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USC looks ahead to 2010 football season

Emerald Bowl win brings 2009 to end on high note; Griffen is gone for sure as others assess whether to enter draft. There might be changes in coaching ranks, and Barkley should be markedly improved.

December 28, 2009
  • USC defensive tackle Everson Griffen, bringing down Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli earlier this season, will head to the NFL next year.
USC defensive tackle Everson Griffen, bringing down Oregon quarterback… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

USC ended a 9-4 season with a victory in the

Emerald Bowl, but there are still plenty of

questions heading into what could be a tumultuous off-season. Times staff writer Gary Klein takes a look at what's ahead for the Trojans:

Who's going?

Everson Griffen is gone, the junior defensive end saying he would make himself available for the NFL draft before a giddy but drawn Coach Pete Carroll even hoisted the Emerald Bowl trophy.

Junior receiver Damian Williams is going home to Arkansas to discuss his future with his family, but he has already graduated and is almost certainly bound for the pros.

Senior tailback Stafon Johnson is eligible to apply for a medical redshirt but he is on his way to the NFL.

Tailback Joe McKnight?

The junior was regarded as a candidate to leave early even before USC's compliance department began an investigation into his use of a sport utility vehicle owned by a Santa Monica businessman.

McKnight said a few weeks ago that he was leaning toward returning for a final season. USC did not allow McKnight to play in the Emerald Bowl, but Carroll said McKnight told him he still wanted to come back in 2010.

Who's staying?

Junior fullback Stanley Havili starred against Boston College but said he was coming back for a final season. McKnight's decision will influence whether junior tailback C.J. Gable stays or goes.

It's decision time for Aaron Corp, who earned the starting quarterback job last spring, got hurt early in training camp and then saw Carroll choose freshman Matt Barkley as the Trojans' present and future.

Corp didn't play a meaningful snap after Carroll and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates botched his preparation before the Washington loss.

If Corp transferred to a Football Bowl Subdivision school, NCAA rules would require him to sit out a year, leaving the fourth-year junior only one season of eligibility. He could play next season at a lower-division school.

Quarterback Mitch Mustain has one season of eligibility remaining and has said that he would not transfer. But he is expected to explore entering the draft.

Coaching carousel

Carroll's staff decisions went largely unchallenged when the Trojans were playing in Bowl Championship Series games. Now, perhaps, Athletic Director Mike Garrett will attempt to exert more influence.

Bates was raised in the NFL. He might return to the pros with mentor Mike Shanahan, who is a leading candidate for several jobs, or another coach.

If Bates left, would Carroll turn over play-calling to offensive coordinator John Morton? Is Ken Norton content to remain a linebackers coach instead of a defensive coordinator?

On the offensive

With a full season of experience and spring football and training camp to come, Barkley should be markedly improved.

If Williams leaves as expected, Ronald Johnson and Brice Butler would be the top returning receivers. Allen Bradford might finally get a significant role at tailback from the start.

Left tackle Charles Brown, left guard Jeff Byers and tight end Anthony McCoy must be replaced. Matt Kalil, Khaled Holmes and Rhett Ellison are in that mix.

Getting defensive

Griffen is the only starter lost from a young front seven that was porous for much of the second half of the season.

Linebackers Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith, Devon Kennard and Michael Morgan have a year of starting experience or significant playing time.

Cornerback Shareece Wright will be the veteran in a secondary that will feature four new starters.

Help on the way

The Trojans could benefit from an influx of playmaking talent.

Receivers Robert Woods of Gardena Serra and Kyle Prater of Proviso West High in Illinois, and multipurpose threat Dillon Baxter of San Diego Mission Bay, have made commitments to the Trojans.

If they sign with USC in February, and especially if they enroll for the spring semester, they would give the Trojans a head start on 2010.

2010 schedule

After playing a grueling road schedule in 2009, the Trojans begin next season in paradise with an opener at Hawaii.

The Trojans will play 13 regular-season games, including a nonconference road game at Minnesota.

The home schedule features nonconference games against Virginia and Notre Dame and Pacific 10 Conference games against Washington, California, Oregon and Arizona State.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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