This is the final post in a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Well this is it. We've spent that past week discussing what it means to be a part of the Trojan Family, as well as all the memories we've all witnessed as fans of USC. Today, however, we'll stop all the reminiscing, and instead, take a quick peak at the upcoming 2010 season, which contrary to the folks across town, is still expected to take place.
It's no small secret that much of the talk surrounding USC these days has centered around the NCAA sanctions, the misdeeds of Reggie Bush, and the ineptitude of Paul Dee. In turn, the coming season should breath new life into a program that has been surrounded by a whirlwind of negativity, especially on the national level, in recent weeks. For many of us, it will be nice to see the focus shift from the compliance office to the grooming of young up and coming talents such as QB Matt Barkley and DE Nick Perry under the new regime in town. While the team will be ineligible to play in a bowl game in 2010, many coaches, players, and fans, alike are all hoping to see the group secure another Pac-10 Championship, own the Rose Bowl (beating UCLA), and possibly even earn a top 5 ranking in the Associated Press poll however unlikely in may seem. It should certainly be an exciting season, regardless of the sanctions, as year one of the Kiffin era kicks off.
But in case you forgot, 2010 is also a pivotal season in Troy for other reasons. For starters, 2009 did not go as plan, as 'SC finished with a 9-4 mark, their worst season under Pete Carroll since 2001. Even prior to the sanctions and the departure of Carroll to the NFL, many had hinted at the possibility that USC's run atop the Pac-10 was coming to a screeching halt. I've always felt that such notions were a tad bit excessive, for remember, the 2009 bunch faced an incredibly challenging road schedule (at Ohio State, at Cal, at Notre Dame, and at Oregon), started a freshman quarterback, and was replacing arguably the best linebacking core in school history. Maybe, 9 wins wasn't so bad after all. But regardless, the program needs to make it clear that it's headed in the right direction, and a statement season in 2010 amidst a 4-year probation, would do just that.
In comparison to 2009, this year's slate appears to be a lot more favorable. Gone our the trips to horror houses such as Autzen Stadium, and are replaced by trips to the cozy Martin Stadium and a Rose Bowl split evenly between USC and UCLA fans. While talks of going 13-0 are a little premature, there isn't a game on the schedule, that the Trojans can't win.
9/02 - Hawaii - Honolulu
9/11 - Virginia - Los Angeles
9/18 - Minnesota - Minneapolis
9/25 - Washington State - Pullman
10/2 - Washington - Los Angeles
10/9 - Stanford - Palo Alto
10/16 - California - Los Angeles
10/30 - Oregon - Los Angeles
11/06 - Arizona State - Los Angeles
11/13 - Arizona - Tucson
11/20 - Oregon State - Corvallis
11/27 - Notre Dame- Los Angeles
12/04 - UCLA - Pasadena
Three Burning Questions for 2010
1.) Because of his history with the USC, will Kiffin essentially be an extension of Carroll? In short no, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in both the short term and the long term. Grated, there isn't much of a difference in regards to terminology between the 2009 Jeremy Bates-led offense and Kiffin, but there has been a noticeable change in culture. Just based on hours spent watching film, preparing for practice, and recruiting, the new staff under Kiffin has spent a noticeable amount of time within the walls of Heritage Hall. Far more than Carroll's group did last fall. Not to bash Carroll, but it's impossible to not wonder if complacency had settled in. From observing spring practice in April, there was a noticeable emphasis on discipline, as USC was among the most penalized teams in the Pac-10 last year. From closed practices to a greater emphasis on academics (the team GPA was the highest in years this past spring), there seems to be a revitalization of the culture at Howard Jones Field. This isn't just a continuation of the Carroll era. Remember that.
2.) Is this the year Barkley comes into his own? By most accounts, Matt Barkley had a pretty good freshman campaign in 2010, winning on the road in Columbus against Ohio State in just his second start, passing for 2,735 yards, and throwing for 15 touchdowns. But this is USC, and unless the team finishes number one in the polls, nobody is truly satisfied. Granted, the Newport Beach native got off to a promising start a year ago, but much more will be demanded of him in 2010, especially with the departures of offensive playmakers Joe McKnight and Damian Williams. Last season, Barkley was sacked 17 times and threw 14 interceptions, and with a new head coach/offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin, that will have to improve. He will need to be more efficient in the passing game and get rid of the ball sooner. Fortunately, history suggests that these come in time. The offense will likely live and die with Barkley this year. If he plays up to his potential, all signs seem to be indicating this, it's more than possible that he has an all-Pac-10 type of year with the Trojans finishing atop the conference.
3.) How much is the defense going to miss guys like Everson Griffen and Taylor Mays? The departures of both Griffen and Mays to the NFL will definitely hurt, but it's not the end of the world. With a healthy Armond Armstead and an ever-improving Nick Perry, along with the return of defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, the defense line figures to a lot more disciplined this season. One of the nagging problems in recent years, has been a lack of focus and immaturity from this group. Provided Orgeron can shore up some of those lingering issues, I can certainly envision a situation, where this group performs better this year.That'll be key as the secondary losses all four starters from a year ago, and the new group will be counting upon the front seven to put pressure on the quarterbacks, which is a lot easier said than done in the Pac-10.
What to expect from this team?
I can't tell you how many games this team will win. Whether, they'll win the Pac-10 title. Whether they'll be ranked in the AP poll. But I'm sure of one thing at this point in time - the 2010 Trojans are going to play hard. In fear of sounding overly cliché, this bunch has been reading all the same obituaries on USC football these past weeks, and in turn, should come out with a chip on its shoulder September 2nd against Hawaii. Nobody likes criticism, and this program has certainly been the recipients of it these summer months. Just like the basketball team, I anticipate this group to play hard despite a postseason ban. It's hard to envision a scenario in which the team simply "quits" because of the loss of one extra game. As it gets closer to the season, we'll all take a closer dive into the Xs and Os of the team, but for now, knowing that this group is going to be "fighting on" in 2010 is something all of fans can take comfort in.