USC Trojans season preview

We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the USC Trojans.


Coach: Lane Kiffin (32-19 overall, 25-13 at USC)

2012 record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)

Key losses: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, OL Khaled Holmes, DB T.J. McDonald, DB Nickell Robey

Key returnees: WR Marqise Lee, RB Silas Redd, OL Kevin Graf, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Randall Telfer, LB Hayes Pullard, DL Leonard Williams, OLB Morgan Breslin, DB Dion Bailey, WR Nelson Agholor

Newcomer to watch: DB Su’a Cravens

Biggest games in 2013: at Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The cornerback position stood out in spring ball as an area that needs work. The Trojans have a new defensive coordinator in Clancy Pendergast, who runs a 5-2 scheme that relies on the corners to play a lot of man-to-man coverage. USC needs to replace both corners from 2012, although safety Josh Shaw did play some corner last year and can move back if needed. Keep an eye on sophomore Kevon Seymour to lock down one spot, as he showed a lot of promise as a freshman. The Pac-12 has some very good quarterbacks returning this year, and the USC corners will need to step up their play for the defense to be successful.

Forecast: There is a wait-and-see attitude for the Trojans this year after the disappointing results in 2012. The good news is there are 16 starters returning, including the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner in Marqise Lee. There are plenty of other talented skill players coming back on offense in addition to Lee, but one key spot that needs to be filled is at quarterback. Matt Barkley is gone after four years as the starter, and fall camp will see a continuation of the battle between Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne to replace him. Wittek has the benefit of starting two games at the end of 2012 when Barkley was injured, but he struggled in the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Kessler had a solid spring with zero interceptions in five scrimmages, and he carried that momentum through summer throwing sessions. Browne is a future talent who will likely redshirt with two veterans ahead of him. On defense, there is a lot of optimism that the change in scheme will bring positive results. Pendergast had the top-ranked defense at Cal in his first year on the job in 2010, and he has the players at USC to make a similar turnaround. The front seven is a bright spot, led by returning Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Leonard Williams on the defensive line and Hayes Pullard at linebacker. Morgan Breslin had 13 sacks in 2012, and he moves to outside linebacker this year. Look for the Trojans to attack with this front from multiple angles and create a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.