Top 11 of 2011: Jaw-Droppers (Pt. 1)

SCPlaybook looks back at the 11 most jaw-dropping moments of the Trojans' 2011 season. Check back for parts 2 and 3 later this week...

Everyone does end of the year lists.

Some give you the quickest ways to lose weight, some the top-10 recipes.

We don't care about any of that stuff here at SCPlaybook.

We do, however, care about football.

So without further ado, here is part one of the Trojans' Top 11 jaw-dropping moments of 2011: (Eleven in 2011, get it?)

Eleven:
Tailback Dillon Baxter's departure
When Dillon Baxter didn't make the trip South Bend this October, it seemed the five-star recruit's final chapter had been written. Three days later the university put out an obtuse statement about Baxter, something about needing to focus on his academics. Really with the tailback the issue was just general focus. He seemed disinterested when he wasn't playing. He didn't seem to like nor understand the coaches. And he definitely didn't buy into the system.

Most frustrated players usually tell their coaches intimately about individual issues and concerns. Baxter did that. And then he told the world. The attention added to the Trojans after Baxter's clear unhappiness was unwanted, and frankly, unwarranted. It seemed as though the sophomore had been at USC for much longer than two years--and not because he earned endless awards.

From his lightning run plastered on Youtube to his costly ride in a golf cart, Baxter's time at USC was filled with controversy. But in his final weeks at the university, he seemed to be more of a bother than a brother to his teammates.

Ten:
The ASU loss
It was dusty. And windy. Frankly, the entire 60 minutes of the USC-ASU game in 2011 was bizarre. At one point the field was covered with bulky pieces of trash flying about. Heading into the Trojans' fourth contest after going undefeated in its three-game homestand, this young group was beginning to feel confident. At least that's what they vociferated to the media.

Sun Devils' middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict picked apart any confidence with his playmaking ability, clearly fueled from all the pre-game hype (He was called a "dirty player" during the game week by some USC players). Burfict made folly a still-fresh offensive line and Trojan skill players just couldn't do enough in the end to make up the deficit.

I've watched that game three times now and was on the field for it, and my analysis blames USC for two or so plays and then the distractions for the rest. Any road game is tough, but for a team built on freshmen and sophomores, that first away game at the college level is intimidating. And it got the best of USC that night.

Nine:
Musical Chairs with the offensive line
I've written in length about the guard-of-the-day, an acronym our staff came up with this season, named after Lane Kiffin's indecision. Finally, the line looked consistent with Matt Kalil at left tackle, Marcus Martin at left guard, Khaled Holmes at center, John Martinez at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. It only took the Trojans almost half the season to figure out a solid front five. Kiffin and offensive line coach James Cregg watched many interview for nearly three positions on the line (the two guards and right tackle) through the entirety of fall camp.

That left guard spot became the trickiest, finally being filled by Martin after the Trojans' third game. And despite a few freshman penalties from the Crenshaw High product, Martin eventually found his way and was named a Freshman All-American.

The concerns mounted each week--Trojan fans, members of the media and even the coaches themselves--didn't know how this offensive line could perform. Somewhere along the way, probably pinpointed at the Cal game, this line felt in sync. And it wasn't just a feeling anymore. It was visible.

Eight:
Three Freshmen Linebackers
Plenty of Division-1 teams start freshmen. But for USC, also known as Linebacker University ("LBU"), a program that produces NFL-ready linebackers like Mattel does Barbie dolls, it was quite the story when the Trojans started three freshmen linebackers in 2011. Redshirt freshmen Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard beat out competitors Marquis Simmons and Shane Horton on the outside, but it was quite a stir when senior and vocal leader Chris Galippo was replaced by true freshman Lamar Dawson. Dawson, like George Farmer in the 2012 class, was a highly touted-recruit, named Kentucky's Mr. Football in 2010.

And when Dawson was given the sacred No. 55 cardinal and gold jersey before he had yet played a snap of college football, it was reasonable to expect big things. But usurping a mentor that has five years of college football knowledge on you?

A clear frustration between the head coach and Galippo emerged after the Colorado game, when another true freshman in Tre Madden also got the nod ahead of the vet, coupled with Dawson and Pullard. T'was a bold move in Kiffinland. But, as apparent in USC's flawless record after the 42-17 win in Boulder, t'was a move that proved beneficial.


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