Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There is really only one word that could
describe the 2012 season for Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans and that word is
Last summer the feeling was that the star-studded Trojans were set to dominate
not only the Pac-12 but the entire FBS. Just about every pundit from coast to
coast had the Trojans penciled in as the No. 1 team in the country. When the
preseason AP poll came out USC was sitting in the top spot. They had a Heisman
frontrunner in quarterback Matt Barkley and arguably the best wide receiver
tandem in the country in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
Those expectations did not come to fruition though. After starting out 2-0
and scoring 91 points in their first two games the Trojans were humbled in a
21-14 setback to Stanford and knocked out of the top 10. The Trojans closed
out the season losing five of their last six games to end the year at 7-6 and
on the outside looking in on the polls they had once sat atop to begin the
It wasn't exactly the kind of year anticipated after their 10-2 campaign in
Fast forward to this offseason and expectations have certainly been tempered.
Barkley, Woods and Second-Team All-Pac-12 safety T.J. McDonald have all moved
on to the greener pastures of the NFL, leaving the Trojans with more questions
The biggest of which is who will replace Barkley under center. The former
Trojan finished his career eighth in total passing touchdowns (116) in FBS
history, while he also toppled a number of USC and Pac-12 records. Even with
Barkley under center the Trojans couldn't live up to their massive potential.
Now a trio of unproven, youngsters will try to do what Barkley couldn't, as
redshirt sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek and true freshman Max Browne
will be charged with reviving the USC brand going forward.
Wittek would seem to have the edge as he got into eight games last season and
even had two starts when Barkley suffered a shoulder injury near the end of
the year. Still, Wittek threw for just 388 yards and three touchdowns with
five interceptions on 52.2 percent passing. However that production or lack
thereof is above that of the other two quarterbacks he will be competing with
for the starting job. The majority of the action Kessler has seen has been as
a holder, while Browne set Washington state records in passing yards (12,953)
in high school, but obviously hasn't played a minute of football at the
"I think there is a lot of people around the country that are trying to find
one really good quarterback and I think we have three," Kiffin said of the
competition, while making it clear that there was no frontrunner as of yet.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball downfield at the Coliseum, the Trojan
offense will undoubtedly be built around defending Biletnikoff Award winner
and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Marqise Lee. If there was any bright
spot for the Trojans a year ago it was Lee who was absolutely electric in the
passing game. The speedy receiver hauled in 112 passes for 1,680 yards and 14
touchdowns and put together individual game performances of legendary
proportions like setting a Pac-12 record with 345 receiving yards against
With former battery mate Woods gone on the outside the offense is likely to
become even more focused on getting Lee the ball so he can makes plays in
However Lee might not just be asked to carry the team offensively as there
has also been talks of having him move in and play defensive back. With his
amazing athletic ability it makes complete sense for Kiffin to try to utilize
him in any way possible.
Helping to carry the load, at least on offense, will be Nelson Agholor who
seems to have taken the lead for the No. 2 receiver slot after an
impressive two-touchdown effort in the spring game.
"Me and Nelson are the new me and Rob(ert Woods) basically," Lee said. "Nelson
understands the game just as much as I do. So therefore we always try to
communicate. I think we'll be on the same page just like Rob and I were."
While having Lee back will be a big help, what might be the most important
thing for USC in terms of getting back into contention for Pac-12 and national
titles will be on the sideline, specifically in Kiffin.
Though his seat has yet to get hot there is no reason to think it might not be
warming up. Kiffin had one of the most talented teams in the country last
season but was severely out-coached by a number of teams in his own
conference, including Stanford's David Shaw and Oregon State's Mike Riley.
Both of those teams finished in the top-25, while USC did not.
At this point Kiffin's name recognition is about all he seems to have going
for him. He was a disaster as a coach for the Oakland Raiders. Then had a
mediocre season with Tennessee (7-6) before jettisoning off to Los Angeles
with a throng of SEC fans chasing him.
How he departed Tennessee, to put it mildly, left a bad taste in many people's
mouths and Kiffin has not done much to improve his public image since. While
all coaches tend to hold onto information and tip toe through meetings with
the media, Kiffin has seemed to be more prickly with the press. That was
especially true last season when Kiffin walked away from an interview after
being asked about an injured player or when he lied about having not voted for
USC as the No. 1 team in the USA Today Coach's Poll.
While these incidents have no bearing on how good a coach he is, they
certainly look much worse when his teams consistently fall short of their
promise. When your winning such actions can be construed as a severe
taskmaster that runs a tight ship.
Just look at Alabama's Nick Saban. Kiffin however, is no Saban. For Kiffin it
makes him look petty and dishonest. When you are the first coach since 1964 to
have a team ranked No. 1 in the preseason end the year outside of the national
rankings, your coaching style and ability has to be called into question
across the board and that includes your personality.
When it comes down to it, if Kiffin can't prove that he can be a consistently
successful head coach it won't matter who plays quarterback or if Lee keeps
smashing records, USC will disappoint once again.
The Sports Network