Pac-12: Wes Horton

Pac-12 2012 awards announced

November, 26, 2012
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The Pac-12 conference has announced its 2012 individual honors and all-conference first and second teams as voted on by the coaches.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State.
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Fr., Oregon
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
RB Ka’Deem Carey, So., Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Sr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL Brian Schwenke, Sr., California
OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Matt Scott, Sr., Arizona
RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr., UCLA
RB Stepfan Taylor, Sr., Stanford
WR Austin Hill, So., Arizona
WR Robert Woods, Jr., USC
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
OL David Bakhtiari, Jr., Colorado
OL Sam Brenner, Sr., Utah
OL Kevin Danser, Sr., Stanford
OL Sam Schwartzstein, Sr., Stanford

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
DL Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DL Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah (2)
DL Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
LB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford (2)
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
DB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
DB Ed Reynolds, Jr., Stanford
DB Desmond Trufant, Sr., Washington

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Henry Anderson, Jr., Stanford
DL Morgan Breslin, Jr., USC
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Datone Jones, Sr., UCLA
LB Kiko Alonso, Sr., Oregon
LB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
LB Brandon Magee, Sr., Arizona State
DB Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Jr., Arizona State
DB T.J. McDonald, Sr., USC
DB Nickell Robey, Jr., USC

FIRST-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Vince D'Amato, Jr., California
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA
RS Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah
ST Jordan Jenkins, Sr., Oregon State

SECOND-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
P Josh Hubner, Sr., Arizona State
RS Marqise Lee, So., USC
ST David Allen, Sr., UCLA

ALL-PAC-12 HONORABLE MENTION
NOTES
  • By School: OREGON and STANFORD placed the most players on the first team with five selections each, followed by OREGON STATE with four.
  • By Class: Of the 26 first-team selections, 14 are seniors, five are juniors, six are sophomores and one freshman.
  • Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches--WR Marqise Lee of USC.
  • Two-time selections: Two players are repeat first-team selections from last year--DT Star Lotulelei of Utah, LB Chase Thomas of Stanford.
  • All-Academic: Two players were named to the first team on both the All-Pac-12 Team and the Pac-12 All-Academic Football Team--P Jeff Locke of UCLA, OL Khaled Holmes, USC. In addition, OL Kevin Danser of Stanford, DL Ben Gardner of Stanford and Michael Clay of Oregon were named second-team All-Academic and second-team All-Pac-12.
Tags:

Datone Jones, USC Trojans, Washington State Cougars, Oregon State Beavers, Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins, Alex Debniak, Johnathan Franklin, Jeff Locke, Arizona State Sun Devils, Joseph Fauria, Matt Barkley, California Bears, Kenjon Barner, Usua Amanam, Markus Wheaton, Keelan Johnson, Stanford Cardinal, Jordan Poyer, Damien Thigpen, Will Sutton, Stepfan Taylor, Colorado Buffaloes, Wes Horton, Dion Jordan, Matt Scott, Arizona Wildcats, Brandon Magee, Oregon Ducks, Xavier Su\'a-Filo, Travis Long, Justin Glenn, Desmond Trufant, Vince D'Amato, Daniel Simmons, Chase Thomas, Deveron Carr, Shayne Skov, Evan Finkenberg, Isaac Remington, Dan Buckner, Sean Parker, Cassius Marsh, Robert Woods, Xavier Grimble, George Uko, Nickell Robey, Hayes Pullard, Keenan Allen, Taylor Kelly, Chris McCain, Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Cooper, T.J. McDonald, Jake Fischer, Anthony Barr, Taylor Hart, Kiko Alonso, Osahon Irabor, Brian Schwenke, Steve Williams, Terrance Mitchell, Drew Schaefer, Michael Clay, Ryan Hewitt, Jordan Jenkins, Levine Toilolo, Chris Coyle, DeAnthony Thomas, Andrew Abbott, Kyle Quinn, Brett Hundley, Jake Fisher, Terrence Stephens, Terrence Brown, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kasen Williams, Jordan Richards, Shaq Evans, Deone Bucannon, Tony Burnett, David Shaw, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, Marqise Lee, Kevin Danser, Rashad Ross, Sam Schwartzstein, David Yankey, Drew Terrell, John White IV, Dion Bailey, Austin Hill, Star Lotulelei, Brian Blechen, Jake Murphy, Alex Carter, Alden Darby, Joe Kruger, Reggie Dunn, Trevor Romaine, Colt Lyerla, Isaac Seumalo, Tevita Stevens, Andrew Furney, Andre Heidari, Sean Sellwood, Josh Hubner, Kyle Negrete, Henry Anderson, Scott Crichton, Rashaad Reynolds, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaq Thompson, D.J. Foster, Brendan Bigelow, Ben Gardner, Trevor Reilly, Darragh O'Neill, Andrew Hudson, Ty Montgomery, Cameron Fleming, Trent Murphy, Sam Brenner, Kevin Hogan, David Bakhtiari, Marcus Mariota, Yuri Wright, Kenneth Crawley, Leonard Williams, Grant Enger, Brandin Cooks, Jared Tevis, Travis Feeney, Avery Sebastian, John Martinez, Ed Reynolds, Daniel Munyer, Elliott Bosch, Morgan Breslin, Darryl Monroe, Marion Grice, Carl Bradford, Nate Fakahafua, Silas Redd, Jeremiah Poutasi, Jake Brendel, Christian Powell, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Brett Bartolone, Teondray Caldwell, Andrew Seumalo, Daniel Zychlinski, David Allen, Jaxon Hood, Alex Lewis, Marques Moseley, Will Perciak, Wade Keliikippi, Cyrus Coen

