Will USC quarterback Matt Barkley finally have a breakthrough year for… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
After the NCAA rejected USC's sanctions-reducing appeal, Coach Lane Kiffin and his players are looking at another football season with no chance of playing in a bowl game. Staff writer Gary Klein examines five issues facing the Trojans as they prepare for their Sept. 3 opener against Minnesota.
Is quarterback Matt Barkley ready to show that he is worthy of projections as a possible top-five NFL draft pick in 2012?
Barkley showed flashes of greatness during his first two seasons as the starting quarterback but needs to play at a consistently high level for more than half a season.
The junior from Newport Beach increased his touchdowns from 15 to 26 as a sophomore and reduced his interceptions from 14 to 12. Kiffin, however, acknowledged that Barkley must be better, especially at the end of games.
Injuries forced Barkley to sit out a game in each of the last two seasons, both losses. So developing a capable backup from redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins and freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler is paramount.
Did spring practice help settle the offensive line?
The unit is the biggest question mark of training camp, and its performance will affect Barkley and the tailbacks competing to start in place of Marc Tyler.
Left tackle Matt Kalil is an honors candidate who could be bound for the NFL after this season. Khaled Holmes has been moved from guard to center, but the junior has struggled with a neck and shoulder problem.
No other linemen have played significant snaps.
Sophomore Kevin Graf and senior Martin Coleman are among the players who will be counted on to step up.
Will the defense be better?
Monte Kiffin and his defensive staff have had an off-season to reflect and tinker with a unit that was subpar, especially at the end of games.
Devon Kennard moves from middle linebacker to defensive end. Tackle Christian Tupou's return from knee surgery will help offset the loss of Jurrell Casey and infuse the defense with a spirited and vocal presence. USC is still awaiting word on the status of defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who sat out spring practice after undergoing a battery of medical tests.
Senior Chris Galippo moves back to starting middle linebacker and junior safety T.J. McDonald anchors the secondary.
Who could be the breakout newcomers?
Last season, receiver Robert Woods came out of Gardena Serra High and developed into Barkley's No. 1 target and a freshman All-American.
George Farmer plays the same position, comes from the same high school and is expected to be fast-tracked by Kiffin. The competition includes senior Brandon Carswell, junior Brice Butler, sophomores De'Von Flournoy and Markeith Ambles, redshirt freshman Kyle Prater and freshmen Victor Blackwell and Marqise Lee, another Serra alum.
Freshman linebackers Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao might bolster the defense. Freshman punter Kris Albarado and freshman kicker Andre Heidari are expected to start.
With no chance to play for the Pacific 12 Conference championship or a bowl game, are the Trojans capable of running the table and making a case to be ranked No. 1?
USC should cruise past Minnesota in the opener, but Utah is coming to the Coliseum looking to make history in the Pac-12 opener. The Trojans play road games against Arizona State, California, Notre Dame, Colorado and Oregon.
USC finished 8-5 last season, so improvement is possible. But a giant leap is unexpected.