It is finally here...
Year two of USC under Lane Kiffin officially starts today.
Last season had a lot of ups and downs...both on and off the field.
With the NCAA ruling behind us (but not the effects of the sanctions) Lane Kiffin and staff have a much clearer picture on the direction they need to take with the program going forward.
With not being eligible for the post season or the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, the only thing this team is playing for is pride.
But there are still a lot questions.
Overall depth is the biggest concern. This is a surprise to no one.
The unit that everyone will be watching with great interest is the unit that holds the key to USC's offense being effective in 2011.
Obviously, I am talking about the offensive line...
Left tackle Matt Kalil is an honors candidate who could be bound for the NFL after this season. Khaled Holmes has been moved from guard to center, but the junior has struggled with a neck and shoulder problem.
No other linemen have played significant snaps.
Sophomore Kevin Graf and senior Martin Coleman are among the players who will be counted on to step up.
Losing Tyron Smith hurts...but we move on.
If the line can't perform at the level we need them to then it is going to be a long year for Matt Barkley. Regardless of the weapons that he has at receiver, if he doesn't have the time then the plays can develop.
Not earth shattering news there...
In my interview with Kiffin he intimated the same things with regards to the O-line.
Last year, Barkley had a serviceable O-line, this year the O-line isn't quite as serviceable.
I already discussed Barkley here.
The running back spot will also be interesting to watch. Gone are the days of stockpiling 10 RB's.
With Marc Tyler out for the first game and maybe longer, the running game will be put into the hands of some young players. One of those players is Dillon Baxter, we all saw the issues that young Mr. Baxter went through last year, the question is will Baxter make the turn this season?
Starting Thursday, when the Trojans hold their first training camp practice, Baxter intends to show coaches that his fancy footwork and an improved running style make for a combination worthy of a starter.
With senior Marc Tyler suspended for the Sept. 3 opener against Minnesota, and possibly longer, Baxter is the Trojans' most experienced ballcarrier.
Baxter, redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, junior Curtis McNeal and freshmen Javorious Allen and Amir Carlisle are competing to replace Tyler, the Trojans' leading rusher last season.
There is no frontrunner, Coach Lane Kiffin said
Baxter seems to be the elder statesman in actual game experience when looking at that list.
Losing a power back like Tyler changes the make-up of the offense, it takes away some balance. Baxter has an opportunity to really show us what he is made of and if he has mature from last years issues.
Defense is next...
The only thing I really want to see on defense this season is an improvement.
Monte Kiffin and his defensive staff have had an off-season to reflect and tinker with a unit that was subpar, especially at the end of games.
Devon Kennard moves from middle linebacker to defensive end. Tackle Christian Tupou's return from knee surgery will help offset the loss of Jurrell Casey and infuse the defense with a spirited and vocal presence. USC is still awaiting word on the status of defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who sat out spring practice after undergoing a battery of medical tests.
There will be some new faces on defense, but I am really more concerned with those who were on the squad last year and how they will improve this season.
I want to see them finish.
I want to see if they really have grasped Monte Kiffin's scheme. We all saw how they looked last season in the early goings...the question is will they improve upon the improvements that they showed us towards the end of the season?
Don't get me wrong, the defense still had a lot of issues at the end of the season...that Notre Dame game still makes me shake my head...but there was some improvement.
The questions start to get answered today...