Know your foe - USC

Last week ASU proved that it can bounce back from being throttled, but they hope their next opponent won't do the same. USC is coming off a 53-32 home loss to Oregon and many wonder if the post-season banned Trojans still have some fight in them. Dan Greenspan from answers that question and many others about USC.

With being banned from the post-season and after such a demoralizing loss to Oregon, is it realistic to assume that USC could be mailing it in for the rest of the season?

I don't think it's fair to say that USC is mailing it for the rest of the season. That was a big question after the back-to-back last-minute losses to Washington and Stanford but they bounced back with a blowout victory over Cal, and despite the final score against Oregon, they showed great effort in the loss. More than a lack of effort or interest, I think USC has been a victim of being a fairly young team with a lack of depth at some key spots like linebacker.

At a 5-3 record how would you assess USC's season so far? Disappointed or just about what you would expect?

It's a disappointment in that USC should have knocked off Washington and Stanford, doing enough good things in each of those games to sneak off with the win.

Then again, if the offense doesn't show up at Hawaii or defense against Virginia or special teams at Minnesota, the Trojans could be staring at Notre Dame or Tennessee-type seasons right now.

It's a team and program in transition with the exit of Pete Carroll, a lot of recruiting misses that have left USC really vulnerable and impending scholarship reductions. What looks like a disappointment now might be viewed as a successful season a few years down the road looking through that prism.

How has the Trojan nation taken to Lane Kiffin and do they resent Pete Carroll for his departure?

Kiffin isn't warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems like most fans have taken to him, especially as the scope of his task has become apparently.

He's got a leash as the program deals with the fallout of the NCAA sanctions. After that, Kiffin will have to win and quickly to stay in the good graces of a very demanding fan base.

The perspective of Carroll definitely changed after the program got hammered by the NCAA, making it look like he got out of town just ahead of the posse.

Still, in 15 or 20 years, he'll be remembered fondly so long as the program digs out of its current predicament without significant long-term damage.

How does Monte Kiffin's defense differ from Pete Carroll's and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this unit?

The scheme is largely the same, a Cover-2 approach that requires the safeties and middle linebacker to be effective in coverage. However, those three spots are so green and lacking in depth, it's been a trial by fire for the Trojans, resulting in gaping holes that Hawaii, Washington, Stanford and Oregon were able to take advantage of.

Corner Shareece Wright and safety Jawanza Starling, perhaps the two best defenders in the spring, have been shredded left and right.

The defensive line, led by junior tackle Jurrell Casey, has been the unquestioned strength of the defense, but even they have had plenty of breakdowns without enough depth to weather injuries.

What does the typical USC fan think of the ASU football team?

Speaking for myself, I can't help but wonder why Arizona State has been so consistently mediocre. They have strong recruiting bases, the ability to sign anyone – insert Ned Flanders quote here – and decent facilities.

I always thought the Erickson hire was a mistake, as he's never been a program builder. If he exits after this season, Mike Leach would have the Sun Devils as a perennial upper-tier Pac-12 team in a very short time.

There seem to be a lot of mixed feelings as to whether Devon Kennard should have been moved to MIKE linebacker. What were the reasons behind it and do you feel it was a mistake?

The Trojans missed out on several top linebacker recruits, notably Vontaze Burfict and Manti Te'o of Notre Dame, and two they did sign – Jarvis Jones and Frankie Telfort – were lost in one year to medical concerns.

Those circumstances forced Carroll to move Kennard to linebacker late last season and Kiffin kept him there, even going so far as moving him to middle linebacker in the spring.

While he has the physical skills, Kennard seems largely lost at his current position, lacking the necessary read-and-react instincts required of the MIKE. The sophomore is better suited for defensive end or even 3-4 outside linebacker, where he could be a dominant pass rusher once more.

With the loss of seniors Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan after this season, Kennard looks like he's a linebacker for the foreseeable future.

Can you talk about QB Matt Barkley's performance this season? Just like the Oregon game it seems that his performance this year has been a bag of mixed goods.

Barkley has played very well, considering that he is a true sophomore and in a new offense. The Oregon game was largely an aberration, with the Ducks blitzing on almost every play and Lane Kiffin admitting he called a poor game, but Barkley is right there with Andrew Luck of Stanford in terms of pro potential. He has the arm strength, football intelligence and charisma to be a star at this level and the next, but the biggest surprise has been his improved mobility and pocket presence after losing weight in the offseason.

So long as he avoids the tendency to do too much, the cause of all six Barkley interceptions this season, he should bounce back well against the Sun Devils.

Is WR Robert Woods the best player at USC since Reggie Bush?

Woods is certainly the best freshman to come through the program in a long time, certainly since Dwayne Jarrett or Mike Williams in terms of instant impact. He's got the skill set and work ethic to become a special player, but Bush was so remarkable, it's nearly impossible to put anyone in that category.

Dillon Baxter came in as a highly touted recruit and had admitted his lack of "trying" that has affected his performance. Is it more mental or physical reasons that have affected his play?

Kiffin said it was his lack of practice time following his foot injury at Stanford that kept Baxter out of the Oregon game, except for two garbage-time carries.

While he's been a bit of a knucklehead, Baxter is supremely talented and could provide a spark for the USC offense. Expect him to see a larger role this week.

What is your prediction for this week's game?

I'm taking the Trojans to bounce back and win, 34-17, largely on Steven Threet's penchant for turnovers.

However, there likely won't be a lot of energy or fans at the Coliseum on Saturday night, so USC needs to come out strong and not let the Sun Devils hang around in a make-or-break game for Arizona State's bowl hopes*.

*I'm assuming the NCAA relents and lets both FCS wins count if Arizona State finishes 6-6 simply to fill all bowl slots.

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