USC has four players from Serra High in Gardena, Calif., including defensive tackle DaJohn Harris. But he's a senior. The focus is on the other three Serra products: sophomore receiver Robert Woods, freshman receiver Marqise Lee and freshman running back George Farmer.
Woods has blossomed into a full-fledged star, tied for first nationally with 11.0 receptions per game and second in the country with 149.4 receiving yards per game.
Lee is a freakishly athletic player who quickly earned a starting role. He has 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns, and he is coming off a 144-yard effort vs. Arizona. During the recruiting process, USC -- and other top schools -- were projecting Lee as a defensive back, but he wanted to play offense.
And if the Trojans hadn't agreed to let him play receiver?
"He'd be lining up at Oregon probably if we had told him he was going to DB," coach Lane Kiffin said. "Obviously, it worked out. You could notice right away how special he was."
And then there is Farmer, who didn't play through the first five games. Coaches recently converted him from wide receiver to running back. He is expected to make his season debut at Cal on Thursday night.
There could be a time in that game when all three Serra grads are on the field at the same time.
"We're always talking about it," Lee said. "He's ready."
Together, the trio should be giving Pac-12 defenses plenty of headaches for seasons to come.
--True freshman George Farmer was rated the No. 1 receiver in the nation in last season's recruiting class, catching 65 passes for 1,514 yards and 14 touchdowns at Gardena (Calif.) Serra High. He also ran for two scores, had five touchdowns in the return game and intercepted three passes. Farmer struggled early in camp at USC, but impressed recently while being switched to running back.
It would be a somewhat unusual move to pull a freshman out of a redshirt with just seven games to go (and no chance of the postseason), but the coaches seem willing to do it to spark the running game. Marc Tyler is a physical back, but coach Lane Kiffin wants more big-play potential. D.J. Morgan has had fumbling issues, and Dillon Baxter has plunged on the depth chart ... so now Farmer?
"If they need me to play, I'll do it," he said.
--USC coach Lane Kiffin was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007 and 2008. He released this statement last week on the death of legendary owner Al Davis. "He was just so loyal to his players," Kiffin wrote. "Sometimes that caused problems with coaches, but that's who he was. He brought so many guys out of retirement, because he was so loyal to them and to other employees around the office too."
--This week's opponent, Cal, is coming off a 43-15 loss at Oregon on Thursday, Oct. 6. The game was close at halftime before the Ducks went on a 29-0 run in the second half. "I thought they played great through one half and into the third quarter, especially in a tough environment against an explosive offense," USC coach Lane Kiffin said of Cal. "What happened, happens in most games against Oregon over the last few years."
SERIES HISTORY: USC leads Cal 63-30-5 (last meeting, 2010, 48-14 USC)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Trojans are coming off their best game of the season, as they rolled up 582 yards and 48 points against Arizona, although that has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the Wildcats' poor defense. This week's opponent, Cal, was 12th nationally against the run before facing Oregon's LaMichael James. Problem is, USC doesn't have anyone like James, so it will probably be up to QB Matt Barkley and talented wideouts Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to make hay against a pass defense that can be beaten (474 yards allowed to Colorado).
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is a concern, as the Trojans are allowing 379.6 yards and 26.4 points per game -- and they still have to face the nearly unstoppable offenses of Stanford and Oregon. Cal has a mobile quarterback in Zach Maynard and, arguably, the best pair of receivers in the Pac-12 with Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones (certainly, USC would argue that its pair are better). Redshirt freshman Dion Bailey, who moved from safety to linebacker, has been active in his new position, leading the team with 40 tackles. Another freshman linebacker, Hayes Pullard, is second with 29.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our run game has been up and down. We lack explosive plays in the run game, which is why we are passing so much. We can't do that all year long or we will get exposed." -- Coach Lane Kiffin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: USC at Cal, Oct. 13 -- The Trojans have dominated the series, winning the past seven meetings after a triple-overtime loss to Cal in 2003. USC led 42-0 at halftime last season before coasting to a 48-14 victory that is tied for the largest margin in coach Lane Kiffin's tenure. This game is at AT&T Park while Cal's Memorial Stadium is being renovated.
KEYS TO THE GAME: USC has allowed its past two opponents (Arizona State and Arizona) to complete 66 of 85 passes (77.6 percent). Cal QB Zach Maynard isn't the type to complete a high percentage of passes -- he's only at 51.4 percent -- but the Trojans are going to have to tighten up their Tampa 2 defense and not let receivers Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones catch short passes all game. The pressure will be on USC's cornerbacks to come up big, and watch for junior college transfer Isiah Wiley if starting CB Torin Harris can't play.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Matt Barkley -- The junior will have a tough time topping what he did last season against Cal, when he threw five first-half touchdowns. He also will have a tough time topping what he did in his last game, when he threw for a school-record 468 yards against Arizona. Barkley does, however, continue to show improvement in terms of his poise, mobility and ability to throw deep.
DE Nick Perry -- He has three sacks, although he'll have to be careful against Cal's Zach Maynard, who can break containment and make plays with his feet.
RB Marc Tyler -- He is averaging 84.5 yards per game, giving USC a big back that can push the pile and move the chains. The bye week came at a good time for Tyler, nursing a thigh injury. "I think I've done pretty well this season, but I can still personally do a better job of finishing runs and being more explosive hitting the holes," he said.
--CB Torin Harris did not play against Arizona because of a shoulder injury. A workout on Tuesday probably would determine if Harris can play at Cal on Thursday.
--LB Lamar Dawson (ankle) has missed the past two games and his status was up in the air as of Monday. Coach Lane Kiffin is hoping Dawson, a true freshman from Kentucky, can push senior starter Chris Galippo in practice and games.
--WR Kyle Prater, who has barely played this season because of a foot injury, had good practices in the bye week. At 6-foot-5, he would be another big-time weapon for QB Matt Barkley.
--LG Marcus Martin, a true freshman, has started the past three games.
--DT Armond Armstead, who has been out because of an undisclosed medical condition, will redshirt this season. Armstead could opt to try the NFL after this season.
--OG Abe Markowitz, who was slated to be a starter this season, did not play in the first three games because of a foot injury, then learned he would need surgery for a fracture that will cost him the season.