Opponent Outlook: USC

In the weeks leading up towards the start of season, Devils Digest's Joe Healey will provide an off-season preview of ASU's 2011 opponents. The fourth article in this series examines the University of Southern California.

USC Trojans

Game Date and Location (Kickoff Time/TV): Sept. 24, 2011 at Sun Devil Stadium (7:15 p.m. MST/ESPN or ESPN2)

Head Coach: Lane Kiffin (Third year as college head coach/second at USC; 15-11 overall/8-5 at USC)

Conference: Pac-12 (South division)

2010 Record: 8-4 (5-4 Pac-10; Ineligible for postseason)

Honors Candidates: QB Matt Barkley, Jr.; OL Ryan Kalil, Jr.; S T.J. McDonald, Jr.; CB/PR Nickell Robey, So.; WR/KR Robert Woods, So.

Key Departures: RB Allen Bradford; DT Jurell Casey; WR Ronald Johnson; OL Tyron Smith; CB Shareece Wright

Impact Newcomers: LB Lamar Dawson, Fr.; WR George Farmer, Fr.; OL Cyrus Hobbi, Fr.; LB Hayes Pullard, RS-Fr.; DT George Uko, RS-Fr.

Current Head-to-Head Streak: 11 by USC (Last ASU win: 26-16 on Nov. 6, 1999 in Los Angeles)

Last Meeting: In 2010, USC dramatically defeated ASU 34-33 at the Coliseum by way of a 29-yard field goal by Joe Houston with 3:06 left in the game after Torin Harris returned a blocked PAT for two points moments earlier. ASU had taken 33-29 lead with 6:59 to play on a Jamal Miles nine-yard touchdown reception, but the ensuing extra point blunder ended up drastically turning the tide for the Trojans. ASU had a shot at a go-ahead field goal attempt, but Thomas Weber's try from 41-yards with 1:34 left was unsuccessful.

ASU quarterback Steven Threet had a game-high 228 passing yards, while both he and USC quarterback Matt Barkley had three touchdowns and two interceptions. Trojan back Marc Tyler tallied 119 rushing yards on 12 carries and ASU wideout T.J. Simpson was the game's leading receiver with eight catches for 95 yards. ASU's Omar Bolden and USC's Michael Morgan both took interceptions back for touchdowns, while Sun Devil LeQuan Lewis added a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to help ignite ASU's ultimately unsuccessful comeback.

2011 Schedule

9/3/11 Minnesota

9/10/11 Utah

9/17/11 Syracuse

9/24/11 at Arizona State

10/1/11 Arizona

10/8/11 BYE

10/15/11 at California*

10/22/11 at Notre Dame

10/29/11 Stanford

11/5/11 at Colorado

11/12/11 Washington

11/19/11 at Oregon

11/26/11 UCLA

*-Game played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.

2010 Results (2010 Record/Head-to-Head Score)

at Hawaii (10-4) (W, 49-36)

Virginia (4-8) (W, 17-14)

at Minnesota (3-9) (W, 32-21)

at Washington State (2-10) (W, 50-16)

Washington (7-6) (L, 32-31)

at #16 Stanford (12-1) (L, 37-35)

California (5-7) (W, 48-14)

#2 Oregon (12-1) (L, 53-32)

Arizona State (6-6) (W, 34-33)

at #18 Arizona (7-6) (W, 24-21)

at Oregon State (5-7) (L, 36-7)

Notre Dame (8-5) (L, 20-16)

UCLA (4-8) (W, 28-14)

Team Analysis


In 2010, Matt Barkley took substantial steps to validate the expectations that followed him to USC's campus by earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition after throwing for 2,791 yards and 26 touchdowns while also rushing for a pair of scores.

A starter since he stepped foot on campus at USC, Barkley continues to take on greater and greater leadership roles and has worked his way to be the figurehead of the Trojans on the field.

Though the Trojans are perfectly set with Barkley at quarterback, if he is forced to miss any action the quality could diminish as no other quarterback on the roster has college game experience. Redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins and true freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek—both spring arrivals---will all compete to fill out the remainder of the depth chart.

