The announcement took all of 30 seconds to say, but the ramifications are still being felt.
Ever since senior quarterback Matt Barkley declared his intention to return to school for his senior season on national television, USC has been lauded as the preseason favorite to win the national championship.
When the “experts” talk of such predictions, the discussion usually centers on Barkley and Co. on the offensive end. One of Barkley’s main targets, sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, made some sensational plays in practice on Thursday.
“[Lee] was the MVP of today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Obviously he’s a great player and he has the potential to be a real star player.”
The Trojans do not just feature an experienced offense, however. With eight starters returning from last year’s squad that was third in the conference in points allowed, the Trojan defense is not to be taken lightly.
“As a defense, we just come out and do what we’re supposed to do,” junior cornerback Nickell Robey said. “All we’re worried about is winning on third downs and getting off the field.”
Robey, a starter since his freshman season, has taken on more of a leadership role this year and has made it a point of emphasis to help the younger players adjust.
“We have a lot of young guys, so we’re trying to get them acclimated to the system. When we can do that, we’re going to be better as a defense.”
On Thursday, the defense got the better of the high profile offense, forcing turnovers and making it difficult for the offense to move the ball.
“The defense kind of dominated today for the most part,” Kiffin said. “It’s always hard to evaluate the offensive line and the run game when you have no pads on.”
With the loss of three starters on the defensive line from last year’s unit, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is relying on newcomers to step up.
“We have to show up inside. That’s where it all starts,” Orgeron said. “If you’re weak inside, you’re not going to have the type of team you want.”
Orgeron is hoping for solid play from returning seniors Devon Kennard and Wes Horton.
“Devon and Wes are coming. Those are guys I expect to play well,” said Orgeron. “Last year, Devon had some missed sacks, some missed plays. But he’ll get them this year.”
If Thursday’s practice was any indication, the defense will turn some heads this season.