In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, "Au revoir, gopher."

Instant analysis: USC 38, ASU 17

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
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With the Trojans ahead 21-17 late in the third quarter, ASU was driving and had the ball in USC territory. On third down, a short pass to an open Davon Coleman was missed and the Sun Devils went for it on fourth down, but Wes Horton got the sack on Taylor Kelly to force a change of possession. USC promptly scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and never looked back, easily cruising to a 38-17 win.

It was over when: With six minutes left in the game, Marqise Lee took a handoff on a reverse, changed direction, got a block from Matt Barkley and raced 38 yards down the sideline to the ASU 9-yard line. The Trojans ended up kicking a field goal on the drive to make the score 31-17, which is where the score stayed until a late USC touchdown.

Stat of game: Turnovers. ASU forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles) that helped keep the Sun Devils in the game early on. On USC's first offensive play of the game, Lee fumbled. ASU recovered it and quickly scored to take a 7-0 lead. The Sun Devils also added an interception return for a score when Alden Darby read a Barkley pass, stepped in front for the pick and went 70 yards for the touchdown. USC forced four turnovers of its own -- one fumble and three interceptions.

Game ball goes to: USC's defense. A unit that has been much maligned in recent weeks for poor performances against spread offenses put together a solid effort against the Sun Devils' version of the spread. ASU came into the game among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency and scoring offense but Kelly was held to 19-of-30 passing for 174 yards and a touchdown.

Unsung hero: USC running back Curtis McNeal took over as the starter with Silas Redd sidelined and ran for 163 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns and helped steady the Trojans' offense throughout the game.

Record performance: Barkley set the Pac-12 career passing yardage record. He now has 12,026 yards, breaking the previous mark held by Carson Palmer (USC).

What it means for USC: The Trojans' game against UCLA next week at the Rose Bowl will be a good old fashion rivalry game with high stakes on both sides, as the winner will represent the Pac-12 South in the conference title game.

What it means for ASU: A season that looked to be a rebirth under new coach Todd Graham has turned in the wrong direction with a four-game losing streak. All four losses were to ranked teams but that will be of little consolation to the Sun Devils.

Five things to watch: USC-Hawaii

August, 31, 2012
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The No. 1-ranked USC Trojans begin their 2012 season on Saturday against Hawaii (4:30 p.m. PT) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Here are five things to watch:

1. Who's playing? Because of Lane Kiffin's new injury-reporting restrictions that began this week, we don't know which of the Trojans' injured players will be playing on Saturday. It certainly creates some mystique around this opener, as there's really no telling who was practicing this week and who wasn't. Among the players who missed all or most of USC's Saturday scrimmage, the last day injuries were allowed to be reported, were receiver George Farmer, tight ends Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, defensive ends Wes Horton and Greg Townsend Jr., linebacker Lamar Dawson, cornerback Torin Harris and safety Demetrius Wright.

2. Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. The expectation is that McNeal will start, because he's been at USC longer and been successful with all of his opportunities. But Redd's first three-plus weeks in a USC uniform have gone about as well as the Trojans could have expected. The early-season competition between the two to decide who the primary back will be might be more interesting than the battle between Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, because we don't yet have any idea of how Kiffin plans to use Redd in games. Here's guessing both guys will get about 15 touches on Saturday, with another 5-10 for D.J. Morgan.

(Read full post)

In 2000, Oklahoma won the national title without any starters missing a game due to injury. Think about that. Think of all the injuries that your team has suffered through the years that make you go "what if?" I hear you Oregon, 2007.

With that thought, we introduce you to the 2012 USC Trojans -- a team loaded with talent and top-ranked by the Associated Press. If the national title game were to be played Saturday, the Trojans would be solid favorites against anyone.

And, yes, when that's the case, the media hype machine opens its maw wide and spews forth words, pictures and video that function as polarizing, love-hate attention-getters. USC and coach Lane Kiffin don't inspire many neutral reactions across the college football nation. Switzerland, USC is not.

As for talent, USC's is fairly remarkable, particularly on offense. There is no better offensive troika in the nation than quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. More than a handful of NFL teams would trade what they have for what USC has. There are a pair of 1,000-yard rushers behind Barkley: Curtis McNeal, who averaged 6.9 yards per rush in 2011, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd. Four starters are back from an offensive line that was very good last year. And both tight ends are NFL prospects.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Trojans were already replacing three starters on the D-line when they likely lost defensive end Devon Kennard for the season.
On defense, the back seven returns intact. And the Trojans welcome back both specialists.

Of course, you've read this before. In fact, this accounting of USC's starting 24 has become redundant. As is the caveat that the Trojans -- limited to 75 scholarships, 10 below the typical limit per NCAA sanctions -- are thin behind that strong starting lineup. In fact, most measures show the Trojans at present with just 71 scholarship players.

Yes, on paper today, this team looks better than anyone. But 12 regular-season games and a Pac-12 championship game lie between the Trojans and a berth in the BCS national title game. Attrition is typically an immutable -- and frustrating -- rule of college football. A redo of Oklahoma in 2000 is probably too much for Trojans fans to expect.

So, starting with a home date with Hawaii on Saturday -- Norm Chow finally getting his chance as a head coach -- the million dollar question is, can USC stay healthy enough to claw its way back to the top of college football? That's the first issue.

The second? How do folks feel about USC's quick return to the national title race despite brutal -- and brutally unfair -- NCAA sanctions that were intended to cripple a dominant power?

In the Pac-12, Oregon fans feel slighted by the USC hype. After all, the Ducks stepped up when the Trojans stepped down and won three consecutive conference titles. Nationally, there's the widespread -- and ignorant -- opinion that USC is one of the nation's corrupt , football-first programs. And down South there's the whispered suspicion that the biggest threat to SEC supremacy is USC.

Wherever you stand, be prepared: If USC piles up wins and impressive performances, the hype churn will only get more frenzied. Just the way it is.

As for depth issues -- so mundane! -- plenty of teams are thinner than the Trojans, whose roster is still full of four- and five-star recruits. But it's not difficult to create worry when fiddling with a black marker and the USC depth chart, particularly on defense.

For example, what if you mark off sophomore George Uko, the Trojans' best and most experienced defensive tackle? The remaining four defensive tackles are all freshmen. The Trojans already were replacing three starters on their defensive line when end Devon Kennard was likely lost for the season due to a torn pectoral. Kennard split time with Wes Horton last year. Any further hit to the D-line could mean trouble.

Or take away one of those talented sophomore linebackers. "Uh-oh" is right. In fact, the only position on defense where there's solid, proven depth is safety.

Things are deeper on offense, though it's worth noting both of Barkley's backups are redshirt freshmen.

