There are many USC bloggers out there, but I've always been partial to Mike from Lex Icon and his USC twitter feed USCFootballNews. (His blog is a mix of personal stuff, links and USC news. His twitter feed is all SC.) This has been a weird season for the Trojans and no one knows what to expect on the 26th. I've asked Mike some questions about his favorite team. His answers are below.
1. Much has been made of the academics suspensions and the McKnight case. How much of an impact will these events actually have on the field of play?
USCFootballNews: The academic suspensions are going to hurt. Spicer is not a starter, but he gets significant playing time and has the ability to make big plays. Tyron Smith is a starter, but if there is anyplace USC has the depth to withstand a loss right now it is on the offensive line. If someone goes down, the Trojans will miss him a lot more. The big loss is Anthony McCoy. Without him, USC's offense struggled this season. USC likes to throw to the tight end, and McCoy was a big play threat. His replacements have struggled with dropped passes - including several sure touchdowns - and without McCoy, USC's third-down offense is not nearly as effective. McKnight's situation is a big distraction, and Pete Carroll has noted that McKnight's mental focus is not back yet. If McKnight does not play, Allen Bradford should be able to fill his spot capably. A lot of Trojan fans think Bradford is the better all-around back, even though McKnight is USC's leading rusher.
2. Unlike past seasons of the Carroll era, many teams have been able to run the ball on SC this year. Is talent the issue or the new defensive coordinator? How do you think Carroll will adjust for BC?
USCFootballNews: It's hard to tell how much this season's defensive struggles can be attributed to coaching, inexperience or a drop in talent. Given that USC has had several outstanding defensive performances this season against excellent offenses and outstanding running backs, I suspect that inexperience is the bigger problem. It's difficult to replace a defensive coordinator and four NFL-quality linebackers in a season without having problems with consistency. If you believe the high school rankings, the talent is still there. Experience and maturity are lacking. Regardless of the coordinator, Pete Carroll has always been the architect of USC's defense, and he has developed a reputation for putting together good defensive game plans for big games, given enough time. It's not too much of a stretch to believe that Carroll will have USC's defense playing at a high level for this game.
3. It has been a great run under Carroll until this season. Is this year a temporary setback or are the dynasty years over?
USCFootballNews: With the talent USC brings in each year, the Trojans are probably going to continue to have great success, but winning 6 or 7 straight titles is a feat that won't be easily duplicated. That they managed to reload several times since 2002 without missing at least a share of the Pac-10 championship is remarkable, and it required a combination of excellent talent, coaching, execution and luck. This season, the luck ran out, and the lack of experience on the field and the sidelines is showing. In 2004 and 2005, when USC made mistakes or got unlucky breaks, their amazing talent (Bush, White, Leinart, Jarrett) was enough to overcome the little problems. This year, the talent is strong, but it isn't quite as good as the amazing collection of skill position players they had in the Bush/Leinart years.
I tend to believe that great teams usually have to have great quarterbacks, and that the emphasis on quarterback play is well-placed. In 2009, USC played a true freshman quarterback all season, and it has cost the Trojans some games. As Matt Barkley continues to mature, USC should get closer to the level it has played at during the last 6 seasons. If that happens, the setback will be temporary, and the Trojans could be back in a BCS bowl or even competing for the national championship as early as next season. On the other hand, if Barkley turns out to be mistake-prone by nature, and not just because of his inexperience, USC could have a couple of tough years coming.
4. What is your prediction for the game?
USCFootballNews: If it rains, anything can happen, and if USC falls behind early, this could remind Trojan fans of the 1992 Freedom Bowl. However, I don't think it will happen, and I think USC will win by a touchdown or less.