USC: Brandon Weeden

Five questions for the New Year, No. 5

December, 26, 2011
12/26/11
5:00
PM PT
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 today to No. 1 on Friday.

It's also worth looking back at our five questions for 2011 from this time last year. Most of them were answered definitively in one direction or the other. Here are No. 5, No. 4, No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1.

Here, then, is No. 5: Where will USC rank in the 2012 Associated Press preseason top 25?

The Trojans finished their 2011 regular season ranked fifth in the country by the AP -- in a definite surprise to those not following the team. It was a quick rise, to be sure, as USC had been ranked 18th just three weeks earlier and unranked a month before that.

But the 10-2 Trojans were deserving. Only two teams with fewer losses were below them in the top 25, and one of those was a Houston team that had just been markedly upset.

So, with this season now out of the way, where is USC going to start next year? It's important to note that the previous season's end-of-year rankings consistently play a large role in each preseason edition. Each of the top-five teams this year, for example, finished last year in the top 10.

Let's pencil in the winner of the upcoming national championship game, then, as the likely No. 1 -- especially if it's LSU, who returns a large portion of its lineup. Even if Alabama pulls off the win, the Tigers will be hard to overtake, actually.

But the other top teams all lose a lot, including No. 3 Oklahoma State (likely Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon) and No. 4 Stanford (Andrew Luck). No. 6 Oregon returns plenty, but LaMichael James may not be returning, and it's somewhat unlikely voters would place the Ducks over the Trojans to start the year -- even if Chip Kelly's squad does beat Wisconsin in next week's Rose Bowl.

The Badgers also lose their quarterback -- and potentially their running back, as Montee Ball has said he'll determine whether to declare for the draft based on the draft grade he receives from the NFL.

There just aren't too many more teams to compete with. Ohio State was a possibility under Urban Meyer, but they'll see a drop-off because of NCAA sanctions. Georgia has a lot of 2012 potential, but not enough to jump a 10-2 team returning its best player in Matt Barkley.

The short answer, then, is this: Expect USC to be ranked either second or third in the country next August, behind LSU and maybe Alabama, depending on what happens in next month's national championship game between LSU and Alabama, who returns at Alabama and Oregon and spring practices at USC and those schools.

Check back Tuesday for question No. 4, which deals with NCAA-sanctioned scholarship limits and how they'll affect USC next year.

Questions for camp, No. 10: Barkley for Heisman?

August, 3, 2011
8/03/11
12:58
PM PT
Only one day (!) remains until fall camp begins for the Trojans. We've been previewing the biggest questions that USC must answer in the month between camp and the season opener. Read the first nine questions here, covering such topics as freshmen on both side of the ball, position switches and recovering from unexpected.

The 10th, and final, question is this: Could junior quarterback Matt Barkley made a legitimate run for the Heisman Trophy in what very well might be his last season as a Trojan in 2011?

It's one of the best off-the-field storylines to follow in sports: the race for the Heisman Trophy. And it's even more interesting than usual for the Trojans and their fans this season, because it's likely that, in Barkley, USC will have a true competitor for the award for the first time in six years.

Barkley's not the favorite. That role goes to Stanford's Andrew Luck. But he's probably, at this point, somewhere in the bottom half of the top 10-candidates nationwide, behind Luck, Oregon's LaMichael James, Boise State's Kellen Moore and the two quarterbacks from the state of Oklahoma, Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden. Some would argue Auburn's Michael Dyer, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon are also in front of him.

But what would Barkley have to do this season to jump ahead of a few of those guys and make a serious run?

First, USC would need to have a very good, if not great, season. Any less than 10 wins, coupled with the lack of a bowl game, would eliminate him from consideration. He probably needs to lead the Trojans to an 11-1 or 12-0 season to really have a chance. He also needs to bring his interception total down from 12 to fewer than 10 and up his touchdown total at least to 30.

He also needs to have big games in USC's big games and lead an upset over Stanford or Oregon while hanging tough with each of those schools' candidates.

These conditions are demanding, and Barkley would have a much better chance if he were to stay for his senior season because of the bowl-game aspect and the extra year of experience. But that seems unlikely at this point. A good goal for this season, then, is to simply get to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation as one of four finalists.

The last Trojan to do so was Reggie Bush, in 2005, when he won the award with the most votes since O.J. Simpson in 1968. But Bush's honor has since been forfeited. The last Trojan to win the award who still remains in the record books is Matt Leinart in 2004.

As for competition on his own team, Barkley won't have to worry too much about splitting votes with any teammates. The closest thing to another candidate has is sophomore receiver/returner Robert Woods, who has nothing more than an extreme outside chance.

Barkley could easily get to New York. Winning the trophy would be a lot more difficult.

Football camp coverage begins Thursday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler413292350536
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen25013375.39
J. Davis1255504.44
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor97122312.611
J. Smith5165812.95
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense158.2294.6452.8
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring35.123.811.3