The USC Trojans led the nation with four players on the watch list for the prestigious Maxwell Award, awarded annually since 1937 to the year’s most outstanding college football player. Senior quarterback Matt Barkley and junior wide receiver Robert Woods, semifinalists for the award in 2011, are joined this year by sophomore receiver Marqise Lee and senior tailback Curtis McNeal.
Barkley, who finished sixth on the Heisman ballot last season, returns to USC for his senior season to help the Trojans settle some “unfinished business” after a two-year ban on postseason play. The first three-year captain in the program’s history, Barkley threw 39 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last season, averaging just under 300 yards per game. With a full season ahead, he’ll have a shot to surpass former Heisman winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart on USC’s career passing and total offense lists.
Woods was a Maxwell semifinalist last season, and one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award for receivers, despite playing on an injured ankle much of the year. As a true freshman in 2010, he was the Pac-10′s Offensive Freshman of the Year, and in 2011, he was a consensus All-American as well as the only unanimous selection to the All Pac-12 first team. He led the Trojans with 111 catches for 1292 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Woods burst onto the scene as a true freshman starter in 2010, setting a new standard for young, ridiculously talented wide receivers at USC. Last season, true freshman Marqise Lee followed in his high school teammate’s footsteps, making headlines for plays that rivaled Woods’. As the number two receiver, Lee quickly developed a strong chemistry with Matt Barkley, with 73 catches for 1143 yards and 11 touchdowns. The speedy receiver, who earned accolades as a member of the USC track team this spring, also contributes on special teams as a kick returner. He had 10 returns for 285 yards and 1 touchdown in 2011.
Last year was the first season Curtis McNeal had significant carries, turning 2011 a breakout year for the tailback, who finished the season with 1,005 rushing yards and All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention. McNeal missed 2010 due to academic ineligibility but seemed to finally hit his stride in 2011. With a lack of depth and experience behind him, the Trojans will need McNeal to carry that momentum into 2012.
USC also had three players named to the Bednarik watch list for the award for the nation’s top defensive player, and center Khaled Holmes made the preseason list for Rimington Trophy nominees.