USC Opener: What To Expect
So the start of college football season has you all excited, and you’re ready to sit down with a large bowl of chips and a cold beverage to watch the Lane Kiffin Era kick off for USC on Thursday night.
Well, here’s what you can expect amid the warm, tropical breezes and colorful Hawaiian shirts in the opener from Oahu:
1. The Trojans’ defensive line will excel. It’s been the dominant unit all through camp, with Jurrell Casey an All American candidate at tackle and Armond Armstead a rising star at end. Combine that with the fact Hawaii’s already young offensive line has lost its best player with an injury, and you can expect big things from USC up front.
2. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley will look thinner and more mobile, and he’ll be buoyed by an offense that will be far more creative than the one Jeremy Bates came up with a year ago. There are more quality skill players than Barkley could have imagined, and he’ll get the ball to all of them, especially senior wideout Ron Johnson, who should be his new go-to guy. What Barkley has to be careful about is throwing interceptions, a habit that started his senior year in high school and has continued right on through fall camp. If he can cut down on those, he could have a big year.
3. The kids will be fun to watch. This should be a freshman class to remember. Robert Woods, who’ll start opposite Johnson at WR, is a future star, and Nickell Robey, who opens at one corner, is a little man with big talent. Markeith Ambles is another frosh receiver who will get his chances. All this without tailback Dillon Baxter, the most exciting freshman of them all, who won’t play until the opener against Virginia on Sept. 11.
4. The young secondary gets a big test. Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense will keep the Trojans’ defense busy, especially the three new starters in the secondary, sophomore safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling and freshmen Robey and Torin Harris, who will play in the nickel. The big question, after a fall camp with limited contact, is how well will these guys tackle in the open field?
5. The running game is a work in progress because of all the injuries in the offensive line, but the Trojans’ size and strength should be enough to get tailbacks Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford plenty of work. Tyler, who always had lots of potential, won the starting job in a surprise at camp, but Bradford’s bruising style could still produce more carries across the season.
6. Devon Kennard will be worth watching at middle linebacker. He beat out Chris Gallipo in a spirited duel and is considered more physical, especially against the run. He is a defensive end who switched to outside linebacker a year ago and now has switched again to play the middle. How well he plays it could determine how good this defense is in 2010.
7. Check out Kiffin’s more serious demeanor on the sidelines. This isn’t Pete Carroll and his wild exuberance. This is a young man who coaches like he is in the midst of a corporate business meeting. He’ll be calling the plays on offense and monitoring his father, the highly respected Monte Kiffin, on defense. How Lane reacts and whether he keeps his composure will be interesting to watch. Because whether he admits it or not, all the pressure at USC is about to swerve directly on him.
— STEVE BISHEFF