This year, the USC Trojans are once again in position to contend for a national championship. The two-year postseason ban is over. The sanctions imposed by the NCAA are not forgotten, but they can now be used as a motivational tool instead of being seen as the albatross they once were.
Regular Season Win Total: 10.5
Returning Starters: 8
The people who follow college football on a 24-7 basis have some reasons to doubt USC, but not on the offensive side of the ball. The Trojans are going to generate some large point spreads for games this fall. Heisman Trophy contender (and preseason favorite) Matt Barkley is back at quarterback for his senior season, trying to make the same run at glory that another USC quarterback, Matt Leinart, attempted in 2005. Leinart lost that season's championship game to Vince Young and Texas, but if Barkley gets that far, he'll look upon this season (and his USC career) quite fondly in the fullness of time. Barkley's two foremost receiving targets, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, both racked up over 1,000 receiving yards last year and will be able to give the Trojans a supremely dynamic passing game. If the Trojans' offensive line can keep the heat off Barkley and pry open just enough holes for the rushing attack to work, this team has the weapons to once again beat Oregon, a probable foe in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Head coach Lane Kiffin had struggled in his first season and a half at USC, and after a miserable one-year stint at Tennessee in 2009, a lot of pundits wondered if he was going to amount to anything as a college head coach. This season will prove much about Kiffin because it's the first season in which he's the head coach of a favored team. Barkley, under the tutelage of Kiffin – a former offensive coordinator at USC – is in position to do really well in 2012. That means a strong season can and should be expected in the City of Angels.
Returning Starters: 7
USC returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, but those players are in the secondary and the linebacking corps. The Trojans have to find reliable run-stoppers, especially by the time they face Oregon on Nov. 3 in the Pac-12 regular season game of the year. This will be a decent defense; the front four will determine if the Trojans field an elite defense. The work of defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the former head coach at the University of Mississippi and a former lieutenant for Lane Kiffin's predecessor at USC, Pete Carroll, will be instrumental in shaping USC's defensive front. Orgeron was never a good head coach, but he's been outstanding as a defensive line coach, and he's done his best work at USC.
The odds for the Pac-12 league title are good, especially since the Trojans will host rival Oregon in the regular season. If USC wins that game, it will quite likely host the Ducks again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. It is very hard, though, to beat a team twice in one year. If USC does beat Oregon on Nov. 3, the Ducks will be in a good frame of mind to win the rematch a month later.
Prediction: First In Pac 12 South; will lose to Oregon in Pac-12 Championship Game