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College Football Top 25 Preview: No. 25 USC

Lane Kiffin Pouting

2012 Recap: We would call USC’s 2012 season a disappointment, but that would understate it. The Trojans expected to compete for a BCS Title. They ended up falling into disarray in EL Paso. Their record was 7-6. Matt Barkley went from Heisman front-runner to fourth-round afterthought. That said, their demise was a bit harsher in perception than reality. They started 6-1 with a shameless loss at Stanford. They had a disastrous performance at Arizona and lost by 3. Few would fault them for going down to Oregon in a shootout. Then Matt Barkley was knocked out for the season against UCLA, missing Notre Dame and the bowl game. With better luck things might have gone better. The Trojans were not as close as folks thought in August, but they were not as far away as folks thought in January.

Outstanding Questions: Quarterback is a big one. USC is replacing a four-year starter in Barkley. Last year’s understudy Max Wittek looked somewhat promising against Notre Dame. Then he looked anything but in the bowl game. The competition is down to him and Cody Kessler. Both will be redshirt sophomores. Both have help around them.

Defense. USC’s was okay last season, except when it wasn’t against Arizona and Oregon, both up-tempo spread teams. Kiffin jettisoned his NFL-oriented father Monte as coordinator and hired former Cal DC Clancy Pendergast. We should see the Trojans play a lot more 3-4. This formation switch should suit their relative depth at linebacker and defensive line and hybrid pass rusher types such as Morgan Breslin. The trouble is they don’t appear to have a Terrence Cody-type up front. Against more physical teams on the schedule, such as Stanford and Notre Dame, that could be an issue.

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usc-song-girls-tahoeNot Questions: Talent. Lots of it. Their 2013 recruiting class finished poorly and ended up with just 12 signees. USC still brought in 10 of the Rivals’ Top 100. The Trojans are as loaded as anyone except Alabama at running back. Despite losing Robert Woods to the NFL and George Farmer to a knee injury, USC still has possibly the best wide receiver tandem in the country with Lee and Agholor. There’s at least experience coming back on the line. With the right quarterback, this crew has potential.

Hot Seat: Lane Kiffin may be on the country’s hottest seat heading into 2013. The 38-year-old has looked like a great coach, at times. He has also looked like a terrible coach, at times. His only constants have been recruiting prowess, petty smugness and a general lack of decorum. USC could have its pick of top-caliber coaches this winter and, with the elite talent on campus, a quick turnaround. There may not be a specific win benchmark Kiffin must hit. But we suspect the season must go well for him, not just well enough.

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Ceiling: 13-0. The offensive line holds up. Either Wittek or Kessler is the next big thing. They receive tremendous luck with injuries. The defense takes a step forward into the Top 20 range. With everything coming up Milhouse, USC enters its first Pac 12 title game undefeated, with a shot to play for a BCS title game bid.

Floor: 7-6. The offense is erratic. The defense doesn’t perform when it counts. Injuries expose a shallow roster. The Trojans out-talent the poor teams on their schedule, but fail to impress otherwise.

Prediction: 10-3. The Trojans are outlasted in two tough games, get upset once and are more or less functional otherwise. Kiffin hangs on by his chinny-chin-chin.

Song Girls: The Song Girls went swimming for charity, took a trip to Lake Tahoe and were just very Song Girl-like.

[Photo via USA Today Sports]

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