The USC Trojans' uncertain future
Here is this week's mailbag:
From @kstand40: How will the USC Trojans fare after this year, due to their loss of scholarships?
The strongest team in Lane Kiffin's tenure at USC figures to come in 2012, the first season in which the Trojans will be bowl eligible. That comes with a big "if," however, relating to whether quarterback Matt Barkley opts to stay for his senior season.
Barring injury this season, Barkley would be a fourth-year starter in 2012. He has been a real presence rallying this program. I've seen some speculation on how high he may go in terms of the 2012 NFL draft, but my hunch is that he may not be seen as being that close to Andrew Luck in terms of his draft stock down the road. I could see the Oklahoma Sooners' Landry Jones emerging as the next top QB prospect because he and Luck, both around 6-foot-4, have the prototypical height the NFL covets in its quarterbacks. And if Barkley isn't a top-10 pick, it will only add more incentive for him to return.
Plus, as a local kid who has helped shepherd the program through the NCAA sanctions, Barkley may feel even more compelled to run the team as it regains bowl eligibility. He certainly won't be lacking for weapons. In sophomore Robert Woods, he has a budding superstar. He also has two touted freshmen wideouts in Kyle Prater and George Farmer. Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan leads an impressive crew of young backs. Kiffin also appears to have stocked the program with promising young linemen and linebackers.
The senior class isn't very big. Almost all of the top players in the program are juniors or younger, although they could lose standout left tackle Matt Kalil, another guy projected as a top-10 pick. Depth is going to be a big concern for this program for the next five years because of the sanctions. It doesn't mean USC can't have a top-25 or even a top-10 team next year, but their margin is slimmer than it ever was before.
With Barkley, this should be a team that is one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 and be ranked somewhere in the top 10. Without him, who knows how quickly current redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins or true freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will have developed by then? I doubt they'd look like a top-10 team without Barkley running the show.
From @kmo11: Who will be the first coach fired this year?
To read the rest of Bruce Feldman's mailbag, including his take on the coaches most likely to be fired this season, become an ESPN Insider today.