The 2012 regular season has ended for the Trojans, and the team still awaits word on a bowl game destination, so we thought it would be a good time to look ahead at some of the key storylines for the 2013 season.
USC will return a veteran team next season, one that should be deeper on both sides of the line with a chance to contend for the Pac-12 title if things break right, but don't expect the Trojans to get the benefit of the doubt in the preseason projections after the epic collapse this year from the top spot in the preseason perch. Next year's USC team will need to earn everything it gets and will need to do it with a coach who will be under a ton of heat the entire time.
1. The Max Wittek era: I probably shouldn't hand the job to Wittek just yet; that wouldn't be fair to Cody Kessler or even incoming freshman Max Browne. But it's safe to say after the Notre Dame game that USC fans are OK with the thought of Wittek at the controls next season. He showed some of the skill set -- particularly the strong arm -- that has a lot of people thinking the Trojans' offense will be just fine in his hands.
2. The Redd zone: Silas Redd did a lot of good things this season after his hasty transfer to USC, so it's easy to imagine he could be even better next year after an offseason to really get comfortable. D.J. Morgan would figure to be the primary candidate to be the No. 2 back, while Buck Allen will have spring ball to try to make his case before talented freshmen Ty Isaac and Justin Davis arrive.
3. Woods' decision: Marqise Lee will be back -- that's certainly good news since he's the most dynamic player in college football -- but it remains to be seen whether Robert Woods will be back, and that could have a big effect. Woods is not easily replaceable, no matter how much promise a guy such as Nelson Agholor has shown. And what will happen with George Farmer?
4. Using the tight ends: There aren't going to be too many seasons when you have a tight end duo as experienced and talented as Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer will be next year. The only question is how the Trojans will use them, because they appear capable of doing more within the offense.
5. A void at center: The other four spots on the offensive line appear pretty well intact, as the Trojans have six guys returning with starting experience at tackle or guard. The major question mark is at center following the departure of Khaled Holmes -- will it be Cyrus Hobbi, or will Abe Markowitz be granted a sixth year and earn the spot?
6. Defensive line additions: This should be one of the more improved groups on the team. The line loses Wes Horton, but that's about it. Devon Kennard will be back to go along with a young group that will have another year of experience, in addition to an incoming freshman class that could be as good as any D-line group Ed Orgeron has brought in during his USC tenure.
7. Getting consistent linebacker play: The Trojans went into this season with the starting group intact, and the future looked bright. While there was some good production, it felt like something was missing. Keep an eye on the status of Dion Bailey -- he has said he would like a shot at returning to his original safety position -- and there is talk about the lack of a true physical presence in the middle with Lamar Dawson. There is no telling how this starting unit could look when opening day rolls around.
8. Changing of the guard: Speaking of position groups that could look different, the Trojans could have four new starters in the secondary next season. Both safeties will be gone, it is expected that Nickell Robey will leave early and Josh Shaw will be in a battle for his spot, no matter whether he is at corner or safety. This could be the spot with the greatest opportunity for some of the incoming freshmen, so it's no accident that guys such as Su'a Cravens and Chris Hawkins are enrolling early.
9. Defensive scheme: The defensive position updates mentioned above won't mean much to USC fans unless there is change in the schemes that are called. Everyone understands the father-son dynamic at play here, and nobody blames Lane Kiffin for giving it a shot with his dad, Monte Kiffin, who happened to be a pretty successful defensive coach in the NFL. But it's clear at this point that things aren't working and change is needed. It's just unclear how that change will unfold.
10. Lane Kiffin's hot seat: If Kiffin thought there was pressure coaching the preseason No. 1 team this year, just wait until he finds out what's waiting for him next season. It will be one of the biggest storylines in college football for 2013, as many media and fans across the country will be practically giddy at the thought of watching Kiffin coach his way out of a job. How will he respond? We're about to find out.