LOS ANGELES -- The mantra of "It's about the prep, not the hype" has been adopted by the USC football team as it prepares for the 2012 season.
That's important to remember as fall camp begins Monday because the hype for this team is certainly there, and now it's time to get to work and focus on the prep. After a long offseason that really got started the day Matt Barkley said he was returning for his senior season, the players get to put aside all the talk about how good they can possibly be and hit the field to prove it to themselves and others.
There is much to be accomplished in August before the Trojans host their opening game against Hawaii on Sept. 1. One of the most pressing needs is finding a replacement at defensive end for Devon Kennard. After so much speculation about how the interior of the defensive line was inexperienced, now the Trojans must overcome the loss of a veteran senior who started 18 games in his career. There are three primary options to earn the starting role: Greg Townsend Jr., Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams -- none of whom has seen game action for the Trojans.
As mentioned, the two interior D-line spots are a concern. Sophomore George Uko has the most experience and he's expected to be an instant leader at the three-technique spot. But J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods are both fairly young at nose tackle. That group will need to grow up quickly under the tutelage of Ed Orgeron.
Depth at tailback was another concern for the team, but that seems to have been solved with incoming transfer Silas Redd, a hard runner who gained more than 1,200 yards last season at Penn State. The combination of Redd and the dynamic Curtis McNeal should give the Trojans a terrific backfield. It will probably mean more of a spot role for D.J. Morgan, a speedster who can gain the coaches' trust in a big way if he can hold on to the ball when he gets his opportunities.
Other than those needs, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of worry for the Trojans as they start camp. Sure, one can nitpick about them having to replace Matt Kalil at left tackle, but four starters are returning on the offensive line and the projected starter at left tackle -- sophomore Aundrey Walker -- is an athletic big man who has dropped from 375 pounds when he entered USC last fall to 300 pounds.
There is also a wait-and-see attitude about the ankle of Robert Woods. Of course, Woods played the 2011 season with the sore ankle and set a conference record for receptions in a season while earning ESPN All-American honors. He had surgery after the season and basically rested for the past eight months in attempt to get back to full strength. Even if he's not 100 percent, Woods and his coaches say he is ready to play on the ankle.
Adding all that up, it's easy to understand the hype for the Trojans. They finished the 2011 season as hot as any team in the country, and suddenly Lane Kiffin and his staff are in charge of a team that is No. 1 in the preseason ESPN rankings. The coaches have taken advantage of that momentum by reeling in a recruiting class that is also ranked No. 1.
Now all that's left is actually playing football. The Trojans don't have a ton of depth across the board. That will be an issue to watch as the season goes along, and the schedule offers plenty of daunting challenges. There will be a tough road stretch early in the season, including a cross-country trip to New York to play Syracuse, and in-conference trips to Stanford, Utah and Washington. Anyone could suppose that those teams would love to spoil the USC party. If the Trojans escape unscathed they will have a stretch run that includes Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame, plus a potential conference title game.
Any way you look at it, the Trojans' 2012 season is one that shapes up potentially as one for the ages, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying the hype as the season begins. For the players and coaches themselves, however, the hype will take a back seat starting next Monday, as fall camp prep begins.