Friday, May 20, 2011
Hope & concern: USC
By Ted Miller
Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.
Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.
Biggest reason for hope: Barkley to Woods, repeat.
One of the highlights of my spring practice tour was seeing USC quarterback Matt Barkley smash receiver Robert Woods in the helmet with a pass. Woods didn't see it coming, and the ball had some mustard on it, but the talented sophomore was unhurt. Not sure why the moment so amused me -- was finishing off a a 20 oz Starbucks dark drip for the early a.m. session at the time -- other than it was a rare instance of miscommunication for this slick pair of future NFL starters. Woods earned freshman All-American honors last season, but made much of his noise in the return game. He was dominant at most times this spring and -- apologies to Arizona's Juron Criner -- might end up as the best receiver in the conference. Barkley will be entering his third season as the Trojans' starter. He improved last season over his true freshman campaign, and it's not unreasonable to expect him to make another jump in 2011, which might be enough to garner him All-American consideration. Barkley isn't shy about admitting he expects to push into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Bottom line: If Woods doesn't eclipse the 1,000-yard, 10 TD benchmarks, it would be fairly surprising.
Biggest reason for concern: Whither the offensive line?
Barkley exemplifies Southern California cool, but he's not completely unflappable. He was frustrated at times during spring practices because he was working under constant duress behind a patchwork offensive line, and even memorably lost his temper once. (I also enjoyed Barkley mildly grousing to me about what he felt was a media overreaction to a fairly common football occurrence). USC is replacing three starters on its offensive line, and only left tackle Matt Kalil was available this spring. Moreover, Kalil is the only certainty heading into the fall, though Khaled Holmes is the likely starter at center and Kevin Graf should get the nod somewhere. But injuries not only exposed a lack of depth. There was a bit of, "These don't look like USC guys." USC has always passed the sight test. During the glory years under Pete Carroll, the No. 2 line looked more physically impressive than 90 percent of other FBS teams' starters. That's no longer the case. Touted incoming freshmen Cyrus Hobbi and Aundrey Walker are expected to be immediately in the mix. If you're looking for an area to start the discussion of an over-under for the Trojans getting eight wins in 2010, the offensive line likely will determine that trajectory.