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March 29, 2010

Spring brings season of change at USC

The weather rarely changes in southern California. The atmosphere is much different, though.

For the first time in seven years, USC isn't going into spring practice as reigning Pac-10 champions or looking like the preseason favorite to win the conference title. In addition, for the first time since 2001, Pete Carroll isn't the Trojans' coach.

Now, it's Lane Kiffin's responsibility as Carroll's successor to lead the Trojans back to the top of the Pac-10 and into the national championship picture.

Kiffin takes over with promising sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley directing the offense. The defense needs to improve against the run and will undergo an overhaul in the secondary. But with a roster loaded with highly rated prospects, USC's outlook appears bright.

Just like the SoCal weather.

Here's a look at the Trojans heading into spring practice.

USC AT-A-GLANCE
Stanley Havili is a solid fullback for USC.
THE BASICS
Coach: Lane Kiffin
Last season: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10. Beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl.
Spring dates: March 30-May 1.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (6): WR David Ausberry, QB Matt Barkley, FB Stanley Havili, G Butch Lewis, C Kristofer O'Dowd, T Tyron Smith.
Defense (6): T Jurrell Casey, LB Chris Galippo, E Wes Horton, LB Michael Morgan, LB Malcolm Smith, NT Christian Tupou.
Special teams (1): P Jacob Harfman.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Barkley passed for 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true freshman. Obviously, that position is in good hands, though Barkley does need to cut down his interception total (14). Although leading rusher Joe McKnight declared for the NFL draft, running back remains strong because of Allen Bradford and others. Bradford gained 668 yards a year ago. Havili is a productive fullback. The running backs have the luxury of playing behind a sound line that returns three starters. The defensive line also counts three returning starters. That doesn't include E Nick Perry, who had eight sacks as a freshman backup last season.

HELP IS NEEDED

All three starting linebackers return, but they were a bit disappointing as a group. The unit's performance was a key reason the Trojans' run defense was uncharacteristically vulnerable in '09. USC allowed more than 300 rushing yards in losses to Oregon and Stanford. The secondary is without all four starters from '09, most notably All-American FS Taylor Mays.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

RB Allen Bradford: Bradford, a senior, has rushed for just 791 yards in his career. However, 668 of those yards came last season. Bradford averaged nearly 6 yards per carry in 2009, so there is reason for optimism. Quick and powerful at 235 pounds, he finally has a chance to be the starting tailback. He can move atop the depth charter with a good spring.

WR Ronald Johnson: The Trojans' fastest player, Johnson finally is injury-free. Johnson, a senior, missed part of last season with a broken collarbone but still managed 34 catches for 378 yards. A breakout season could be at hand if he stays healthy.

CB Shareece Wright: He overcame a neck injury in 2008 and played little in '09. But he's the only defensive back with significant starting experience. He's looking to make the most of a final shot.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

LB Chris Galippo: He was the nation's top-ranked linebacker prospect as a high school senior in 2006, but he has had to fight off injuries while at USC. He has 90 career tackles, with 70 coming last season - his first year as a starter. Galippo is going into his junior season and needs to consistently play at the level that made him a top recruit.

THE BUZZ

An air of enthusiasm and excitement surrounds the USC program. A new coaching staff is in place, and Kiffin has announced every spot in the starting lineup is up for grabs (though we're not buying that quarterback is open). The open competition for starting jobs should ensure a high level of intensity throughout the spring.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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