As for the schedule, USC stands as a clear favorite -- today -- against all 12 foes, including Oregon on Nov. 3. There's a tough Week 3 road date at Stanford, and then back-to-back visits to Utah (a Thursday night game) and Washington. Those certainly won't be walkovers.

But it's not difficult to look at USC's depth chart -- today -- and look at the schedule and conclude this team will be headed Jan. 7 to South Florida, where it won its last national title in 2004.

The "USC Watch," with all the cheers and jeers it will inspire, begins in earnest this week.

But an observer who can contain his emotions about the polarizing program might want to focus on the Trojans' injury report, which could prove as telling in the early going as the scoreboard.

Six Pac-12 DEs on Hendricks watch list

July, 30, 2012
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Six Pac-12 players are on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is given annually to the best defensive end in the nation.

You can view the entire news release here.

The Pac-12 players are:
Obviously, Kennard's chances are dim after he suffered a likely season-ending pectoral injury.

USC spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 10-2
2011 conference record: 7-2 (1st, South)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Matt Barkley, S T.J. McDonald, OL Khaled Holmes, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, RB Curtis McNeal, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, K Andre Heidari

Key losses
OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, FB Rhett Ellison, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, RB Marc Tyler, WR Brandon Carswell, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)
Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)
Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)
Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)
Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)
Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Spring answers

1. Marqise Lee is ready for prime time: It’s no secret that Lee is a talented player who put together a terrific freshman season, but he took that performance to an even higher level this spring when he was the best player on the field for the Trojans. We’re seeing a rare athlete in Lee, one whose acrobatic style is being compared to Lynn Swann.

2. The USC defense is worthy of mention: There is so much attention paid to Matt Barkley and his offensive weapons -- and deservedly so -- but this spring was a reminder that the Trojans defense is going to be pretty good too. The back seven will be a strength, as the starters return intact plus there is a nice supply of talented depth.

3. The future of the USC quarterback spot is in good hands: Spring was an extended audition for Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, as Barkley was limited in his reps. Both players had their moments as they look to settle into the No. 2 role and the inside track to be Barkley’s heir apparent. The Trojans also got a verbal commitment from Max Browne (No. 2 rated pocket passer in ESPN 150), who will enroll next spring.

Fall questions

1. Interior of the D-line: One of the keys of spring was replacing two senior starters from the middle of the line. George Uko stepped in at defensive tackle and had flashes of real solid play. After Uko, however, things are not so clear. There is no established backup for him and no set starter at nose tackle, as J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods continue to battle for the job.

2. Lack of depth at tailback: The Trojans have a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal but not a lot of experience behind him. D.J. Morgan had 42 carries in 2011, Buck Allen redshirted last season and Nelson Agholor has yet to join the team. That’s the extent of the playing time for the 2012 USC reserve tailbacks.

3. Protecting the blind side: There wasn’t a ton of worry last year about left tackle with Matt Kalil but replacing him has not been easy. Kevin Graf got the first look, but then the coaches moved Aundrey Walker into the spot. Lane Kiffin said Walker was not consistent but he showed enough with the potential of the size benefits he brings that he will stay as the starter heading into fall camp.

Under the radar: USC

May, 1, 2012
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We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

USC: DE Devon Kennard

2011 production: Appeared in all 12 games and started five. He recorded 29 tackles -- four for a loss and two sacks with a safety.

Making the case for Kennard: We hear there’s a blonde-haired, sword-toting quarterback who seems to be flying under the radar. But we’re still not sure how he’s going to pan out so we’ll keep our distance from him for now. That brings us to Kennard, a versatile defender who has spent a little time at middle linebacker, but finally settled back on defensive end.

He’s started parts of the past two seasons, so he’s known to USC fans. But with Nick Perry gone to the NFL, Kennard's role and visibility are going to increase along with Wes Horton. For his career, which includes 18 starts, Kennard has 135 tackles and 13 for a loss. Some of those include his time as a middle linebacker in 2010. Kennard is a senior leader on a defensive line that doesn’t have a great deal of depth. And while USC’s starting 11 might be as talented player-for-player as anyone in the conference, there are some untested players behind him. So the pressure is on Kennard to no longer be under the radar -- but to emerge as that Perry-esque player who can dominate in the run game and pass rush. All reports are that he had an outstanding spring session. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he certainly has the size to put up Perry-like numbers (led the conference in sacks with 9.5 last season). With the experience he has in the scheme and an increased role, Kennard could be the breakout player on USC’s defense in 2012.