On the ground, virtually all predictability to replace the talented contributions of departed seniors Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable —a pair that combined for over 1,000 yards last season—hinges on the availability of senior Marc Tyler, nearly a 1,000-yard runner a year ago who faces likely repercussions from offseason legal incidents. Assuming he will be available at least by the time USC faces off with ASU, Tyler gives the Trojans a legitimate rushing threat that the Sun Devils certainly must account for. The 5-foot-11, 230-pounder collected 913 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 171 carries in 2010, including 119 yards—his third-most of the year—on only 12 carries against ASU.

Behind Tyler, junior Curtis McNeal enjoyed an excellent spring but has been away from live duty for over a year after being declared academically ineligible for 2010. A part-time contributor as a redshirt freshman in 2009, McNeal totaled only six carries on the year totaling 33 yards.

Sophomore Dillon Baxter, one of the most accomplished prep athletes in recent history, bypassed a redshirt season last year but was frequently in and out of the coaches' dog house, tallying modest digits of 252 yards and one touchdown on 59 total carries.

Standout speedster D.J. Morgan, a former California state champion hurdler, was named USC's Service Team Offensive Player of the Year while redshirting last year and figures to add dynamic depth in 2011.

At fullback, Soma Vainuku, a former ASU recruit that greyshirted last season, likely will fill the substantial void left by Stanley Havili, while walk-on Hunter Simmons likely will also compete for time.

In the passing game, USC features two proven targets in Pac-10 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year Robert Woods at wide receiver and sturdy tight end Rhett Ellison—the team's top two returning receivers. Last year, Woods immediately validated his five-star recruiting status by leading USC with 65 receptions for 792 yards with six touchdowns while also earning First-Team All-Pac-10 recognition as a kickoff returner. Ellison, a solid if unflashy contributor, hauled in 21 receptions for 239 yards and three scores last year.

Behind Woods and Ellison, the depth at both positions is a veritable who's who of blue chip recruiting prospects, although it is a crop of greatly unseasoned talent.

At wide receiver, the most notable question may be whether veterans can hold off the newbies; returning players such as Brice Butler, Brandon Carswell and De'Von Flournoy have the certain advantage in terms of college experience but have yet to produce anything spectacular to substantiate the assumption that they will undoubtedly fend off newcomers.

Two question marks at receiver are Markeith Ambles and Kyle Prater, both members of the 2010 class. Ambles saw minimal action as a true freshman but was suspended shortly into the year and ultimately left the team in November, only to return in January in time to participate in spring drills. Prater, a former top-five overall prospect, has been unable to shake the injury bug since arriving in Los Angeles last spring. Both players bring big-time qualities to the table but have yet to prove their reliability.

USC is expecting substantial and immediate results from its incoming freshmen at wide receiver, specifically five-star George Farmer and four-star Marqise Lee, a pair that amazingly was joined by Woods at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High School. Wide receiver Victor Blackwell and tight end Junior Pomee, both four-star true freshmen, bring immense talent and athleticism as well.

The tight end depth behind Ellison is nothing short of a logjam, as three players were footnoted with an "OR" by their name in the final spring depth chart. Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Christian Thomas were all members of USC's 2010 class and last season, Grimble and Telfer redshirted while Thomas saw limited action bouncing between tight end and defensive end.

In all, though USC likely is expecting a formidable youth movement at wide receiver and tight end, the credentials certainly are there. Among the 10 freshman and sophomore scholarship wide receivers and tight ends on this year's roster, four of them (Farmer, Grimble, Prater and Woods) were five-star prospects by Scout.com and the other six (Ambles, Blackwell, Lee, Pomee, Telfer and Thomas) were all four-star recruits.

The Trojans face a major rebuilding process on the offensive line, both in terms of starters and depth players. Three first-stringers depart from last year's lineup, headlined by first-round NFL Draft selection Tyron Smith.

Left tackle Matt Kalil is expected to be one of the nation's premier linemen as he was chosen as a Playboy All-American—somewhat surprising because he has yet to even ear all-conference accolades through two varsity seasons and is only a second-year starter. Junior Khaled Holmes moves from guard to center to add experienced stability to the position after earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 recognition as a full-time starter last year.

