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Just Askin' . . . Now that spring has sprung

With spring football behind the Trojans, anticipation is the name of the game USC fans are playing today -- and for the next three months and then some. How much will young guns like Michael Pittman and Oluwole Betiku, above, be able to step up to get the job done?

It's not 2012 and this USC team isn't likely to head into next fall ranked No. 1 like those Trojans were in the euphoria of the 2011 finish and Matt Barkley's decision to return for a final season.

But that's not the only difference here.

That team was coached by, if you'll excuse the expression, a Lane Kiffin who was more worried about concealing his Coaches Poll vote than actually coaching. And those Trojans seemed to believe their coach and thought polls somehow mattered as they embarrassingly crash-landed in an epic first-to-worst season capped off by an uglier-than-ugly Sun Bowl loss.

And Sam Darnold is not Matt Barkley. Sam can make plays on his own. He's capable of carrying a team for a while as it grows up around him.

So this may not have that 2012 feel exactly. But can we say it seems, if just a bit, more like the last good go-round for Pete Carroll in 2008? Not yet? That defense belongs on USC's Mt. Rushmore.

But since those days are still within memory, unlike when Pete arrived and USC fans had pretty much forgotten when they had been really nationally relevant, we're Just Askin' where this goes?

*** Is Sam the man to step up into those big shoes left behind by Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Or is that the wrong question? Of course Sam is, but is this team capable of supporting a Heisman challenger -- or as we most recently learned, a Heisman favorite? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Because isn't that another of those takes where Pete could not have been more on the money: It's not the Heisman guy who makes the team, it's the team who makes the Heisman guy? . . . Just Askin'.

*** But as the first defense-first USC team since 2008 before the NCAA sanctions started looming along with Pete's leaving, do these Trojans have a chance to get back into the national championship-challenging mode by going that defensive route? . . . .Just Askin?

*** Is it wrong to say it worked for Pete so . . . Just Askin'.

*** Or is it better to just say that if you can shut down the run game, as most good teams aim to do, and make your opponent one-dimensional, you give yourself so much more of a chance? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And did we see, as we thought we saw, the ability to run people down physically in the spring with a "violent front seven" as Clay Helton called his defense despite the loss of Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Is it presumptuous to pencil in freshmen Marlon Tuipulotu, already here and showing every day he can play, and an one-the-way Jay Tufele, as essential ingredients in that "violent" mix just because they're freshmen? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Or is that just the way the college game is going when you look at teams like Alabama, Clemson and Houston and the success they've had with rookies recently in the trenches? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And as talented as it appears USC's eight linebackers, inside and out, might be, that's a mere two-deep with just three of those eight having had extensive experience. Is that enough? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Or is this defense going to need one or more rookie linebackers -- Levi Jones, Hunter Echols or Juliano Falaniko -- to fill in fast when they get here? . . . Just Askin.  

*** And does the same question apply to a defensive backfield that was running a bit short of bodies at the end of spring with Jamel Cook moving to corner, his third secondary spot this spring? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Must one or more of Bubba Bolden, Greg Johnson or Isaiah Pola-Mao also step up into the rotation? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And as much as USC coaches have talked up the first two levels of this defense this spring, can the back line step up and complement them with a shut-down, assignment-sound group that has none of those Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Penn State breakdown moments? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And if all three levels of a USC defense could use an immediate boost from the incoming freshman class, do the Trojans have the kind of defensive depth they've been talking about and hoping for this spring? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And is that why Clay and Sam and Nico Falah and Chris Hawkins have been talking up the need for the veterans to coach up their new teammates in the player-run practices since they'll get hold of them for a month-and-a-half -- on the field anyway -- before the coaches do? . . . Just Askin'

*** Will 29 fall practices, even if they start July 26/27 as we've been hearing, be enough time to get everyone healthy -- Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn, Kenny Bigelow and Nico up front for starters -- and on the same page? . . . Just Askin'

*** Which gets us to the offensive line. With all the injury-originated question marks there, do we also now have to start to think that Andrew Vorhees, the surprise of this early entry freshman class, and a still-to-arrive Austin Jackson, better be a part of the fall mix? . . . Just Askin'.

*** So will this team be able to run the football or not? It couldn't all that much in the spring, with Ronald Jones and Aca'Cedric Ware joining their injured line mates on the shelf for a time as Vavae Malepeai managed to insert himself strongly into the mix. But don't we have to give some of the credit there to this USC defense? . . . Just Askin'.

*** And do we have to give Deland McCullough time to get his guys up to speed when it matters behind a Neil Callaway-coached line that also has its act together? , . . Just Askin'.  

*** And is there enough time to make this happen? By September? When USC opens with those three straight Coliseum games against a solid Western Michigan program, a much, much more solid Stanford and then a Tom Herman-coached Texas before finishing up the end of the month in the Palouse at a dangerous Washington State? . . . Just Askin'.

 *** Seems like a lot of questions for a team expected to contend for a CFB Playoff slot. Is it? . . . Just Askin'.

*** Or are we just paying more attention to them right now because the stakes are so high? . . . Just Askin'.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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