Whitney Blaine, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer and Reporter
-Left guard Marcus Martin
Four offensive linemen were recruited in USC's 2011 class and of all of them, Crenshaw High product Marcus Martin wasn't expected to be the best. So when he came in to start as early as the Trojans' third game--the first true freshman to start at guard for USC since 2004 (Jeff Byers)--he looked like a work in progress.
But as the best available option, the coaches stuck with Martin and through nine games, he has proved to be a vital part of the Trojan's line. Martin (6-3, 340), still has a ways to go but he has done surprisingly well. Proven to be a quick learner, Martin has taken football extremely seriously since his arrival.
The offensive line was one of USC's biggest areas of concern coming into the season, with uncertainty at three of the five spots before fall camp. Today it looks to be more stable and Martin is a big part of that. He had a great cut block in the Colorado game which helped another true freshman in Amir Carlisle get the running game going. It's obvious he is thinking more critically, has been trusted with tougher assignments and appears generally more comfortable at the position.
Martin is the freshest face on an important line that protects junior quarterback Matt Barkley. It's not easy having to take on such a heavy load, including his studies and adjusting to college life. But Martin continues to improve each game, as he soaks up more of the playbook, gets advice from veterans and works on his technique. In time the game will slow down for him and he has the potential--and game experience--to be truly great.
Dan Greenspan, SCPlaybook.com Beat Writer and Reporter
-Cornerback Isiah Wiley
Former USC head coach Pete Carroll was fond of the story of how freshman offensive tackle Winston Justice seized a spot in the starting lineup during a bye week and remained there for the rest of the season.
Lane Kiffin might be doing the same when it comes to cornerback Isiah Wiley, who has emerged as the savior of the injury-wracked Trojan secondary.
The junior college transfer was regarded as a possible starter coming into the spring, but had to delay his enrollment until the fall. Once on campus, Wiley looked lost for much of fall camp.
It wasn't until the open week before playing California that he began to figure things out and the timing couldn't have been better as redshirt freshman Anthony Brown suffered a broken ankle against the Bears.
Since being forced into action Wiley has been sensational, racking up 24 tackles and four pass breakups in the last four games. He and sophomore Nickell Robey now form quite the formidable corner tandem, allowing assistant head coach Monte Kiffin to be creative and aggressive with the rest of defense.
It's no coincidence the Trojans have found their groove with Wiley in the starting lineup, limiting Cal, Notre Dame and Colorado to an average of 14.3 points and almost upsetting Stanford. His development has been the story behind USC's impressive late-season surge.