Matt Barkley, quarterback.
Entering his third season as a starter, Barkley's mission will be to cover up an offensive line that is short on experience and numbers. The junior performed quite well last year given the inconsistent play from the front five, benefiting from improved athleticism and mobility. He will have to rely on both tools, as well as quicker decision-making, to come up with his best campaign yet.
Matt Kalil, left tackle.
Oh to buy stock in the future first-round selection, Kalil has all the physical attributes to
be an absolute star at this level and the next. This is, after all, the young man that kept
Tyron Smith, the No. 9 overall selection of the Dallas Cowboys, on the right side for his
However, his on-field play has been consistently inconsistent. Too many breakdowns, mental mistakes and penalties have kept Kalil from reaching his vast potential. But with the uncertainty on the line, Kalil needs to be the kind of reliable building block that coaches can put on the field, then not think about again. Trust me, they'll have plenty of other guys to worry about, and Kalil can't be one of them.
Chris Galippo, middle linebacker.
Another obvious selection, forgive me, but with Devon Kennard back at defensive end,
the redshirt senior is the only option – forget about reliable – left at middle linebacker.
Even if newcomer Lamar Dawson blows everyone away in fall camp, it's unlikely he
will be able to make the calls and do everything else required of the quarterback of the
The former Servite (Anaheim, Calif.) star sounds like he is ready to finally deliver on the promise that made him one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation. Even his production for three-quarters of the 2009 season, when he started every game as a sophomore, would have been enough to carry USC to double-digit wins last year.
It will be on Galippo to lead the turnaround at linebacker, which was a black hole of production during last season's struggles (outside of senior Malcolm Smith). Staying healthy will be the big key for Galippo, given his well-documented history of back issues, but he has the instincts and skills to come through with a breakout season.
Whitney Blaine, Beat Writer/Reporter, SCPlaybook.Com
Robert Woods, wide receiver (flanker).
I'd say without a doubt Robert Woods is the most important player on USC's offense beside Barkley. Sure he's the best of the Trojans receiving core, but he's also the most level-headed. Stability is contagious and after spending time with Woods, the other guys almost have to feel his heart, dedication and will to improve, thereby making the others better. He has been constantly giving (and receiving) advice in the offseason. His Twitter handle is "Heisman Woods," showing he's confident he can do big things. With few awards the Trojans can earn next year, Woods wants to challenge himself. A sophomore winning one of the most prestigious awards in college football? That's some challenge.
Da'John Harris, defensive tackle.
Secondly, I'd look to Da'John Harris on the line as an important player on defense. Knowing his draft stock is on the line and he has this year to finish strong, I think "Juicy" will come up big for USC. Perry and Horton are touted as the best lineman but Juicy has the ability to make unique plays both as a clogger in one-gap situations (á la Jurrell Casey) as well as a nose tackle. I think he has juice left in him to be a pivotal playmaker. Everytime I talk to him I get a sense that he's irritated with everything that's happened at USC, and watching his good buddy Tyron Smith go in the first round, I think he and roommate Armstead want to see the green next April.
Drew McAllister, free safety.
Third, I'd look to Drew McAllister. I think Dan will probably agree with me on McAllister's abilities—he's a great safety. His only issue will be playing time. Right now it's doubtful he'll get the start (Marshall Jones is slated in that spot right now) but if the Trojans want a defensive back who can deflect in the air or make a play on instinct, McAllister is the guy. He's been waiting for this season for what seems like an eternity. After back-to-back hip surgeries, this Fall is a relief to him. He's not a guy who is worried about a bowl game—he's got enough self-motivation to compensate.