You can’t talk about the Men of Troy without mentioning Lane Kiffin and the doubt swirling around his future at USC.
So with that as a backdrop, expectations are actually low for USC standards as the Trojans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season — remember they were preseason No. 1 by many.
This is USC and the talent is in place to turn it around quickly and possibly save Kiffin’s job.
The Trojans could see their biggest gains on defense as the line and linebackers rank among some of the best in the nation. New coordinator Clancy Pendergast is running a 5-2 scheme, which is a change from the 4-3 USC ran in the past.
The outside linebackers will be bolstered by seniors Morgan Breslin (13 sacks) and Devon Kennard (coming off an injury), and both will make the adjustment from being defensive ends. The line is probably even stronger with Antwaun Woods, Cody Woods, Leonard Williams (eight sacks) and George Uko all in play.
What becomes a glaring problem is the defensive backfield.
Strong safety play should be solid with Dion Bailey making the switch from linebacker, but it’s not clear who will be the starter at free safety as Demetrius Wright, Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III should all get a shot.
It sounds simplistic, but Kiffin’s job may come down to how well the cornerbacks play this fall. USC is short on experience and talent. The early guess would give the starting nod to Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown, but you can also bet to see Torin Harris, Chris Hawkins and Devian Shelton on the field.
If the defense can play up to Pete Carroll standards, then the pressure will fall to an offense that is still struggling to find the right replacement for Matt Barkley at quarterback.
Since Max Wittek filled in for Barkley when he was injured, it would seem to be his to lose. But he didn’t do much in his short audition last year to make anyone think he should be the starter in 2013. Wittek remains a viable option because he has the perfect quarterback build (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) and a rocket arm.
You can’t count out Cody Kessler and true freshman Max Browne, though. If Kiffin wasn’t on the hot seat he might actually look to the future and just go with Browne right now. But it’s not likely.
Another reason USC will likely shy away from going with a young QB is because the offensive line is in a rebuilding mode. The unit may be better than the early expectations, but right now it’s too hard to tell. One potential superstar of the group could be Aundrey Walker, who is still trying to live up to his hype.
Now if the line can produce, the Trojans could have a more effective running game as former Penn State star Silas Redd is back for a second season with USC. Of course, Buck Allen, Tre Madden and D.J. Morgan will also get some carries.
If the offense can come together, then the highly talented receivers could be the extra push that USC needs to get over the hump this year. You have to start with the explosive talent of Marqise Lee, who is possibly the best offensive player in the country. He reminds me of Jerry Rice and how everything thrown his way is caught.
Lee is going to be double teamed a lot this fall, so other receivers like Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy must step up for whoever is starting at QB.
Unfortunately for Kiffin, there are too many ifs and buts for him to relax at all this season. He may need a minimum of nine wins or eight and a bowl victory to save his job because anything less (like 7-6) just isn’t acceptable at the Pac-12’s premiere program.