Questions to answer before spring practice

If there’s one word synonymous with spring, it’s football. That’s right — now that basketball season is over at USC, it’s time to turn our attention toward the mecca that is Howard Jones Field.

The Trojans begin spring practice in just six days. So to get ready, I will take out my Magic 8 ball — the Brent Musburger edition (because nothing says college football quite like good ol’ Brent) — and ask these five burning questions facing USC.

1. Now that the Pete Carroll era is over, how different will the Trojans look under new coach Lane Kiffin and the almost completely new staff?

Musburger Magic 8 ball answer: Hang on there partner.

There is no doubt there was a trademark vibe around the USC program during Carroll’s decade at the school. The players always seemed to be loose both on the sidelines and off the field, and they had a confident swagger. Carroll was directly responsible for this. He was the 50-year-old kid who never grew up, as evidenced by his constant pranks. His SoCal cool-yet-fiery demeanor appealed to fans. It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic of the team changes around the much younger, more tense and unproven Kiffin.

2. Who will  win the battle to replace arguably two of the most valuable players the Trojans lost, receiver Damian Williams and running back Joe McKnight?

Musburger: Oh this one is shaping up to be a dandy folks.

The two most important players here are freshmen wide receiver Kyle Prater and running back Dillon Baxter. Both of these players enrolled this spring and will be out practicing with the team next week. This is critical as it gives them extra time to help fill the void left by the team’s leading receiver and rusher last year. Both players have tremendous talent — Prater was a 2009 All-American and Baxter was named the 2009 High School Player of the Year by multiple outlets ­— so look for them to make an impact immediately.

The Trojans don’t have many players to replace the speedy McKnight, as senior Allen Bradford is more of a bruiser and fellow senior C.J. Gable needs to learn how to hold onto the football. Junior Marc Tyler was the second ranked running back behind McKnight out of high school, but he has been hobbled with injuries in his first three years.

As for wide receiver: “This will be one of the most important position groups for us to figure out through spring practice,” Kiffin said in the 2010 Spring Prospectus.

3. Will the linebacking corps perform up to expectations?

Musburger: Folks, I have never seen a more beautiful sight.

Indeed, all three linebackers return from last year’s heralded unit that didn’t quite live up to expectations. After Carroll proclaimed that they might be better than the trio that went to the NFL after the 2008 season, the corps put up solid numbers in the first half of the year before failing miserably in the second half. They have experience now and, under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s watch, should become one of the best units in the country.

4. Will USC’s secondary get destroyed this year after losing all four starters, including All-American safety Taylor Mays?

Musburger: It’s a footrace!

That’s never a good thing to hear from Musburger when your team is on defense. Out of all the areas on the field, the secondary is the spot where the Trojans have the least experience. Starting cornerbacks Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas and starting safeties Mays and Will Harris have all departed.

The Trojans have just one scholarship senior on the roster, redshirt junior Shareece Wright, and he didn’t even play last year — save for the Emerald Bowl — because he was academically ineligible. Junior T.J. Bryant and redshirt sophomore Brian Baucham saw limited time in the nickel package last year while junior Drew McAllister and sophomore T.J. McDonald have the most experience at the safety position, which isn’t saying much, as they have just one start between them. Monte Kiffin and defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza have a challenging situation on their hands to get this very young and inexperienced group ready for play in the fall.

5. Will we have a football team past this spring?

Question intercepted by Lou Holtz 8 ball: It’s like kissing your sister, but that’s a lot better than kissing your brother. Notre Dame will be in the national championship this year.

Wow a two-fer from Lou! What condition that team will be in remains to be seen based on the sanctions (if any) handed down by the NCAA in about a month. The good news: We haven’t heard anything about Lane Kiffin breaking any recruiting violations … yet.

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