WeAreSC Saturday links: Defense first 

March, 10, 2012
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Erik McKinney writes: The defense ruled the way for USC again, with defensive end Wes Horton and cornerback Nickell Robey impressing.

Erik McKinney writes Insider: Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., CB Chris Hawkins was all set to commit to Stanford this past week, but a USC offer on Friday has him rethinking things.

Q&A: Lane Kiffin, part two

February, 16, 2012
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USC head coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball and likely a lofty preseason ranking to back it up. Kiffin took a few minutes to chat about this year's recruiting class, the few holes on offense and defense that have to be filled and what he can do to cut down on quarterback-center exchange fumbles.

Here's part one of the Q&A.

Looking at the defense, you have the entire back seven coming back. Everyone talks about offense in this conference, but you have to be able to play defense. What's the next step for them as a unit?

Lane Kiffin: We've got to get better at pass defense. You look at our numbers two years ago, they were terrible. We've improved a little bit. But we still have a long ways to go in pass defense. We were good against the run last year. We improved in the red zone. But we've got to do a better job against the pass. This conference is so good. So many good quarterbacks and receivers, you can't just stop the run in this conference so we have to improve there. It's exciting to have the whole back seven back -- we actually even have Torin Harris coming back. I almost feel like it's the back eight. Torin Harris was our starting corner and was playing as well as anybody prior to losing him for the season.

Not everyone understands just how important a really good fullback is. How much will Rhett Ellison be missed?

LK: Really, I think outside of Matt Kalil, we don't lose very much except for one person. Everyone is really back except for Matt -- obviously a talented player and a top-five pick. And Rhett. Now he won't be that high of a draft pick, but he was so valuable on special teams and for us as a fullback. He played tight end, too. He gave defenses a lot of problems by not knowing where in the huddle he's going to line up and what formation we're going to end up in.

Speaking of Matt, is that left tackle spot the marquee position battle to keep an eye on in the spring?

LK: We don't know exactly how it's going to work. We're going to let Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker, right now our top two tackles, both play right and left and see how it goes early on.

How big of an adjustment is it for Kevin to make the move from right to left?

LK: He used to play left tackle when he was younger so that helps. There is an adjustment period. It's fortunate we're looking at it in the spring and don't have to wait until the fall.

On the defensive line, do you move Wes Horton or Devon Kennard to the opposite side to replace Nick Perry, or do you fill that slot with someone else and keep depth?

LK: We're looking at a couple of things. Probably leaning toward playing Wes at right and Devon at left. But we'll figure it out this spring.

Defensive line is the spot where it seems you have the most holes. Is this an opportunity for some of the pups to come in and start, or would you rather defer to experience?

LK: What's good is you look at the 30 guys we signed a year ago, there were some guys that could have helped us that we let redshirt, so that would divide that class of 30 and knock some of those guys back into this next class. A number of those guys were defensive linemen. What's good is those guys have been in our program a year already. Even though they haven't played, it's like they are in this class right here with a year under their belt.

Utah, USC opens the Pac-12 era

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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Utah fans will file into their pie slice of the Coliseum on Saturday and they will enjoy the music. At first.

"Boy," one will say. "USC has great fight songs. 'Fight on!' is inspiring."

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Russ Isabella/US PresswireJordan Wynn and coach Kyle Whittingham will lead Utah into its first Pac-12 game, at USC.
"I prefer 'Tribute to Troy'; it's cool how they play it after every defensive stop, even though I don't want our beloved Utes to be stopped," another will reply.

Then the third quarter will arrive. Upon the, oh, 132nd playing of each song, feelings figure to be a wee bit different for those adorned in red.

"I hate the USC band," the first will say.

"Me too," the other will respond.

And Utah will officially become a member of the Pac-12.

It's just another game against a quality foe, the coaches will say. And, sure, playing in the first-ever Pac-12 game doesn't change preparation. Still, it's pretty cool.

