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So. Cal preview

Well, at least you don’t have to worry about those futures bets on Southern Cal winning the BCS championship this year because the Trojans won’t be bowling for the next two seasons – and lose some 30 scholarships over the next three – because of the fallout from the Reggie Bush scandal at the school. Did Coach Pete Carroll escape to the Seattle Seahawks just in time or what?

Lane Kiffin returns to Southern Cal from Tennessee to take over for Carroll, and by all accounts he landed a Caroll-esque recruiting class this season. And many of those kids might have to play because the NCAA is allowing USC juniors and seniors to transfer without sitting out a year because of the harsh sanctions the school is facing. As for this writing, no big-name players have decided to leave, but that could change at any time.

Despite all the off-field issues, the Trojans still might be the team to beat in the Pac-10 following last year’s 9-4 record and fifth-place finish in the Pac-10. That ended USC’s seven-year streak of 11-win seasons, Pac-10 Championships, BCS bowl appearances and Top 4 finishes in the AP Poll. There is no question that the Pac-10 should be very deep this year, but with conference favorite Oregon losing its starting QB in Jeremiah Masoli the door is open for USC to return to the top.

Kiffin inherits a 2010 team that returns 12 starters (5 on offense, 6 on defense, 1 specialist). And the Trojans did have some big wins last year, beating three of the four ranked teams they played as well as annual rivals Notre Dame and UCLA.

On offense, Matt Barkley is back as the starting quarterback, and while he was inconsistent in his freshman season – the first true freshman to start a season opener at USC -- he showed signs of being a star (completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,735 yards and 15 TDs). Also back are stud fullback Stanley Havili, a three-year starter, and WR Ronald Johnson. The team’s leading WR from last year, Damian Williams, and top RB, Joe McKnight, both have to be replaced, however.

The defense was a shocking weakness last year and lost guys like Taylor Mays and Everson Griffen. This year’s Trojans should be very good on the defensive line (led by Nick Perry and Jurrell Casey) but have major questions in a secondary that brings back no starters. And offenses figure to dominant the Pac-10 again this year.

Here is USC’s 2010 schedule:
Sept. 2 at Hawaii
Sept. 11 Virginia
Sept. 18 at Minnesota
Sept. 25 at Washington State
Oct. 2 Washington
Oct. 9 at Stanford
Oct. 16 California
Oct. 30 Oregon
Nov. 6 Arizona State
Nov. 13 at Arizona
Nov. 20 at Oregon State
Nov. 27 Notre Dame
Dec. 4 at UCLA

Because the Trojans are visiting Hawaii, they play 13 regular-season games instead of 12 like most Division I teams. And, frankly, USC should sweep its four non-conference games without much of a problem. For all the Trojans’ problems last year, their losses all came in conference. USC’s eight-game winning streak against Notre Dame ties the longest ever streak against the Irish by an opponent. Make that a record nine this year.

I expect USC to be 5-0 and ranked near the Top 10 once it visits Stanford in that Oct. 9 game. The Trojans no doubt remember that Stanford laid 55 points on them in L.A. last year, and the 34-point loss was USC’s worst at home since 1966. I think Stanford is able to win a close one at home this year, however. Depending on how the Oregon QB battle shakes out, that Oct. 30 game with the Ducks could end up being the difference for the Pac-10 title (if USC wins the conference the second-place team gets the automatic bowl bid). Think I like the Ducks in that one.

Still, the Trojans should be in the conference race and probably at 8-2 overall when they visit Oregon State, another Pac-10 contender. The Beavers always give USC trouble in Corvallis and have won the past two meetings there. Make it three. USC will close its season with two more wins to finish at a very respectable 10-3 in Kiffin’s first season.

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