Fall Camp Storylines: The Trojan Secondary Looks To Get Even Stronger

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Safety T.J. McDonald #7 of the USC Trojansin action against the UCLA Bruins at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 26, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. USC won 50-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With fall camp slated to begin Monday, we'll be examining a few lingering storylines the Trojans must sort out as they begin preparations for the upcoming 2012 season. In the fifth and final part, USC"s talented secondary is analyzed.

With the possible exception to the wideouts, USC's defensive back corps is the Trojans' strongest multiple-player unit (you don't count, Matt Barkley).

With stalwarts such as safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey, USC's two best defensive players are under the watchful eye of defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron in Monte Kiffin's famed Tampa-2 scheme.

As the captain of the defense, McDonald continued the momentum off his excellent sophomore season into another strong performance his junior year. If anything, moments were marred by McDonald's physical play, incurring a handful of personal foul flags and a one-half suspension, which was served against Colorado. Make no mistake: his decision to forgo the draft and his presence is a tremendous upgrade over the possible replacement (Drew McAllister?).

Just like wideout Robert Woods, Robey completed a great sophomore season after a notable freshman one. Despite his short stature for a cornerback -- 5-foot-8 -- Robey proved that he can stand tall with the rest of the Pac-12's DBs as the best cornerback (in the 2011 All-Pac-12 team as decided by the conference's coaches, Robey was the only cornerback to make first-team defense).

But Robey and McDonald can't cover the whole field; they need another two guys. This strong group is not bereft of position battles. Two intriguing ones exist: No. 2 corner and strong safety.

No. 2 Corner

Isiah Wiley (incumbent) vs. Josh Shaw (challenger)

Wiley was a transfer last season who took a few games to get a hold of FBS D-1 football. But he was a star of spring practice and the spring game, constantly making his presence known on the field.

Another transfer, Shaw comes from Florida -- without any restriction -- to play his first year in Southland. The former 25th-overall prospect comes home to Southern California to play for the Trojans to be near his family as a few members have developed health problems.

Who will start Sept. 1 (USC vs. Hawaii)?

Wiley. His familiarity with the program will give him a leg up on Shaw, who should still see time.

Who will start Nov. 3 (USC vs. Oregon)?

Wiley. Have a hunch that Wiley will keep the job throughout the year barring injury. Shaw will have the following year to have this job -- or maybe Robey's should he jump ship for the draft -- to himself.

Strong Safety

Jawanza Starling (incumbent) vs. Gerald Bowman (challenger)

Starling was the unsung hero of USC's secondary, playing a perfect complement to McDonald. His lasting mark on the 2011 season was his fumble-recovery touchdown against Notre Dame to seal the victory (feel free to relive that moment from the Notre Dame stands). His stats weren't flashy, but he was a cog in the Trojan D.

Bowman comes in after being one of the hottest JUCO transfers in last year's recruiting class. Hailing from Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills, the safety looks to gain critical snaps in the two years that he has with the Trojans as soon as possible. Can he gain time over the established Starling?

Who will start Sept. 1 (USC vs. Hawaii)?

Barring major camp developments, it is unlikely that Shaw will dethrone the two-year starter. Hey, anything is possible. But the Starling-McDonald pair should be around for the season opener.

Who will start Nov. 3 (USC vs. Oregon)?

Bowman will seize the job from Starling as Lamar Dawson did so from Chris Galippo last season. His size and speed add another weapon to Marvin Sanders' squad.

For more Conquest Chronicles and for more USC news and commentary, follow us on Twitter @CChroniclesSBN.

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