-The Trojans have an extremely slim margin for error. Lane Kiffin's team had uncharacteristic struggles against weak competition, at least compared to recent history. And Virginia, Stanford and Oregon are no Hawaii and Virginia. Given the strength of the Pac-10 and roster limitations, a critical turnover or injury to a Jurrell Casey or Kris O'Dowd could be the difference between double-digit wins and a middle of the pack finish. Then again, it is entirely possible USC was just working out the kinks in its first four games or even sandbagging future opposition.
-With his combination of work ethic, route running and speed, Robert Woods is going to be a star. Through four games, the true freshman has 13 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown and a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown and he hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential. Woods will effortlessly step into the lead role currently held by Ronald Johnson next season and form one of the most electric quarterback-receiver tandems in the nation with a veteran Matt Barkley.
-John Baxter was the best hire Kiffin made. The former Fresno State special teams coach has more than lived up to his lofty reputation, with the Trojans hitting for the cycle – punt return touchdown, kick return touchdown, blocked punt, blocked field goal – in the first month of the season. Players are energized to be out there, with a sense of pride not seen in years. Special teams will power USC to at least two wins in conference play. And as for kicker Joe Houston, who has hit just 1 of 4 field goal attempts this season, I believe him and Baxter that kicks will be made when the team absolutely needs them.
This USC team is still a bit of a mystery after the first four games of the season.
There have definitely been some positives that should give the fans reason to be optimistic like the running game, special teams play and the emergence of T.J. McDonald and Robert Woods, but when you couple the positives with some inconsistent play and penalty problems, you should be cautiously optimistic as USC heads into the meat of the schedule.
The Pac-10 is the best conference in college football this year and every game for the rest of the season will be a legitimate challenge for the Men of Troy. We will get a much clearer picture of the Trojans this week against a Washington team that has one of the most dangerous players in the country in quarterback Jake Locker.
The play calling, special teams and running game look to be improved from last season. Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler are very capable every down backs and Dillon Baxter will continue to improve and contribute.
With games against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona coming up, the Trojans will need to commit to the run, limit mental mistakes and play better defense to stay near the top of the Pac.
Ronald Johnson and Robert Woods have provided a spark in the passing game with their big-play ability and Matt Barkley has been solid this season, despite a two-turnover performance last week at Washington State.
The defensive line hasn't been quite as dominant as expected but the unit is still the strength of the defense. Devon Kennard is still very raw at middle linebacker and will get tested against Stanford and Oregon, as will the young secondary.
Look for Lane Kiffin to open up the playbook now that the 'preseason' is over.
Jurell Casey continues to be a bright spot on the defensive side of the ball.
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