We’re doing a series on the Trojans’ top 10 performers in 2011, ranking the team’s best players based on their overall value to the team last season.
The first eight players, in descending order, were T.J. McDonald, Christian Tupou, Curtis McNeal, Nick Perry, Dion Bailey, Marqise Lee, Nickell Robey and Robert Woods.
No. 2, then, is left tackle Matt Kalil, one of two USC juniors to declare early for the draft and thus end his Trojans' career.
Would Matt Barkley have been able to have the year he had in 2011 without the help of Kalil?
Not a chance. Kalil did it without fanfare most of the time, but his performances at left tackle were incredibly key to USC's success last season. Imagine how things would have gone in the first few of the games of the year if there were no Kalil, if the Trojans were forced to break in five players at five new positions in one month.
It would've been ugly. And, then, once the season began, Kalil was the glue holding the rest of the line together, teaming with center Khaled Holmes to tutor freshman left guard Marcus Martin on the job and make up for the youthful mistakes of right-siders John Martinez and Kevin Graf.
It's not a coincidence, either, that just about all of running back Curtis McNeal's big rushes came on the left side, either through the hole between Martin and Kalil or to Kalil's left. The rest of the offensive line was average or above-average; Kalil was dominant.
Barkley's staying now, so it's no longer close. But if both he and Kalil had decided to leave, you could have made quite the argument that Kalil would be the harder one to replace, based on the available backups. And there was some thought on our end to put Kalil No. 1, over Barkley.
So, who takes over the left tackle spot in 2012? Graf would make sense, as would sophomore to-be Aundrey Walker, who was given a chance to start at left guard in 2011. If neither of those guys seize the job, it's really a complete unknown as to what USC would do.
But that's a topic for another day. Kalil's headed for the NFL draft next April, where he'll almost assuredly be one of the top 10 players selected and become some team's next great hope on the offensive line for the next dozen years.
He hasn't shown any reason to make people believe he won't be able to do it.
Check back Friday for the conclusion of our series with our No. 1 performer, Barkley. We'll also reveal a five-man Honorable Mention list and explain our next list, which will span next Monday-Friday.