The USC Trojans football team’s preseason gets underway tonight, and while the team is ranked third in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll heading into fall camp, they still have some work to do to prove they deserve it.
With a Heisman Trophy favorite returning for his fourth-year as starting quarterback, two of the top wide receivers in the conference, a new running back to bolster one of the team’s few weaknesses, and the entire starting back seven returning on defense, it seems like the Trojans are in pretty good shape for their first shot at the postseason in two years.
There are, however, still some unanswered questions heading into 2012.
- Can Aundrey Walker protect Matt Barkley’s blind side?
Well, we’ll find out. USC and its fans sure hope so, but Walker is very inexperienced, and he has very large shoes to fill. Last year, left tackle Matt Kalil kept the Trojans’ QB out of harm’s way, blocking his way to the fourth overall pick of the NFL Draft. At 6’6″, 300 pounds, Walker certainly has the size to stand up to just about any Pac-12 D-linemen. No one’s questioning his work ethic and competitive drive, either. Last season, he weighed in at 378 lbs, dropping more than 80 in the offseason while adding muscle. With his strength and size, he shouldn’t have too many problems taking over at left tackle, but he might need a little reinforcement early in the season while he’s still getting accustomed to being an every-down lineman.
- Who’s Barkley’s backup?
This has been the question since top recruits Cody Kessler and Max Wittek enrolled early as true freshmen back in 2011. Kessler’s official USC bio says he was the backup as a redshirt last year, but Wittek was rumored to be gaining on him during this year’s spring workouts; either way, the competition between the two has always been as close as can be. It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Lane Kiffin handles his backups this year, with Barkley in his last season at USC. If the Trojans can build sizable leads, there should be ample time for one, or both, of the backups to get valuable playing time in preparation for 2013. Will he split that time between Kessler and Wittek, if neither pulls away in preseason? Or will one of them make a case for himself as Barkley’s successor and leave the other contemplating a transfer to a school where he’ll get to take the field before graduating?
The problem of too many top-notch quarterbacks isn’t a bad one to have. As of now, both Kessler and Wittek would be prepared to start if needed, although Trojans hope their game appearances are a luxury, to give them a taste of next year, rather than a necessity.
- Who’ll fill in for Devon Kennard, and can the D-line hold up without him?
- What’s the tailback situation now that Silas Redd joined the squad?
Redd and senior Curtis McNeal are on track to share carries. USC going after Redd was never about McNeal; it was about the dangerous lack of depth at the position. McNeal stepped up big time for the Trojans last year, just surpassing 1,000 yards on the season, but Kiffin knew he couldn’t do it all. Redshirt sophomore D.J. Morgan had opportunities last season to prove himself but instead he fumbled repeatedly and moved his way down the depth chart, and redshirt freshman Buck Allen, who has been hampered by injuries, hasn’t shown signs of making a huge impact any time soon. With converted linebacker Tre Madden lost to injury, Redd was exactly what USC needed. He and McNeal will split time, complement each other, and keep each other from getting worn down from shouldering too much of workload.
The Trojans’ preseason camp kicks off Monday, August 6 at 7:45 PDT. USC’s first game is at home against Hawaii on September 1.