Behind Kalil and Holmes, very little is proven among credible starters and scholarship depth is noticeably thin. In total, USC has only five linemen with prior FBS game experience and no player on the roster has been a consistent starter for more than one full season.

The candidates to fill the other three line positions consists of a variety of unproven players such as returning Trojans Martin Coleman, Kevin Graf and John Martinez as well as midyear junior college transfers Jeremy Galten and David Garness. USC signed four high school offensive linemen in February and the two top recruits of the four—guard Cyrus Hobbi and tackle Aundray Walker—likely will compete for immediate playing time. Ultimately, the Trojans will enter fall camp with question marks at as many as three positions across the offensive line.


At defensive tackle, Christian Tupou returns after missing 2010 due to injury and senior DaJohn Harris is back after starting 12 games last year, while redshirt freshman George Uko brings the high upside that made him a five-star prospect out of high school.

Four of USC's signees are slated to play defensive tackle, including Steve Dillon, Christian Heyward, J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods. Heyward and Woods were the most highly touted of the four, but Tavai is considered a potential sleeper with a high ceiling. With a lack of healthy scholarship depth at tackle, it is possible that more than one true freshman tackle will see the field in 2011.

Though ASU has often received the "Sleeping Giant" moniker, the same comparison could be said for two of USC's defensive ends as former superstar recruits Devon Kennard and Nick Perry enter their junior seasons with spectacular potential but neither has been able to earn any notable mainstream notoriety at the collegiate level.

Kennard enters 2011 as the team's second-leading returning tackler with 72 stops last year, however his transition from defensive end to linebacker was far from seamless and he will return to the line for his junior season. The Phoenix native has the athletic gifts to be a force, but owns only two sacks in 25 games.

Perry has been efficient has a pass-rush specialist—12 sacks among 49 total tackles—but has yet to fully push through the threshold of being a one-tool player. Though Perry has been in and out of the starting lineup the past two seasons, he surely has freakish attributes that allow him to be horrifically disruptive.

Kennard and Perry likely will rotate at right end, while the likely candidate to start at the opposite end is junior Wes Horton; a starter in six of 10 games played that collected 29 tackles and four sacks in 2010.

Armond Armstead—a talented and versatile big man able to play end or tackle—started 11 games in 2010 and is a bona fide honors candidate, but was hospitalized in March for chest pains. He recently resumed working out in preparation of returning this season, but he has yet to be officially cleared so his availability is uncertain at this point.

Departed starting linebackers Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith will have to be replaced, while Kennard's return to defensive end also further shuffles the deck at linebacker for the Trojans.

The one certainty is senior Chris Galippo, one of the most accomplished defenders on the Trojan roster, who can start at either outside or middle linebacker. Though Galippo took a major step back in 2010 from the previous season—producing only 29 tackles compared to 70 in 2010—he may be the only linebacker firmly entrenched in a first-team role.

With Galippo potentially stationed at middle linebacker due to Kennard's move, both outside linebacker spots house multiple starting candidates.

On the weak side, senior Shane Horton and redshirt freshman Hayes Pullard are expected to duke it out while redshirt freshman Dion Bailey and sophomore Marquis Simmons will compete for time at strong side linebacker.

The linebacker competition is expected to face a sizeable upgrade in the fall with the arrival of a trio of first-year blue chippers in middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and outside linebackers Tre Madden and Anthony Sarao. Any of the three or perhaps the whole trio may see time in 2011 and the coaching staff has gone as far as to assign Dawson the coveted number 55—symbolic of the expectations that he will compare to all-time Trojan greats such as Chris Claiborne, Willie McGinest and Keith Rivers.

USC's secondary was a major weakness in 2010, rating 109th in the country and dead last in the Pac-10 by averaging 259.5 yards per game. Adding insult to injury is the departure of the Trojan's best cornerback, Shareece Wright, creating a cluster of potentially nine scholarship cornerbacks.

