USC had what many pundits consider the best offense in the history of college football in 2005. There were two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield and a pair of dynamic wide receivers. Two tailbacks ran for more than 1,300 yards apiece. The offensive line was experienced and the offensive attack was as balanced as it was prolific. That team averaged nearly 50 points per game. Even the week before the 2006 BCS national title game, ESPN ran a weeklong series comparing the Trojans’ offensive unit to some of the best in the history of the sport.
Fast forward to 2012, and the expectation for many around Los Angeles is this: USC might have as good an offense, if not better, than what fans saw seven seasons ago.
Leading the USC offense will be its aerial assault, and the leader of that charge will be senior quarterback Matt Barkley. Last year, Barkley had one of the best seasons in conference history, throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. He set a school single season record for completion percentage at 69.1 percent.
Though Barkley’s success is largely because of his own ability, the overall success of the passing game will depend on his receivers: junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee. While Lee is at full strength, Woods has a lingering ankle injury that has limited his practice time and forced him to sit out for all of spring practice.
Woods set a conference record for catches in 2011 with 111, totaling 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns, being named a first team All-American in the process. Woods’ high school teammate Lee had 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns during his freshman season.
But if Woods is not healthy, the situation behind the two Biletnikoff Award candidates is rather murky. With no established third receiver, several young players will be competing for playing time, including sophomore George Farmer and incoming freshman Nelson Agholor.
“He’s constantly banged up,” Woods said of Farmer, who was the top receiver recruit in the country coming out of high school.
If healthy, though, Woods believes Farmer can play a key role for the Trojans.
The other question mark for the passing game is the left tackle position. Gone is All-American Matt Kalil, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Taking his place will be sophomore Aundrey Walker, standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 300 pounds who is slated to start at left tackle and to protect Barkley’s blind side. He has lost roughly 70 pounds since last season and is preparing himself for the rigors of the left side and of replacing a star.
“Everything’s been good,” Walker said. “Practice, the last practice has been great. Just losing the weight, I feel great. I don’t know what it is, but when I was 360 [pounds], it really didn’t work; I was too slow off the ball.”
This is no longer a problem, though, and Walker is excited for the possibilities. He is confident that the offense is right on track and sees a lot of potential with the group.
“[The] offense is doing pretty good. We got a great group of guys [starting],” Walker said. “[There is] a lot of chemistry throughout the whole team.”
The passing game was an obvious strength last season, as the Trojans averaged more than 294 yards per game, good for 15th in the country.
For the 2012 Trojans to reach the heights of the 2005 team, however, the running game will have to hold up its end of the deal and must complement the passing game.
Last season, the Trojans ran for 162.6 yards per game, which ranked near the middle of the pack in the college football world. Returning is senior tailback Curtis McNeal, who ran for 1,005 yards. Joining him is Penn State transfer Silas Redd.
McNeal said he expects this offensive unit to put up some big numbers this season.
“It could be really good,” McNeal said. “We just got to go out there everyday and get our game plan that the coaches make for us, and we just got to make plays.”
He knows that the running back competition is going to make for a better unit overall.
“It’s been good,” McNeal said. “All the running backs, we’re just out here competing, making each other better … and just providing the best running game that we can for the team.”
McNeal believes that the work the team put in during the offseason is going to make this edition of the Trojans better than the one fans saw last year, perhaps making the comparisons to the Leinart-led Trojans not too far off.
“A lot of players have just stepped up, basically the whole team just stepped up and we worked our butts off in the offseason so we can perform at our peak every game,” McNeal said. “That’s the attitude that we have, and we’re pushing it everyday.”