- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.
We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.
MVP: Wide receiver Marqise Lee was one of the elite playmakers in all of college football and was well deserving of his Biletnikoff Award -- given annually to the nation's top wide receiver. He caught 118 balls -- 27 more than No. 2 Markus Wheaton of Oregon State -- totaling 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was one of two Pac-12 receivers to average more than 100 receiving yards per game with 132.4 (Austin Hill of Arizona averaged 104.9) and he should be a top contender for the Heisman Trophy next season.
What went right: Well, they, uh. Hmmm. There was that game where they, uh. The fact is, not a lot went right for USC this season -- based on what the level of expectation was heading into the season. Even if those expectations weren't high. Say they were ranked No. 15 in the preseason poll, it was still a disappointing season. They won seven games -- but finished on a three-game losing skid and dropped five of their last six. There were some highlights, sure. Quarterback Matt Barkley set the Pac-12 career touchdown passing record. And he led the conference in touchdown passes with 36 in 11 games. Lee was electric and should have, at the very least, been a finalist for the Heisman in 2012. Morgan Breslin was a nice surprise, and the Trojans were one of the better pressure teams in the country -- ranking fourth in total sacks and 11th in tackles for a loss. But when you're a preseason No. 1 and you drop six games -- the first team in the history of history to do that, by the way -- it's tough to find the diamonds among the wasteland of rough.
What went wrong: Settle in. This could get lengthy. You need only to consult the Pac-12 South record breakdown post to truly appreciate how very average USC was this season. And they get the 'F' because USC did not have average players. Nor should the Trojans be average. They were 0-3 against teams in the final AP poll; 0-4 against teams at the time they were ranked -- which gives you some insight into the mindset of the team at kickoff -- and against teams that finished .500 or better, they were just 3-6. It's completely unacceptable for a team that has that much talent and has such a storied national brand. Barkley saw his completion percentage drop almost six points from last season, his interceptions more than doubled from seven in 2011 to 15 in 2012. And he threw three fewer touchdowns. Robert Woods was never as effective, and for as many key players as the defense had coming back, the unit was horrendous at times. In the final six games, the Trojans allowed an average of 33 points per game -- including Oregon's 62-point outburst. And then there were the off-the-field embarrassments; the deflated balls, the switching numbers against poor Colorado, the walking-off by Lane Kiffin when asked about an injury, the coaches poll deception. None of it was becoming of a program widely considered as college football royalty. Oh yeah, and the Trojans lost to UCLA.
2013 outlook: Let's not rule them out of the Pac-12 South just yet. But the division looks like it's going to be the Wild West with ASU, Arizona and UCLA all closing the gap with the Trojans. Priority No. 1 will be finding the quarterback of the future. Max Wittek showed some flair against Notre Dame, but had a very poor showing in the Sun Bowl (as did the entire team, by the way). Lee will continue to be elite -- though his numbers might suffer with a new quarterback. And fans should be excited about the potential of Nelson Agholor -- who looks to be the next big thing in the Pac-12. They welcome back eight players on both sides of the ball -- but the defense will need a lot of retooling. Kiffin enters 2013 on one of the toastier seats in the country. If the off-field issues don't go away -- and the win total isn't significantly higher next season -- he might not make it to 2014.