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College Football Top 25: Southern California Trojans, No. 2

Southern California Trojans (2011, 10-2, beaten by scholarship restrictions and bowl ban in January)

2012 Schedule: Hawaii, Syracuse, at Stanford, California, bye, at Utah, at Washington, Colorado, at Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, at UCLA, Notre Dame

Four-Year Trend: 2008 (12-1), 2009 (9-4), 2010 (8-5), 2011 (10-2)

Fun Fact: USC will try to become the first team since the 1983 Miami Hurricanes to win a national title the year after not participating in a bowl game the previous year.

Notable Player: QB Matt Barkley. He will be analyzed and critiqued as people play pro scout. He will have all the weapons he wants with USC to have a monster year. He is the golden boy with the light hair and the smile. He is the Heisman frontrunner before we have taken a snap.

Top Newcomers: Penn State transfer RB Silas Redd,  Jabari Ruffin (LB), Nelson Agholor (WR), Leonard Williams (DT)

Circle This Game: USC vs. Oregon (Nov. 3). The Trojans and Ducks are the class of the Pac-12, so this one should be for the regular season title, a potential spot in the national title game, and the opportunity to host the Pac-12 title game.

What’s New: The USC Trojans are bowl eligible for the first time since 2009, and immediately come in as national title contenders after a strong close to the last campaign. The defensive line, though, is new as well, as the team must replace Nick Perry and two other starters up front.

Why We Like Them: The final seven games of last year showed this team’s potential to win a title. They dominated lesser opponents, won convincingly at South Bend, led Stanford late, and won in Eugene against Pac-12 champion Oregon. The best quarterback in the country in Matt Barkley and an explosive receiving group gives them the edge to win the Pac-12 this year.

Best-Case Scenario: The pass defense improves, the loss of Ryan Kalil is a non-factor with four other offensive linemen returning, and the offense rolls through the Pac-12 week after week. The Trojans are able to survive the home game against Oregon and potential rematch in the Pac-12 title game to play for the national championship.

Worst-Case Scenario: USC regresses slightly from the second half surge that everyone expects to continue, the defense allows them to get in shootouts, and they lose a couple of games in the Pac-12. The likely strength of schedule compared to SEC, Big XII, and Big Ten contenders would then keep them out of the title picture.

Turnover Turnaround: For the first month of 2011, USC looked like anything but a contender. For the last two months, they competed with the best in the conference. Part of the issue was turnovers, as they forced only 3 and had 9 turnovers through the first four games. USC closed the season with 14 forced turnovers in the final eight games, while only turning it over 9 more times.

Projected Bowl: BCS National Title Game.

[photo via US Presswire]

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