Five questions for the New Year, No. 4

We've looked at the USC Trojans' top 10 moments from 2011 and the top 10 performers as well. Now, with the final days of the year approaching, we take a look at the five most pressing questions surrounding Lane Kiffin's Trojans in 2012. We'll unveil one each day this week, counting down from No. 5 Monday to No. 1 on Friday.

Question No. 5 covered the Associated Press preseason top 25. Question No. 4, then, is this: How will USC work around the NCAA-sanctioned scholarship limits set to hit in February?

Here's the deal: Signing Day is Feb. 2. Most schools around the country will sign in the range of 25 players to letters of intent that day, setting it up for them to enroll over summer and join the team in fall camp.

USC can only sign 15, by the NCAA's mandate in sanctions placed upon the school in June 2010. And, to make matters worse, the Trojans have to keep their overall scholarships under 75, per another aspect of the sanctions.

That is going to be an issue. By our count, USC has 66 players on its roster who were on scholarship in 2011 and who plan to play football at the college level next year. The Trojans have already signed four players this month to enroll in January and plan to sign two or three more, per coach Lane Kiffin. There are also seven players verbally committed to USC and many, many more who are being recruited by the school. Even with just seven, though, that's already more than 75.

So, what gives? Some players are going to have to be dropped off scholarship or transfer, whether by choice or suggestion. Armond Armstead, Brice Butler and T.J. Bryant seem likely candidates to fall in the transfer category. Three former walk-ons -- Will Andrew, Abe Markowitz and Tony Burnett -- could see their scholarships dropped.

Even then, though, if all six are no longer on scholarship next fall and USC signs 15 players in February and takes on two more early enrollees for January to make six, that equates to 81 players. Six more would have to go.

The problem isn't so much depth -- the last 10 scholarship guys on a college football team are largely insurance policies in case the first 75 get hurt. The problem is that cutting 20-year-olds loose is never easy.

The challenge for Kiffin and the Trojans will be to do it gracefully.

Check back Tuesday for question No. 3, which deals with the new offensive systems taking root in a few Pac-12 schools and how USC will adjust to them.