"It's awesome," Utah tackle Tony Bergstrom said. "To be a senior playing in the first Pac-12 game, I think it's awesome. It's a neat experience."

The Utes and Trojans will be coming at the game from different angles. Utah will be looking for validation. While the Utes have won two BCS bowl games, have finished ranked in the top-25 five of the past eight years and have an 8-5 record versus the Pac-10 over the past decade, more than a few skeptics are expecting things to be different when Utah enters the grind of a nine-game Pac-12 schedule.

USC? It's trying to maintain its perch in the top-half of the conference while it's dealing with severe NCAA sanctions, which include the second year of a two-year postseason ban.

A big game for the Trojans? Perhaps not in the locker room, but coach Lane Kiffin said he and the players are certainly aware of the perception.

"We do feel it from the media and people around here," he said.

Kiffin seemed more worried about what he called Utah's "very dominant front seven." The first key for USC is protecting quarterback Matt Barkley. If the Trojans' questionable offensive line can do that, the Utes are inexperienced in the secondary, and Barkley and receiver Robert Woods might be able to take advantage.

On the other side of the ball, Bergstrom and fellow tackle John Cullen, who missed the opener against Montana State with a concussion, will present a good matchup with USC's three defensive ends: Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton.

But for Utah's offense, it's not only about protecting quarterback Jordan Wynn, it's about Wynn gaining confidence in his surgically repaired shoulder and his ability to lead the Utes' new offense under coordinator Norm Chow. Against Montana State, Wynn was out of sorts, particularly in the second half when the Utes failed to score a touchdown.

"We need to dial up more shots downfield more than we did on [against Montana State] and Jordan Wynn has to gain confidence in his arm," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's not a physical thing, but after surgery there is a period time where you have to figure out that you can cut loose and throw the way you want to without worrying about pain. He's battling through that psychologically, so it's a matter of getting over the hump mentally."

Of course, it's likely the Utes didn't show much against an FCS team in the opener. What might Chow have in his bag of tricks to spring on USC? Kiffin and Chow have plenty of history -- some of it not so good -- having coached together at USC and against each other for the previous two seasons (Chow's previous team, UCLA, faced Kiffin in 2009 when he was at Tennessee).

Said Kiffin, "There's a chess match element to it."

Still, when it comes down to it, Utah and USC will be about blocking, tackling , big plays and miscues. Just like any other game.

The Utes have played in -- and been successful in -- plenty of big stadiums against elite programs. There's zero chance they will be intimidated by the opponent or the atmosphere. The history at hand is about before and after -- not between the white lines -- and is mostly a media and fan angle.

The contested issue is simple: Who draws first blood between these new South Division rivals?

"We don't place more importance on any other game than another," Whittingham said. "It's just our first conference game, which happens to be in a great venue against a team with a storied tradition like the program at USC, so that adds to the attention that this game's getting. We're just going to try to take care of business the same way we always do."

USC needs defense to improve

August, 31, 2011
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In 2008, USC produced one of the all-time great college defenses. It took just two years for the unit to become mediocre-to-bad.

Last fall, the Trojans surrendered 44 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranked 102nd in the nation. By comparison, the 2008 unit yielded just 14, the lowest total over the past three years by six.

So what happened?

[+] EnlargeMonte Kiffin
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Trojans hope the second year in Monte Kiffin's defense yields better results.
Well, for one, Pete Carroll, who'd built one of the nation's premier defensive powers, bolted for the Seattle Seahawks. Next: The talent he left behind for new coach Lane Kiffin wasn't nearly as good as it had been from 2002-2008. Then Kiffin, worried about injuries, significantly limited tackling during preseason camp. Finally, it seemed that the Trojans never fully figured out new coordinator Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme, which had been so successful in the NFL.

The result? A unit that surrendered a Pac-10-high 30 TD passes (five more than ninth-place Washington State) and wasn't much better against the run, ranking sixth in the conference (140.5).

But if you're wondering why many still rate the Trojans as the favorites in the Pac-12 South Division and believe they will improve upon their 8-5 finish of a year ago, the defense is a good place to start.

"I feel like we know what we're doing a little bit better as far as it being the second year in the system," Lane Kiffin said. "And in scrimmage formats, we're tackling better."

