- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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With recruiting behind us and spring well underway, the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.
This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.
Buy or sell USC winning the South?
Buy: I just wrote about 200 words about why I'm selling USC, and then I realized that it was an overreaction based almost entirely on coach Lane Kiffin's tenuous situation.
If we subscribe to the tried and true, "buy low and sell high," then USC might never again be this good of a bargain -- just as it was plainly overvalued (cough, cough) last fall.
UCLA and Arizona State look like the two favorites in the Pac-12 South Division. Both have a lot of quality players coming back from teams that were more successful than USC last year. And yet USC has 17 starters returning from a team that beat the Sun Devils by 21 and played a competitive game at UCLA, despite a horrible start and three bad turnovers.
Further, the Trojans might have the better schedule. Like Arizona State, USC misses Oregon. UCLA plays at Stanford and Oregon on back-to-back October weekends. While USC visits Arizona State, it plays host to Stanford and UCLA, teams that the Sun Devils face on the road.
Of course, the Trojans also visit Oregon State, and that of late has been an ugly road trip.
As for the roster, there are plenty of positives. Four starters are back on the offensive line, and Marqise Lee is the nation's best receiver. Kiffin made a good hire when he brought in Clancy Pendergast to coordinate his defense, and the early returns on the new 3-4 look are mostly positive.
Sure, the secondary is iffy, QB Matt Barkley needs to be replaced and the depth at receiver is questionable. Sure, it's worrisome when you read stories about Kiffin falling in love with talent instead of performance -- Max Wittek over Cody Kessler at QB and Aundrey Walker over Kevin Graf at LT -- but there's a whole lot to recommend this team.
The question isn't talent. The Trojans are talented enough to win 10 games and win the South Division.
The question is coaching and intangibles. Has whatever went wrong with the locker-room culture in 2012 been addressed and corrected?
Our answer: Maybe.
Buying USC stock in 2013 is a high-risk maneuver. We certainly won't shift a predominant portion of our portfolio to Heritage Hall.
But those willing to take on great risk, often reap great rewards, including a chance to gloat in December, which is always fun.
Buy: There's a Pavlovian response whenever you hear USC. The first thought is: "Of course the Trojans can win the division. It's USC."
There's a good reason for that. The Trojans once again will have as good of talent as any team in the division and probably as good as any in the league. Does that mean they will win the division? Of course not. Investors (Ted's not alone in his throat clearing) are still smarting over the Great Trojan Crash of 2-aught-12.
Does it mean they are capable of winning? Sure. Ask yourself if the Trojans have the talent to beat Arizona, ASU and UCLA. The answer should be yes. The best wide receiver in the country, a strong running back corps and an offensive line that should be improved all point to an uptick in production. Who runs that offense, however, is a concern. And much like my co-writer, it gave me some pause. But I also think the passing attack will be scaled back and simplified, and we'll see the Trojans use a talented stable of backs to set things up for a more conservative passing game.
I think the defensive shift from an even to an odd front (2-5/3-4, depending on who you ask) is going to work out great. The players love it and it seems to suit their skill sets better. A new defensive scheme that is going to make Morgan Breslin a better pass-rusher? I'll buy that.
Most importantly, though, is that it seems 2012 has given the returning players a measure of humility. Never underestimate the power of embarrassment. And all those returning players were embarrassed by the product they put on the field last year.
Gone are the days of players thinking they are going to win games simply because they are USC. That mystique was shattered last year when Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner introduced Barkley to his face mask and the Trojans were muscled out of Palo Alto -- the beginning of the end for investors.
If lessons were learned from 2012 -- both on the field and from the guys with the headsets -- then the Trojans have as good of a shot as either of the South front-runners of being in the Pac-12 title game.