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August 20, 2012
Sanctions will soon take a toll, but the window's open for another title run before then
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August 20, 2012

2 Usc

Sanctions will soon take a toll, but the window's open for another title run before then

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The Skinny

CITING "UNFINISHED BUSINESS," quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald delayed their NFL careers to play for the 2012 Trojans, who officially have their swagger back. USC isn't just loaded. (The Trojans have 15 returning starters and both kicking specialists.) They're hungry, having been prevented by NCAA sanctions from playing in the last two postseasons. Barkley, a four-year starter and the preseason Heisman front-runner, will be throwing to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, fellow future first-rounders who combined for 2,435 yards and 26 TDs in 2011, one of the most prolific statistical seasons ever put up by a BCS receiving duo. This offense is going to set records.

Key Recruit

SILAS REDD You could have quibbled that the Trojans lacked depth in the backfield behind 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal—until coach Lane Kiffin signed Redd, a Penn State refugee who rushed for 1,241 yards in '11. He's the final piece of a very impressive puzzle.

Breakout Player

HAYES PULLARD The speedy, instinctive, 6'1", 235-pound sophomore weakside linebacker tied for the team lead in tackles last season (81), along with his 6½ tackles for loss and four sacks. There is vast upside here at a position that is already a program strength.

Final Analysis

THOSE PROBING for weaknesses might point out that the Trojans have lost three starters along the defensive line. But the back seven is so talent-rich that it won't matter. To better defend the spread attacks popular in the Pac-12, Kiffin hired a new linebackers coach, Scottie Hazelton from North Dakota State. The Bison won last year's FCS national title, with many of their victories coming over spread teams. Depth, though, will be an issue for the next three years at SC. As part of its punishment, the Trojans are limited to 75 scholarships. On the bright side, they can once again play in the postseason, and will—on Jan. 7, against Alabama, for a national title.