the three gigs that he has had. Plenty of questions surround Kiffin, but there is potential for him to be the solid coach most detractors believe he won’t be.
“USC will be a better coached football team in 2010 than it was with the odd mix-and-match staff Pete Carroll put together last fall.”
Last season, I was highly critical of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates as I sat in the Coliseum. In the beginning of the season, he was too conservative before he opened things up against California, Oregon State, and Notre Dame. After that, he became enamored with the pass and leaned too heavily on it. Instead of relying on the stable of running backs to set up the pass and take the pressure off Barkley, Bates threw too much–especially with Damian Williams and Anthony McCoy hurt. Now, Kennedy Pola and Lane Kiffin are in charge of the offense. Pola is a whiz with running backs and should boost the running game. Defensively, there is no comparison between coordinators. Some of the blame must go to the players, but Rocky Seto seemed overmatched on several occasions. In the game against Arizona, I recall the Wildcats running the same play three times on the same drive and gaining a good chunk each time. Contrast that with Monte Kiffin, who is a defensive mastermind and legend. He mentored Pete Carroll and developed the vaunted Tampa 2 defense. A year ago, Monte gave the Volunteers a chance to shock number one Alabama and played the Florida Gators extremely tough. Even the special teams will get an upgrade. John Baxter came over from Fresno State to take over the unit. He is known for his punt blocking and return schemes which should boost USC’s field position.
“[USC will have] probably one of the best defensive lines in the conference and perhaps in the nation.”
Plenty of talented players remain on the USC line despite an injury and a transfer. Sophomore Nick Perry and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will be forces to be reckoned with. The pass rush should be superb as well as the ability to clog up the middle. As we mentioned in our scrimmage observations yesterday, a tough front line is crucial for USC. If the pass rush can irritate the quarterback, it eases the amount of time defensive backs have to cover their man and forces errant throws. With a strong offensive line, USC defense can return to their previous form and stifle opposing offense. In a year that will be dominated by quarterbacks, the Trojans will need a stout defense to deal with the potent offenses at Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona and Stanford (maybe even Washington and California).
Miller also adds the schedule is easy.
With the exception of Notre Dame, the non-conference schedule is filled with teams that aren’t a tremendous threat to USC. Given that USC hasn’t lost an out of conference regular season game since 2002, it is likely they will go 4-0 outside of the Pac-10. In conference, it is a gift these days whenever you get to go to Pullman. The Washington State Cougars are downtrodden and a road game in Pullman means one less road game against a decent conference opponent. Unfortunately, the back end of the schedule is filled with land mines with trips to Arizona and Oregon State in consecutive weeks. However, if USC is undefeated at that point, the motivation of an undefeated season could be intense motivation for those two road games. Also the game at Stanford will be a test, but there is a huge revenge factor after Stanford whacked USC. Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez went on record saying he believes USC could go 13-0, but that seems unlikely. However, the schedule could yield an 11-2 season, which is why you don’t count out USC just yet….