5 questions for the New Year, No. 1

There are five days left in 2010, so we figured now is as good a time as any to begin our Five Questions for the New Year series, which we’ll continue through Friday.

Every day, we’ll tackle one key question facing the USC football team in 2011 and attempt to answer it. Feel free to leave your answer in the comments section each day.

The first of our five questions: Will Lane Kiffin’s pro-style offense stay (relatively) the same next season, or will he switch to a more spread-based style? What’s the better option?

On the lone bye week of the 2010 season, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin threw a wrench into USC’s normal schedule by scheduling three 6 a.m. practices to prepare for high-flying No. 2 Oregon the next week.

Then he threw in an even bigger wrench, casually mentioning that he had entertained thoughts of switching to a spread-based offensive attack in the future because of a lack of depth at certain spots.

“Look at what we have,” Kiffin said on that Thursday morning in mid-October. “We have a bunch of really good receivers and backs and tight ends, and we don’t even have a fullback on our roster that’s on scholarship two months from now. We’ll have to make the best of whatever we’re dealt with.”

Was he serious, contemplating switching from an offense the Trojans have become nationally known for to a sometimes-stigmatized specialty scheme?

Was he joking, maybe with the half-hearted intention of making Oregon coach Chip Kelly think a little bit about how to defend a spread offense the next week?

Or was it a bit of both? We’ll never know what his thought process was at the time, but we can certainly assess the likelihood -- and the feasibility -- of a USC spread in 2011.

First of all, it’s important to note Kiffin was right about the lack of depth at fullback. In redshirt sophomore Simione Vehikite and freshman Soma Vainuku, USC’s only two scholarship players at that spot will be completely inexperienced.

Compare that to what USC can offer at receiver: Robert Woods, Brice Butler, Brandon Carswell, Kyle Prater, Thearon Collier and De’Von Flournoy. Even with Prater a redshirt in 2010, that makes five receivers who are more experienced than any Trojan fullbacks.

Given that information, the spread -- and by spread, I mean a true, shotgun-formation, four-receiver set spread -- starts to make some sense. But what about the playcalling, the offensive line assignments and the running backs -- how different are those in the spread as compared to the pro-style?

Pretty different. First of all, in a true spread quarterback Matt Barkley would have to develop the ability to make a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage -- something that, with all of his improvement from 2009 to 2010, he couldn’t do much of this season. Second, the emphasis on offensive line assignments would be placed on speedily getting to the outside, not holding long blocks on the interior to allow runners to get tough yards. And, third, the tailback spot at USC would lose a lot of its glamour, with guys like Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan spending time serving as flex players instead of lining up in the backfield.

In all, it’s something that would certainly take some time to perfect. And, as we learned this season with Monte Kiffin’s defense (we’ll go over this in tomorrow’s question), college players tend to take quite a while to pick up on new schemes -- especially schemes they don’t prefer.

Think about it: if a recruit wants to run the spread at the college level, they choose a school that runs the spread. If they want to run a pro-style offense, they choose a school that runs a pro-style offense.

It makes sense. But do you know what else makes sense?

Instead of switching to a true spread entirely, adding in bits and pieces of the offense -- I’m talking like 15 or 20 plays -- into USC’s current offense may be a much more realistic option for 2011.

Yes, those 15 or 20 plays would still take quite a while to install and could end up being a colossal waste of time, but it would likely be a good way to experiment with the spread with the current squad without adopting it completely.

They work well, and Jesse Scroggins could find himself spearheading a spread offense in 2012. (Never mind that he chose USC partly for its pro-style offense.)

They work poorly, and, well, who knows?

Tomorrow's question for the new year: Will Monte Kiffin stay on staff as the assistant head coach and de facto defensive coordinator? Will his defense improve in 2011?