LOS ANGELES CA - Don't worry, Lane. I won't vote you #1, either. Only, I'm like trustworthy and stuff. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Simply put, USC is all the rage headed into the 2012 college football season. The Trojans finished strong last season, including a victory over Oregon at Autzen Stadium. While questions about overall depth and the lack of experience on the defensive line are potential pitfalls, the front line offensive talent on this squad could make for the best offense in the country. Lane Kiffin has done a very good job guiding this program through sanctions, now the question is whether he's ready to get back in the national championship picture and break Oregon's stranglehold on the conference championship.
Terrifying. The offensive starting lineup for SC is without weakness, and is simply a who's who of future NFL players. We could start with Matt Barkley, the best quarterback in the country. We could continue to talk about two All-American caliber receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. I could throw in two 1000 yard rushers in Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd. Mention that they return four starters on the offensive line. Or bemoan that their tight end was a freshman All-American last season. In summary, this offense is going to put up a ton of point and be a problem for any defense to handle. The one potential issue, due to scholarship limits, is depth, and serious injuries could derail the SC train. But on paper, the offense is a juggernaut.
While the offense is the genesis of the Trojans' national championship hopes, the defense will be where those hopes are made or broken. The Trojans return all four starters in the secondary, including All-American candidates TJ McDonald at safety and Nickell Roby at corner. They are also set at linebacker, where Hayes Pulliard and Dion Bailey were among the very best in the conference as freshmen last season. However, they have very real issues at defenisve line. Already losing five of their top six linemen from last season, Devon Kannard suffered a season ending injury in the offseason. SC has a lot of recruiting stars to plug in, with guys like George uko, Christian Heyward, Antwaun Woods, etc. But it is very unproven talent and depth is a real concern. Another injury combined with a guy or two not panning out could derail SC's lofty hopes.
USC has a very managable schedule, are are fortunate to get Oregon and Notre Dame at home. However, they have a key stretch where they have three road games in four weeks, with those trips being Stanford, Utah, and Washington. They also face the prospect of facing Oregon twice in November, when injuries could be a major factor.
SC is easily the best team in the Pac-12 South, and should make the Pac-12 title game barring major injuries. However, keep an eye on that defensive line. If they are going to beat Oregon twice and win a national title, its going to have to get really good, fast.