The bright spot at cornerback figures to be sophomore Nickell Robey, who led the Trojans with four interceptions as a true freshman last year. Though he suffered ups and downs expected of any rookie defensive back, Robey is predicted to evolve into a stable starter and potential all-conference performer.

Opposite Robey in the starting lineup likely will be either former walk-on Tony Burnett or Torin Harris. Burnett (26 tackles in 2010), also a track athlete at USC, moved from safety to cornerback this spring, while Harris (13 tackles) missed all of spring drills due to injury.

Brian Baucham, T.J. Bryant, Anthony Brown and Patrick Hall return from last year's roster and figure to add depth and compete for playing time at cornerback.

The wild card of the cornerback battle may be fall junior college transfer Isiah Wiley, a Louisiana native that played at Arizona Western. A safety at the JUCO level, the four-star prospect is slated on USC's post-spring depth chart as a potential cornerback.

True freshman Ryan Henderson will also enter the fray at cornerback this fall.

Without question, USC's most talented defender at any position is junior safety T.J. McDonald, a Second-Team All-Pac-10 member that totaled a team-high 89 tackles while adding three interceptions. Marked as the starting free safety, McDonald is potentially the conference's best safety.

McDonald likely will be joined in the starting lineup by senior Marshall Jones, a seldom-used player prior to 2010 when he started four games and collected 35 tackles on the year.

Junior Drew McAllister, junior Jawanza Starling and sophomore Demetrius Wright are listed as the key backups at safety for the Trojans.

Special Teams

Though USC's kicking game was average at best last year, the Trojans could face rocky roads by potentially having true freshmen assume both duties. Kicker Andre Heidari arrived in the spring and likely earned the placekicker job, while Kris Albarado will compete with walk-on junior Kyle Negrete for punting rights.

Robert Woods is an All-America caliber kickoff return specialist, while Nickell Robey and Curtis McNeal will compete for reps at returning both kickoffs and punts.


The prognosticators that pick USC to finish first in the Pac-12 South likely are star-struck by the potential of the Trojans' past two recruiting classes and not substantial proof. In this case, the facts are that this is a team that finished 8-5 in 2010 and loses 10 starters plus its kicker and punter; if taken out of the Hollywood context full of glitz and glamour, there are several red flags of concern on USC's 2011 squad. Without question, every team in the South has its share of uncertainties, but USC should not be a clear-cut pick to easily rise above its challenges.

USC"s tumultuous offseason and postseason ineligibility may have a noticeable impact on the Trojans on the field, whether in a good, "us against them" way or a debilitating form.

From a Sun Devil fan's perspective, the recent decade against USC has often been excruciatingly disheartening as ASU has both been blown out on multiple occasions while also coming just shy of victory several times. Whether it's because of a turnover-prone Sam Keller or freak occurrences like blocked PATs returned for a score, the Sun Devils have suffered from both bad luck and poor preparation in over a decade's worth of winless years against the Trojans.

Though on many occasions recently it has been proclaimed that "this is the year!" that ASU finally ends its losing streak against USC, the circumstances of the 2011 showdown favors the Sun Devils as much as any before it over the past 10 years. Not only is USC not as "USC" as it was five-to-ten years ago, the Trojans' likely reliance on young contributors could create a learning curve that is still in effect in the fourth game of the season; it may be a tall order to assume that several new skill players, a largely rebuilt offensive line, changes in the front seven and multiple new pieces in a secondary that was very poor in 2010 will all be in synch and operating at a high level before the end of the season's first month.

In strictly evaluating the head-to-head matchups, there are some definite areas of opportunity for ASU. With potential deficiencies along the offensive line and in the secondary, the Sun Devils' striking front seven and talented wide receivers have the ability to sustain some notable advantages. Though Barkley is one of the nation's better passers, Tyler is a top-level back and Woods is on the verge of an elite reputation, there is very little else offensively that USC can hang its hat on until proof is given in the season's early games.

Essentially—and potentially a major advantage for ASU—due to widespread inexperience, the Trojans in November may be drastically different than the Trojans in September, which could open the door for a veteran Sun Devil team to strike in this early-season meeting.

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