That will be put to its first test Saturday when Minnesota comes calling to the Coliseum.

The Trojans welcome back seven starters from last year's unit. They look strong at end with Nick Perry, Devon Kennard and Wes Horton. And few teams boast a better safety-cornerback combination than All-American T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. But there are questions at linebacker, where they will be young around injury-prone Chris Galippo.

The Golden Gophers shouldn't provide too difficult a test. Coming off a 3-9 season in which Tim Brewster got fired and was replaced by Jerry Kill, who rebuilt Northern Illinois, they are replacing three starters on their offensive line and they don't look like a team that will be throwing the ball well. They are, however, intriguing at quarterback. That's where MarQueis Gray steps in. He's a 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior who has been primarily a receiver, though he got behind center in "Wildcat" formations. Passing the ball over the past two years, he's just 8-of-23 for 86 yards with a TD and an interception.

Of course, Kiffin went the "oh, no" route and compared him to former Texas quarterback Vince Young.

"It's very scary for us," he said. "We've got our hands full. This is a big-time challenge for our defense."

USC won at Minnesota 32-21 last year, a victory that was part of a 4-0 start. But the Trojans proved inconsistent on both sides of the ball once conference play began, inspiring some questions of motivation because NCAA sanctions made them ineligible for the postseason. That's an issue again this fall, though it's probably not one in the season-opener, when everyone is fired up to play.

"I don't think the motivation shows up as much early in the year," Kiffin said. "It becomes more of an issue towards the end of the year or if you hit one or two losses in a row there."

Still, with Matt Barkley at quarterback and a strong crew of receivers, the Trojans should at least be a factor in determining other team's postseasons. As for the South Division, that probably hangs on how much the Trojans' defense reverts back to its old ways. Preseason optimism about knowing the scheme better and improved tackling only goes so far.

Said Kiffin: "That all sounds good but it won't mean anything if come Saturday we don't do it when it really counts."

Three from Pac-12 on Ted Hendricks list

August, 9, 2011
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Three of the 35 players on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award are from the Pac-12.

Wes Horton, USC
Nick Perry, USC
Datone Jones, UCLA

You can see the entire list here.

Sort of a thin group, considering Jones missed all of last season with a broken foot and Perry also struggled with injuries. Horton isn't a sure-thing to start, considering he's competing with Devon Kennard for the No. 1 spot opposite Perry.

Arizona State's Junior Onyeali, the 2010 Pac-10 defensive freshman of the year, and Washington's Hau'oli Jamora might have merited inclusion.

USC limping into spring practices

March, 21, 2011
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Spring is supposed to be a time of renewal and hope, but USC coach Lane Kiffin seemed to be suffering a prolonged case of the winter blahs Monday. And for good reason. He said 20 players -- many of them projected starters or key contributors -- won't be available for full-contact work when the Trojans begin spring practices Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireLane Kiffin is concerned about his team's spring injuries, particularly on the offensive line.
Rebirth and renewal of the Trojan empire after a middling 8-5 finish in 2010? Humbug.

"There's too many questions," Kiffin said. "I think it would be a little tough to say this team is better than last year."

Most of these injuries are not expected to be issues when preseason practices begin in August. But you never know. And there were some troubling additions to the already long injury list we noted last week, including linebacker Chris Galippo, whose back is giving him trouble again. Toss in injuries to Devon Kennard (hip) and Shane Horton (hip), and none of the projected starting linebackers are ready to practice. In fact, when you toss in an injury to backup Ross Cumming, the only available linebacker from last year's depth chart is redshirt freshman Will Andrew.

Few position groups have been spared the injury bug. Defensive linemen are out: end Armond Armstead, tackle Christian Tupou and end Wes Horton. Offensive linemen are out: Khaled Holmes, tackle Kevin Graf and center Abe Markowitz. Defensive backs are out: safety Drew McAllister and cornerbacks T.J. Bryant and Torin Harris. And a receiver is out: Kyle Prater.

