USC comes into this season as the No. 1 team in the nation but there are several stumbling blocks on the road to a national championship and this week we take a look at five key concerns for the Trojans.
One of the biggest reasons USC is a preseason No. 1 team is an unmatched receiving core led by Robert Woods, Marquise Lee and George Farmer, along with tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble.
Woods is the star of the group and a likely first round NFL draft pick next year. He had a team-high 111 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He is on pace to be USC's career pass catching and kickoff return leader by the end of this season.
The problem for Woods and USC coming into training camp is Woods’ health, which is still a major question mark. During Pac-12 media day, USC coach Lane Kiffin said Woods would not be 100 percent healthy for the start of camp and he didn’t know when he would get there.
Woods underwent arthroscopic surgery on his injured right ankle in December and hasn’t been medically cleared since, with lingering inflammation in the joint. Woods has not been able to run, let alone practice with the team, since the end of last season.
“It just never recovered the way it was supposed to,” Kiffin said. “For whatever reason, there have just been setbacks during the recovery and he's still not there.”
If there is a silver lining with Woods it's that he played through the same injury last season and it didn't seem to slow him down on game days. Woods initially injured the ankle during a pick-up basketball game on the eve of USC's spring game in April 2011 and played through the pain last season while being a consensus All American.
The problem, of course, is that a 20-year-old receiver in college shouldn’t really have to play through that kind of chronic pain for over a year, and at some point it will likely catch up with him. It also makes you wonder how much better Woods could be if he were pain-free this season.
As good as Lee was last season (73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns), if Woods is forced to miss time, the Trojans have plenty of talent but not a whole lot of experience behind him.
Farmer only had 4 receptions for 42 yards and no touchdowns last season as he doubled as a tailback while De’Von Flournoy and Victor Blackwell have yet to catch a pass at USC.