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2012 College Football Team Previews

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No one disputes that USC has a starting group of 22 that can compete for a national title. It's the depth that is the worry.

"Right now, we kind of feel like we're in a perfect storm with so many good things going," coach Lane Kiffin said at Pac-12 media day.

Soon after he said that, some rain clouds moved in.

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Projected starting defensive end Devon Kennard suffered a torn pectoral muscle while lifting weights. The injury could keep him out until at least the middle of the season.

USC can't afford too many of these kind of injuries, especially on a defensive line in which the interior is inexperienced and now the edges are more suspect, too. Depth at running back was a concern, but the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd changes the picture dramatically.

It doesn't help that the offensive line isn't deep, and more receivers need to emerge behind superstars Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

The Trojans will need some good luck to be able to cleanly navigate their season to the BCS Championship Game. USC has only 75 scholarships -- 10 fewer than the maximum -- because of NCAA sanctions.

But that USC is even able to talk about a run to the national title is a testament to how well Kiffin and his staff kept the program from fracturing following two years of a postseason ban.

"We're two years removed from what was handed down as people saying 'SC is over,' " Kiffin said. "Being a preseason No. 1 team two years later is extremely exciting for our university and for our fans."

All of this is possible because the surprising senior return of quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman front-runner.

"These guys are my best friends, and you saw it toward the end of last year, how much fun we were having playing together and playing for each other," Barkley said.

"I think we've got to keep playing like that this year. We can play for a national championship and bowl games, but we can't forget how we got here. You were playing for your buddy. I think especially this year we can't forget to do that."

HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 18-7 in two years at USC; 25-13 record in three years as a head coach.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Matt Barkley -- Was there any doubt? He is coming off a season in which he completed 308 of 446 passes for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has improved his arm strength and his mobility through his college career, and probably would have been a top-five pick in the NFL Draft if he had come out after his junior season. Not only is he the team leader, and the linchpin to a national championship run, it's not as if the Trojans have a ready-made backup, as he is backed by redshirt freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.

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BREAKOUT STAR: LB Lamar Dawson -- A pair of other linebackers (Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard) emerged last season as redshirt freshmen, with each making 81 tackles and earning Freshman All-American honors. Dawson came along more slowly in his freshman season because of an ankle injury, but he added a needed physical presence when he started the final four games, unseating veteran Chris Galippo. Now, Dawson (25 tackles last season) should have a full season of starting in a very talented all-sophomore starting group of linebackers.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB Nelson Agholor -- Signed as a wide receiver, Agholor likely will begin his career in a backfield that needs more bodies. USC spent the offseason with only three scholarship running backs, led by Curtis McNeal. Backup D.J. Morgan began camp with a turf toe problem. Next in line was redshirt freshman Javorious Allen. The depth chart would change with the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd, but Agholor -- a five-star recruit who rushed 212 times for 1,983 yards last season at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Fla., could end up helping somewhere on offense.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: Given health on offense, who is going to stop USC? Maybe LSU in the national championship game? With Barkley, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, RB McNeal -- and C Khaled Holmes anchoring the line -- the Trojans have the best collection of skill in the country, and Penn State transfer Redd, a 1,200-yard back as a sophomore, only boosts that boast. USC ended last season with eight consecutive games with at least 30 points, a streak that included five contests with at least 40 points. USC should only be more productive this season, putting extra pressure on opposing offenses to catch up by going outside of their comfort zones -- and that's when USC's defense can take advantage with turnovers.

AREAS OF CONCERN: The defensive line moves to the forefront because of Kennard's preseason torn pectoral muscle. His replacement could be redshirt freshman Greg Townsend, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin or true freshman Leonard Williams. In any case, the USC line will have three new starters, with a pair of sophomores (J.R. Tavai and George Uko) projected at the tackle spots, with redshirt freshmen behind them.

Notes

-- Star receiver Woods, who sat out spring practice because of postseason ankle surgery, was still ailing at the start of training camp, the injury not really healing as expected. He was bothered by the ankle through last season, although he still posted an eye-popping 111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns. He combines with the electric Lee to form the best receiving duo in the country. Woods should be fine for the season, but his ankle is something that bears watching through camp as he tries to get his conditioning back to peak form.

-- USC is expected to unveil in mid-August a free mobile app for the iPhone or Android called "Project Tro7an" -- with the No. 7 being a nod to QB Matt Barkley's jersey number. The app will feature info and video highlights of Barkley, and other potential USC awards candidates. Barkley, with the right blend of skill, statistics and team success, enters the season as the Heisman front-runner ... for whatever that is worth. Barkley and a couple of teammates had input in the development of the app, but he knows what really matters. "The campaign is on the field," he said.

-- Sophomore RB Tre Madden, who was switched from linebacker to running back in the spring, will miss the 2012 season because of a knee injury suffered during spring drills.

-- Sophomore S Josh Shaw was granted a hardship waiver (ailing relatives) from the NCAA and will be immediately eligible after transferring from Florida in December. He played in 10 games for the Gators last season, making 22 tackles. The former four-star recruit is from Palmdale, Calif.

 
 
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