At least on offense.
The Trojans' star quarterback hit some rough patches, their star receiver didn't play, their No. 2 receiver juggled two sports, they didn't have a healthy tight end for a majority of the time and they lost a running back for the season.
Still, this team is preseason number one for a reason. You could excuse a couple of those uncertainties, like Robert Woods taking caution with his ankle. Obviously no injury is a good thing, but the team stayed fairly healthy all things considered. Let's examine the good first and then get to the unknown.
When Patrick Turner and Damian Williams came to USC to practice and run routes with the team, both said they weren't as good as Marqise Lee is at his age. Kiffin said Lee could play in the NFL today if rules allowed. He is just that talented, that skilled, that dominant. If he can stay healthy and in top form he could end up the best receiver in college football in 2012. You can talk about all the little things he does well, like his acrobatic leaps, his great hands, his athleticism -- but seeing him is something else. It's pretty fantastic to watch him, honestly, and then to couple that with Lee's backstory, the eyes of the country will be weary of him while those in Trojanland will be smiling.
The spring only produced one major injury, to newly anointed tailback Tre Madden. While Madden proved to be a talented back in a short time, the team is healthy overall. Sure the increased repetitions to Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morgan and Javorious 'Buck' Allen caused a couple minor hamstring injuries but generally the time did more good than harm; the running backs looked solid and consistent. McNeal seemed to be the most dominant back throughout spring, but Morgan showed a heightened ball security and fluidity in his routes that was good to see. He said he's the healthiest he's ever been since enrolling at USC. Allen still needs to learn his assignments more, but he could be a good back in time as he has the strength and physicality already.
The backup quarterback race is tight. My guess is as good as yours as to who is going to come out on top -- before the spring I would have said Cody Kessler but I would say Max Wittek finished the stronger of the two. In those 14 practices we saw Wittek come into his own. He was confident in the huddle, threw with great accuracy and showed off that arm that got him into USC in the first place. Kessler didn't do anything seriously wrong either, I think Wittek's increase confidence was simply unexpected while Kessler has had it all along. This race is the premier one to watch for in the fall.
A close second would be the No. 3 receiver spot. Because USC is going to spread out their offense more than we've seen in the past, they will need to use three wide outs that are nearly equal in skill and talent. On the depth chart now it seems as though George Farmer and De'Von Flournoy are both in contention for that spot behind Woods and Lee. Unfortunately Farmer was sidelined much of spring and while he earned MVP honors in the Trojans' first week, he didn't flash much until the end because of a lingering hamstring issue. If he can be healthy for a consistent amount of time, that spot is likely his. But Flournoy will not let that spot go unwillingly; his consistency, work ethic, experience and playmaking ability was the talk of spring. If Flournoy can get on the field, he could be a huge player for USC. I like his mentality and I think it's his time.
We've already talked about the concern at tailback but there's still a lot unknown with the remaining skill players. Jesse Scroggins comes to mind first. Will he transfer? The sophomore was a disappearing act this spring, either for being tardy, recovering from a hip injury or dealing with academic issues. In January I would have said his mindset is different and he's determined to be the backup behind Barkley; now I'm not so sure he isn't looking at other programs. What he does in the time from spring to fall will be something to keep an eye on.
Robert Woods said he expects to play in the fall, and I would be hard-pressed to think he won't be ready. Still, I don't think you can say 100 percent that he's ready right now without those spring repetitions. But with a player like Woods, there isn't really a ton of rust that builds up; he's too talented and knowledgeable about the game to play poorly -- it just might take him a little while to play at the same level we're used to seeing him.
In general, the Trojans are in a good place. While the tight ends weren't healthy much this spring, with the addition of Christian Thomas and new enrollee Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, this is an exciting position for USC. And as always, the receiver and quarterback battles will continue to keep us entertained.