After four conference losses in 2009, USC fans and critics lost their minds. Alumni flipped cars in the streets, women and children weapt and gnashed their teeth, and Lou Holtz cackled from atop a burning Los Angeles skyscraper. Saint Carroll may be gone, and Brian Kelly may have replaced Charlie the Hutt on the Death Star, but all is not lost. Trojan fans, go ahead ease that Football-Threat Meter back down from "screwed the pooch" to "on the mend," because USC is going to win the National Championship in 2011. And here's why.
Barkley's Last Year
The odds of Pete Carroll's Golden-Child waving off a multi-million dollar NFL contract to stay in school another year are about as good as -- well, any other high-profile, three year starting quarterback staying longer than he has to. 2011 will be Barkley's last shot, and best chance, to compare rings with Matt Leinart, the last Trojan quarterback win a National Title.
Barkley had a productive freshman year, throwing 59.9% -- third in the conference -- en route to semifinalist honors for the Davey O'Brien Award. But with 14 interceptions, the 19-year-old's biggest problem might have been decision making (just ask my mother or high school principal). The arm, the body, and the knowledge are all there; Barkley will have all of 2010 to smooth out his game and get ready for a run at the Heisman and the BCS belt in 2011.
Kiffin's Second Year
So maybe Kiffin was run out of the NFL after 15 games (and 10 losses). And maybe Kiffin has the coaching experience of an orange traffic cone. But in 2011, Kiffin will have at USC what he's never had in his young (OK, embrionic) head coaching career: familiarity.
Kiffin's home, and if he never quite got his feet set in 15 games with the Raiders and a fling in Knoxville, who's to blame him? By 2011, Kiffin will have a year of football under his belt to add to 2 seasons as the Trojan's offensive coordintor in 2005 and 2006. And if you thought his offensive schemes had less punch than diet Kool-Aid, then 2011 should bring some more relief -- Kiffin will finally be able to run a Trojan offense without a monkey named Pete Carroll on his back, and show the Pac-10 the first new look from USC since 2005.
The "second year" hasn't been a bad gig in the BCS, either. Kiffin could join Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Jim Tressel (Ohio State), and Urban Meyer (Florida) on a growing list of head coaches who have won a crystal ball after just two seasons.
If this Spring told us anything, it's that Dillon Baxter is the real deal. The freshman tailback has shakes like Reggie and is big enough to play, but if Reggie's first year told us anything, it's that we have a lot of dancing, spinning, change-of-direction 5-yard losses to look forward to. By 2011, Baxter should settle into his role, as Bush did by 2004, and reserve Southern Cal some airtime on SportsCenter Top 10 (see attached video of Baxter's high school highlights).
The Wild Bunch III
In 2010, USC might have the best defensive line in the nation. By 2011, it might be better. Redshirt sophomore defensive ends Nick Perry and Wes Horton will be back for their fourth seasons, and if defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and flesheating monster Armond Armstead stay for their senior years, don't expect to see too many Pac-10 runningbacks scampering through the Trojan line. Junior linebackers Jordan Campbell, Shane Horton, and Chris Galippo all have the opportunity to return, as well, rounding out a dominant front seven for the Trojans.
Every other season, USC designs itself one of the most difficult road plans in the country. In 2009, Dante's schedule included games at Ohio State, at Washington, at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Arizona State, and at Oregon. Of the conference matchups, USC finished 2-2. Seemingly, the 2011 blueprint could be just as troublesome, but if the Trojans can survive a Pac-10 road opener at Washington (which, granted, they rarely do), and back to back visits to Eugene and South Bend, November should be pretty easy sailings.