George Uko started two games last season for USC. That qualifies the sophomore as a veteran defensive lineman for a Trojans team opening this season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the coaches' poll.
"That makes me play better," Uko says of his role as an elder, "because I feel like I need to step up."
The situation demands it.
USC is counting on Uko and senior end Wes Horton to lead a line that is regarded as the Trojans' biggest question mark.
A few weeks before training camp began this month, tailback depth was the Trojans' most pressing issue. But Penn State transfer Silas Redd fortified that position group.
When senior end Devon Kennard suffered a potential season-ending injury on the eve of training camp, the defensive line became the focal point.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron anticipates early mistakes but expects quick improvement. "We're going to perform at a high level like a USC defensive line is supposed to," he says.
USC won national titles in 2003 and 2004 with dominant lines that pressured quarterbacks and helped the Trojans rank among the national leaders in turnover margin.
The 2003 "Wild Bunch II" line featured end Kenechi Udeze, tackles Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody, and end Omar Nazel. The 2004 line included Patterson and Cody, ends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson, and backup tackle Manuel Wright.
Udeze was a first-round NFL draft pick in 2004, Patterson and Cody were first- and second-round picks, respectively, in 2005, and Jackson was a first-round pick in 2008.
No one expects the 2012 edition to perform like the veteran units led by those players. But the Trojans will need consistent production if they hope to win their first national title in eight years.
Last season, end Nick Perry recorded 9 1/2 of the team's 31 sacks en route to becoming a first-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers.
Asked this week if the line was playing as well as last year's, Coach Lane Kiffin said, "They've got a long ways to go."
The schedule and an experienced back seven should help.
USC opens Sept. 1 against a Hawaii team that poses no real threat. The Trojans then travel to New Jersey to play Syracuse before what is expected to be a tough Pac-12 Conference opener at Stanford.
USC's linebacker corps features three returning starters, and the secondary is experienced and deep.
Orgeron went into semi-scramble mode a few days before training camp opened when Kennard suffered a torn chest muscle while lifting weights. The senior is recovering from surgery and is not expected to return until at least midseason, if at all.
"We can't just fall off the center of the Earth because we lost a great player," Uko said.
Kennard's injury forced the move of sophomore J.R. Tavai from tackle to left end. Redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr., who has been sidelined for a week because of an ankle injury, can rotate at both end spots and junior college transfer Morgan Breslin also has shined at times as a pass rusher.
Horton will start at right end with Townsend, and junior Kevin Greene also is in the mix.
Leonard Williams, a freshman from Florida, is listed as an end on the roster, but he is playing in a rotation with Uko and redshirt freshman nose tackle Antwaun Woods.
"We all have the same type of mind-set," Uko says. "We're all about the team. There's no 'me' guys."
The Trojans, Orgeron says, will need every one.
"'We've got to start fast," he says, "and get better as the season goes on."