The U in USC this season might stand more accurately for Unchained. Or perhaps Unstoppable.
The Trojans are finally free from a two-year postseason ban that was the NCAA’s penalty for Reggie Bush-related crimes.
USC appears none the worse for the two-year hiatus, perfectly positioned as it comes off the ban to contend not only for the Pac-12 title — where we predict they will face Oregon in the conference championship game — but national honors, as well.
USC’s hopes for this season rose greatly thanks to quarterback Matt Barkley’s surprising decision to return for his senior season. Barkley bypassed the chance to be a high first-round pick for an opportunity to lead USC to Pasadena, or beyond.
A day before Barkley decided to return, safety T.J. McDonald — also a possible first-rounder — announced he would come back for another season.
The two are leaders of a young USC team that might have been the best in the conference by the end of 2011, winning a thriller in Eugene to knock Oregon out of the national title race, and capping the season with a 50-0 throttling of rival UCLA (which was the official Pac-12 South champion with the Trojans banned from the postseason).
All that talent makes USC the unquestioned favorite in the Pac-12 South, where the only team that seems positioned to be a serious threat is Utah, which went 8-5 last season and brings back its best offensive player (running back John White IV) and defensive player (Star Lotulelei).
Also back for Utah is quarterback Jordan Wynn, who was lost for the season in the first half of the Utes’ first Pac-12 game last season. Utah hosts USC on
Oct. 4, a Thursday night game that looms as a de facto Pac-12 South title game.
The rest of the South consists of teams largely starting over with big-name coaches — UCLA (Jim Mora), Arizona (Rich Rodriguez) and Arizona State (Todd Graham). While they are hoping for quick turnarounds, all appear a year or two away from truly contending.
The Pac-12 North appears to again be the province of Oregon, which has won the past two conference titles, each time thanks largely to winning regular-season showdowns with Stanford. The Cardinal is now beginning life without Andrew Luck, making the Ducks an even more prohibitive favorite to win the North.
Oregon has to replace quarterback Darron Thomas — whose decision to leave early for the NFL was, in its own way, as surprising as Barkley’s to stay — as well as running back LaMichael James.
Oregon appears to have suitable replacements for Thomas, with Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett. And the Ducks have plenty of young talent elsewhere (such as sophomore running back De’Anthony Thomas), many of whom have received significant playing time thanks in part to Oregon’s rapid pace and constant shuffling
Stanford still has one of the best defenses in the conference and that punishing ground game. Washington and Cal each won seven games a year ago and are hoping to emerge as contenders. UW needs to fix a leaky defense, though, and Cal an erratic offense, before making that leap.
— Bob Condotta
OFFENSE – FIRST TEAM
|RB||John White IV||Sr.||Utah|
|OL||John Fullington||Jr.||Washington State|
DEFENSE – FIRST TEAM
|DB||Jordan Poyer||Sr.||Oregon State|
OFFENSE – SECOND TEAM
|WR||Marquess Wilson||Jr.||Washington State|
|AP||Jamal Miles||Sr.||Arizona State|
DEFENSE - SECOND TEAM
|DL||Travis Long||Sr.||Washington State|
|DL||Scott Crichton||So.||Oregon State|
|DB||Deone Bucannon||Jr.||Washington State|
OFFENSE – THIRD TEAM
|QB||Jeff Tuel||Sr.||Washington State|
|WR||Markus Wheaton||Sr.||Oregon State|
|OL||Brice Schwab||Sr.||Arizona State|
|OL||Michael Philipp||Jr.||Oregon State|
DEFENSE - THIRD TEAM
|LB||Brandon Magee||Sr.||Arizona State|
|DB||Damante Horton||Jr.||Washington State|