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Wednesday, December 12, 2012
USC offensive breakdown

By Garry Paskwietz

Our look back at the USC offense for 2012 and a look ahead for what to expect in 2013.

Marqise Lee
Marqise Lee is a spectacular talent, but the Trojans need to be less reliant on the star receiver in 2013.
What was good in 2012: The Trojans had the best wide receiver in football in Marqise Lee, and it wasn’t even close. Check any measurement you want; the Biletnikoff Award, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, any number of All-American teams. Those kinds of honors tend to roll in when you set a conference record for catches (112) and receiving yards (1,680) while also leading the conference in kickoff-return yardage. His masterpiece was the Arizona game, with 16 catches for 345 yards and a pair of scores along with 123 yards in kickoff returns.

What was bad in 2012: Too much reliance on Lee. As good as Lee was, there was a train of thought during the season -- one that was even offered up recently in comments by Matt Barkley -- that the Trojans may have focused too much on Lee in relation to other players. There is no shortage of skill weapons on the USC roster, yet Lee caught more balls this year than the next two receivers combined, and one of those other players -- Robert Woods -- is the all-time USC leader in career receptions. The USC offense, which was supposed to be one of the best in the country, had too many bouts of sputtering and inconsistent play. Finding a semblance of balance will be important as the Trojans head into next year.

Impact of play-caller: One of the big questions right now as the Trojans look to next season is the play-calling. Lane Kiffin has given indications that he could consider giving up play-calling duties in order to focus more on the overall role of head coach. When rumors popped up recently about Jeff Tedford possibly coming to USC, Kiffin was quick to make a statement that Kennedy Polamalu is and will be the Trojans' offensive coordinator. Does that mean Polamalu will get the play-calling duties? That remains to be seen, but if it happens, the Trojans would likely feature more of a run-oriented, power-football scheme.

Depth chart analysis for 2013: On paper, the Trojans return a very strong nucleus on offense even with having to replace a four-year starter at quarterback. There is a trio of quarterbacks who will compete in spring for the open job left by Barkley, with Max Wittek in the lead spot. Silas Redd returns at tailback along with D.J. Morgan, Tre Madden and a pair of fullbacks. The receiver spot has Lee plus the possible return of Woods as well, not to mention several other talented options. Tight end is still loaded and the depth is getting a lot better along the line.

Key position battle: The obvious choice here is at quarterback even though Wittek would appear to have a leg up on Cody Kessler and incoming freshman Max Browne. The less obvious choice is at center, as there is no clear-cut incumbent to replace Khaled Holmes. Cyrus Hobbi started the Stanford game when Holmes was out. While that didn’t go well, the feeling is that Hobbi still has a bright future. There was expected to be competition from Abe Markowitz as a sixth-year option, but that doesn’t appear likely to happen, so John Martinez could get a look after spending the last two seasons at right guard.

Freshman impact: This will be interesting to watch because there don’t appear to be many spots where a freshman will be able to earn meaningful time. Browne battles two returners at quarterback, and the two incoming tailbacks face a crowded backfield that will also get Madden back.The Trojans are loaded at receiver, so it will be tough for Steven Mitchell and others to get playing time, and USC also returns four of five starters on the O-line. Perhaps a redshirt freshman on the line -- Zach Banner or Jordan Simmons, perhaps -- will get a chance at an extended opportunity.