The Starter: Matt Barkley (Jr., 6-2, 220)
The Backups: Jesse Scroggins (Fr., 6-2, 205), Cody Kessler (Fr., 6-1, 210) or Max Wittek (Fr., 6-4, 210)
The Number: 2,946; Barkley needs to throw for 2,946 yards this season to pass Rob Johnson for third place in career passing yards.
The Storyline: Stepping up, backing up.
Matt Barkley finds himself in an unprecedented situation. After starting the season opener as a true freshman two years ago, he is sixth among Trojans in completions and passing yards and could own every school record if he elects to play out his senior campaign. He is the leader and face of the program, a future first-round pick and Heisman candidate.
However, because he is following an unprecedented succession of signal-callers, from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart to John David Booty to Mark Sanchez, Barkley's feats just don't seem as impressive. To match their achievements would mean taking USC back to double-digit wins by throwing 30 or more touchdowns, certainly possible with Barkley's experience and talents and a deep collection of skill players around him.
This will be his team, a passing offense so long as the offensive line can keep him upright and Barkley avoids the mistakes of years past.
But after missing games each of the last two seasons, it is also imperative that USC finds a capable No. 2 behind Barkley. Senior Mitch Mustain manned that role last season, but against Notre Dame, the coaches employed a far too conservative game plan. That lack of confidence in the passing game allowed the Irish to overcome four turnovers and a significant field position disadvantage and still pull off a 20-16 win.
Given the quality at the skill positions, if Barkley goes down, the Trojans will still have to rely on the backup to carry the team. Scroggins, a redshirt freshman, had the edge coming out of spring and showed much improvement, but Lane Kiffin would likely open up the competition if Barkley were to miss multiple games.
The Position: Running Back
The Contenders: Curtis McNeal (Jr., 5-7, 180), D.J. Morgan (Fr., 5-10, 190) or Dillon Baxter (So., 5-11, 195)
The Newcomers: Amir Carlisle (Fr., 5-10, 180), Buck Allen (Fr., 6-1, 205)
The Unknown: Marc Tyler (Sr., 5-11, 230)
The Number: 913; Tyler led the Trojans with 913 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season.
The Position: Fullback
The Starter: Soma Vainuku (Fr., 6-0, 245)
The Backup: Hunter Simmons (So., 6-1, 240)
The Number: 9.7; The versatile Stanley Havili averaged 9.7 yards per touch as a senior.
The Storyline: All Mixed Up.
Even before Tyler's TMZ video, uncertainty surrounded the running back position. Curtis McNeal was the top performer in the spring, while Morgan impressed last season in practice with the scout team. Baxter has all the hype, but all three will be asked to bring consistency to a ground game that was too erratic.
There were big games by Tyler and Allen Bradford, but also contests where the production disappeared. USC won't need to rush for 250 yards per game with the strength of Barkley and co., but will need the threat to open up some play-action opportunities down the field.
If Tyler is not reinstated, the Trojans will be without that big body and obvious goal-line back.
At fullback, Vainuku will likely be a part-time contributor with the available numbers at receiver and tight end. His biggest role will be in obvious running situations as a battering ram for whoever lines up behind him at tailback. With his experience, Rhett Ellison can step in as an H-back if needed.
The Position: Wide Receiver
The Starters: Robert Woods (So., 6-1, 180), Brandon Carswell (Sr., 6-1, 190)
The Backups: Kyle Prater (Fr., 6-5, 215), Brice Butler (Jr., 6-4, 195), Markeith Ambles (So., 6-1, 180), De'Von Flournoy (So., 6-0, 180)
The Newcomers: George Farmer (Fr., 6-1, 205), Marqise Lee (Fr. 6-0, 190), Victor Blackwell (Fr., 6-1, 185)
The Number: 617; Woods had 617 of his team-high 792 receiving yards and five of his six touchdowns in the final eight games of 2010.
The Position: Tight End
The Starter: Rhett Ellison (Sr., 6-5, 250)
The Backups: Xavier Grimble (Fr., 6-5, 245), Randall Telfer (Fr., 6-4, 230), Christian Thomas (So., 6-3, 235)
The Number: 19; Ellison has 19 career starts and is the only projected senior starter on offense entering fall camp.
The Storyline: Young Blood.
Care to wager how many draft picks the Trojans can produce simply from its pass catchers? The conservative total would be set at 6.5, given that all four tight ends have NFL bodies. Woods would be selected right now, and if one of his talented former Gardena (Calif.) Serra teammates can duplicate his remarkable freshman season, they too would be in that mix.
Though injuries thrust a redshirt upon him a year ago, Prater can use his frame and leaping ability as Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett did before. Flournoy can flat out run and Ambles too has tremendous physical gifts.
There is so much talent in this group it is simply ridiculous, but only Woods has experience as a starter. Even the senior Carswell has just 22 career receptions, Butler returns 29. Getting those newcomers comfortable because the focus will be on Woods, leaving single coverage and opportunities for big plays elsewhere.
The Position: Offensive Line
The Starters: Matt Kalil (Jr., 6-7, 295), Khaled Holmes (Jr., 6-4, 310)
The Contenders: John Martinez (So., 6-2, 290), Giovanni Di Poalo (Fr., 6-4, 295), Martin Coleman (Sr., 6-5, 335), Nathan Guertler (Fr., 6-5, 275), Kevin Graf (So., 6-6, 305), Jeremy Galten (Jr., 6-5, 285)
The Newcomers: Cyrus Hobbi (Fr., 6-3, 275), Aundrey Walker (Fr., 6-6, 375)
The Number: 13; Only Kalil has started at the position he will play this fall, with 13 starts at left tackle last season.
The Storyline: Make or Break.
The Trojans look like a much-improved team at every position, leaving only the front five as a true mystery. There is talent, notably a certified top-10 left tackle in Kalil, but experience and depth are lacking.
Even the other player penciled into the starting lineup, Holmes, has never played center before.
That leaves the coaches in a truly awkward position, forced to shuffle players through multiple positions to try and find the best combination. Graf, for example, could start at right tackle, but also end up at guard depending on how quickly the freshman Walker adjusts to the step up in class.
And if the line doesn't deliver, it negates all the advantages the offense has elsewhere – Barkley's savvy, the talent at the skill positions. It could very easily derail the season that should mark USC's return to greatness.