So while, officially, 13 starters are back -- 6 on offense; 7 on defense; no specialists -- there will be plenty of opportunities for young players to shine. Of the 86 players on the spring roster (that includes walk-ons), just 38 saw action in 2010 and 47 have never taken a college snap, so there will be a bit of "Hello, my name is..." this spring. Just 14 returning Trojans have started at least 10 games.

Further, because of the lack of bodies -- particularly on the lines -- Kiffin said that much of the work this spring will be 7 on 7 -- "You're not going to be able to have normal practices," he said.

What's Kiffin's chief concern? The offensive line, which he calls "a gigantic issue."

There is some good news in terms of continuity on Kiffin's coaching staff. The only change is the departure of receivers coach John Morton, who joined Jim Harbaugh's staff with the San Francisco 49ers. He was replaced by Ted Gilmore, who was at Nebraska last year.

The spring game is April 23 in the Coliseum.

Some other notes:

Spread? Kiffin talked last year about adopting some spread elements to his offense going forward, but that was more about one-back, four receiver sets, not a spread-option similar to what Oregon runs. The reasoning is largely about personnel. The Trojans lose the versatile Stanley Havili -- perhaps the best fullback in the nation -- and have little experience ready to step in at the position. And there's lots of intriguing young talent at receiver.

Position changes: Redshirt freshman Dion Bailey moved to linebacker from safety. Robert Woods takes over at "Z" receiver -- flanker -- the position Ronald Johnson played last season.

Positions to watch: Obviously, injuries all over the depth chart mean youngsters will get plenty of reps this spring, which means plenty of opportunities to impress. Here are some spots Kiffin made specific note of, other than the injury-riddled lines:

  • Tight end: Rhett Ellison is back, but what will be the pecking order between Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas? The Trojans would like to run more two tight end sets.
  • Running back: Marc Tyler is the returning veteran, but he struggles to stay healthy. What will the pecking order end up between Dillon Baxter, Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan?
  • Backup QB: Matt Barkley is the starter (duh), but with the departure of Mitch Mustain, who's his backup? Redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins would seem to have an inside track, but touted true freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will both participate in spring practices.
  • Linebacker: Great opportunity for guys to catch their coaches eyes: Bailey, Andrew, Dallas Kelly, Marquis Simmons, Simione Vehikite, Hayes Pullard, etc.
What about Barkley? Barkley, a true junior, took a step forward last season as a second-year starter, but he still missed too many throws, 12 of which ended up as interceptions. Kiffin said he expects Barkley's next step to be playing at a consistently elite level. "He's competing against the best in the country," Kiffin said. "He's competing against the Andrew Lucks. He's got to take that mindset in every practice."

What about that NCAA appeal? On Saturday, it will be nine weeks since USC president Max Nikias, athletic director Pat Haden and four other university representatives spent more than four hours talking with the NCAA infractions appeals committee in Indianapolis. Most appeals take four to eight weeks. Ah, but nothing in the USC case has moved quickly. Kiffin said he had no idea when USC would learn if the appeals committee will reduce the penalties that appear more draconian by the day, as other schools end up in headlines about alleged rules violations that appear far worse than the findings against USC.

USC banged up for spring practices

March, 14, 2011
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Michael Lev of the Orange County Register provides an injury update for USC, and it ain't pretty: 12 players who are either projected starters or likely contributors are expected to be out or limited when spring practices start on March 22.

Obviously, as Lev points out, it's premature to panic because sitting out spring is often about being healthy in the fall.

Still, it's quite a list (see link for details): WR Kyle Prater, OL Khaled Holmes, OT Kevin Graf, C Abe Markowitz, DE Wes Horton, DL Armond Armstead, DT Christian Tupou, MLB Devon Kennard, OLB Shane Horton, S Drew McAllister and CBs T.J. Bryant and Torin Harris.

Of particularly concern: Three offensive linemen and eight defenders are out.

The Trojans lack depth on their offensive line, which must replace three starters as well as part-time starter Butch Lewis. Now it appears that left tackle Matt Kalil will be the only full-go returning starter available this spring.

Meanwhile, the defense is looking to bounce back from a sub-par year under coordinator Monte Kiffin. While injuries to veterans will allow younger players to see more action, there's something to be said for the veterans being available to more fully digest the elder Kiffin's schemes during spring when there's more time to teach.

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