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Friday, May 7, 2010
USC spring wrap

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

USC

2009 overall record: 9-4

2009 conference record: 5-4 (tied for fifth)

Returning starters

Offense: 6, Defense: 6, punter/kicker: 1

Top returners: QB Matt Barkley, FB Stanley Havili, OT Tyron Smith, DT Jurrell Casey, DE Nick Perry

Key losses: OT Charles Brown, WR Damian Williams, RB Joe McKnight, OG Jeff Byers, DE Everson Griffen, FS Taylor Mays

2009 statistical leaders (*returning starter)

Rushing: Joe McKnight (1,014)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (2,735)
Receiving: Damian Williams (1,010)
Tackles: Taylor Mays (96)
Sacks: Everson Griffen, Nick Perry* (8)
Interceptions: Will Harris (4)

Spring Answers

1. The defensive line is legit: New coach Lane Kiffin seemed to be unhappy with just about everything during spring -- that may be his way of challenging the complacent Trojans -- but he did praise his defensive line, which is deep and talented. Jurrell Casey is expected to break out and become one of the nation's premier defensive tackles, while ends Nick Perry and Armond Armstead appear dominant at times. It was a significant blow, however, when returning starter Christian Tupou blew out his knee in the spring game, which will force the Trojans to tap into their depth.

2. Barkley is better at QB: A lighter, more experienced Matt Barkley played well throughout spring. His decision-making was particularly improved -- he threw 11 touchdown passes with no interceptions in four scrimmages.

3. After all the hullabaloo, the Kiffin transition has been smooth: There's always upheaval when a new coach arrives, particularly when the predecessor was as successful as Pete Carroll. But the fact is Kiffin knows USC: He was an assistant there from 2001-2006. And the offensive and defensive schemes are similar to what the players know: Kiffin was the offensive coordinator his final two seasons at USC, and his father and defensive coordinator, Monte, was Pete Carroll's defensive mentor.

Fall questions

1. Secondary issues: The Trojans must replace all four starters in the secondary. That's not completely true, though, because Shareece Wright would have started last year if not for being ruled academically ineligible. Wright might be the best cornerback in the conference, but after him things are uncertain, particularly at the cornerback spot opposite him.

2. Little O-line depth: Much of the spring, the Trojans only had six healthy offensive linemen. Kiffin spent plenty of time grousing about the production up front, too. The starting unit has the potential to be very good, but a couple of injuries could be a problem.

3. Who's in the middle? Devon Kennard was moved to middle linebacker to challenge 2009 starter Chris Galippo and he did, often looking like a budding star at the position. Yet Galippo responded with a strong spring himself. The post-spring depth chart listed an "OR" between the two, which means the competition will continue in the fall. Kiffin said that the loser, won't be relegated to the bench. In fact, he might displace Michael Morgan at strongside linebacker.