Season grades


It took a little while to develop a dependable second option, but the Robert Woods-Marqise Lee tandem has really worked quite well for Matt Barkley this season. And Barkley has proven over the last couple of weeks to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.


Curtis McNeal emerged midseason as USC's No. 1 running back and has had six straight games of 85 or more yards rushing. Marc Tyler was suspended and hurt but didn't disappoint on the field. Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan were busts -- Baxter obviously moreso.


In USC's first few games, the offensive line performed to the caliber of a 'D' grade. But the Trojans have put up multiple 'A'-quality games over the last month of the season, including at Oregon. The defensive line finally started to produce pressure toward the end of the year.


Turnovers are still lacking, surely, but USC began to perfect the bend-but-don't-break style of defense late this year. Exhibit A: Oregon's final drive last week, when everyone at Autzen Stadium expected the Ducks to drive down the field and score a touchdown. The Trojans held them to a field-goal attempt.


John Baxter's unit was consistently great in 2011, producing big plays week in and week out. The Trojans were buoyed to victories by big special-teams plays on more than one occasion. Walk-on punter Kyle Negrete was solid and kicker Andre Heidari is a future Lou Groza award-winner.


Lane Kiffin took a lot of flak throughout the year -- especially after the Trojans' September loss to Arizona State -- but he's one win away from finishing the season comfortably in the top 10 nationally. USC's crack staff of assistants may get head-coaching looks.