USC Trojans: Johnathan Franklin

Happy Friday!

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 3

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
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Our countdown of the top 25 players in the 2012 season continues.

You can see the preseason top 25 here.

No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

2012 numbers: Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 106 yards. And returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.

Preseason ranking: No. 9

Making the case for Lee: It's pretty simple: Lee, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore, was a unanimous All-American because he was the best receiver in the nation this season. Some might argue he was the best overall player in the nation. He ranked second in the nation in both receptions per game (9.08) and receiving yards per game (132.38). His 345 yards receiving at Arizona set a Pac-12 record and also were the fifth-most in FBS history. Lee produced three of the top four receiving games in the conference this year -- the Arizona performance, 197 yards versus Hawaii and 192 yards at Utah. Five times he went over 150 yards receiving. It wasn't like teams didn't know he was coming. He was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Further, the Trojans other top receiving target, Robert Woods, was a unanimous All-American the year before. You'd think Lee would have had to share the ball more. Yet Lee was so difficult to stop, so tempting to target, that it's possible -- probable perhaps -- that the Trojans strangely inconsistent offense this year looked to Lee too often. That, however, isn't Lee's fault. Lee posted a spectacular season that wasn't appreciated enough because his team was so massively disappointing overall.

No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 22, 2013
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Here are some keys and storylines to watch this spring in the South Division. Yesterday Ted looked at the North Division.

ARIZONA WILDCATS

Start date: March 3

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
  2. Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
  3. No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
  2. Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
  3. Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Start date: March 7

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
  2. Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
  3. Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
UCLA BRUINS

Start date: April 2

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:
  1. Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
  2. New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
  3. Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
USC TROJANS

Start date: TBD

Spring game: April 13
  1. New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
  2. Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
  3. Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
UTAH UTES

Start date: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
  2. Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
  3. D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.
It appears that Jim Mora was very good for Datone Jones.

Jones, who belatedly broke through as a senior for the Bruins under Mora, earning second-team All-pac-12 honors, is having a great week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and his draft stock is surging, according to multiple reports.

First from ESPN's Todd McShay, Kevin Weidl, Steve Muench Insider:
UCLA's Datone Jones (6-4[, 280) had another good day. Talk about explosive upper body power -- this guy has it. He played hard and is a disciplined backside defender. He blew up a play on nine-on-seven with his quickness and ability to get inside. He also has the ability to work his hands and disengage when he's locked up in a tight situation.

He's had a good week. There's a buzz in the stands about him.
CBS Sports rated Jones one of the Senior Bow's top "risers."
After an impressive practice on Monday, Datone Jones kept the momentum going on Tuesday, standing out as one of the best defensive stars on the North squad. He is very strong from head to toe and does a nice job using his powerful arms and hands to rip past blockers. He wasn't overly productive as a pass rusher at UCLA, largely due to the fact that he was moved all over the Bruins' hybrid 3-4 scheme, but he did make 19 tackles for loss as a senior with his impressive blend of burst and power to dispose of blockers at the point of attack. Jones is a name that will start to appear in first-round mock drafts moving forward.

It also appears that two Pac-12 running backs, UCLA Johnathan Franklin and Oregon's Kenjon Barner, also are doing well.

That said, McShay, Weidl and Muench had some questions about Franklin's speed, and that "makes him more of a third- or fourth-round prospect instead of a second."

Another Pac-12 player on the North, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, has distinguished himself. From CBS:
While tight end Vance McDonald has impressed on the South squad, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa has stood out on the North team. A former defensive end, he didn't make the move to offense until late last season, entering the 2012 campaign with just one career catch on his resume. Kasa plays a bit tight and bulky, but he is an intriguing athlete and has really impressed as a blocker this week. He obviously needs some more seasoning, but the tools are there for Kasa to be an interesting developmental draft choice early on the third day.
As for South practices Insider, where California and Stanford players are, the Bears seem to be doing well. Cornerback Marc Anthony and offensive lineman Brian Schwenke have impressed:
Cal CB Marc Anthony had the best Wednesday. He turned and ran with Georgia's Tavarres King. I think he runs well, showed the ability to turn and run with guys, and he can break on balls thrown in front of him. He almost had a pick, and he can get physical.
And here's a take on Schwenke:
While Jenkins has shown the ability to dominate lesser opponents, California center Brian Schwenke has proven surprisingly effective when taking on the massive defender. While perhaps not the most aesthetically-pleasing blocker, Schwenke shows good quickness, functional strength and understands leverage. He sinks his hips on contact, anchoring well despite being significantly lighter at 6-3, 307 pounds than many of his opponents.

Another player whose speed is being questioned is Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas. While he's been impressive on the physical side, Thomas apparently has struggled in coverage. From CBS:
Speaking of looking the part, no linebacker was as physically imposing as Chase Thomas (6-foot-3 1/8, 241 pounds). The outside linebacker practiced and played with a lot of effort, throwing around fellow linebackers in a tackle-shed drill, and that helped make up for a lack of burst and speed that a lot of high-profile outside linebackers tend to have. On Tuesday, Thomas was beaten a number of times on a quasi-race from a two-point stance to a tackling dummy. Ultimately, he seemed a half-step behind receivers in practice and a bit slower than his teammates in drills.
LOS ANGELES -- It was another up-beat practice for the Trojans in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Friday as they returned to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field after spending Wednesday at the Coliseum. Continuing in the initial stages of the team's prep-work for Georgia Tech, who USC is set to face in the Hyundai Sun Bowl on Dec. 31, Trojans' head coach Lane Kiffin believes the team has come back with an extra bounce in its step after some recent time away.

"Another good practice today," Kiffin said. "I think that the break off was good for them. There was good energy out here at practice, and it was very competitive in a lot of different drills today."

Quarterback Matt Barkley arrived mid-way through practice without a helmet or shoulder pads, appearing to be in positive spirits.

Lee returns a Biletnikoff Award winner

Just as the team was leaving the field Friday morning, having concluded its workout, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee arrived on campus and made his way to a host of waiting media, fresh off winning the Biletnikoff Award in Orlando (Fla.) on Thursday Night at "The Home Depot College Football Awards."

"Obviously proud of Marqise -- as a true sophomore -- to win the Biletnikoff Award," Kiffin said. "It's a really big deal. He's the first one in the history of the school, and that credit goes obviously to him, but to a lot of other people as well."

Making 112 receptions for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, Lee, like his coach, was quick to recognize those around him.

"My heart was racing, to tell you the truth," Lee said of the moments leading up to the announcement. "Once I won, all of my teammates came to mind, from Robert [Woods] to Barkley, to the linemen especially for maintaining their blocks and everything. We had a tough season, and just how much we put into it, this award is not necessarily just for me, it's for the coaches, and for the defensive and offensive players."

Lee said the award weighs close to 60 pounds, and that he doesn't plan to take it home -- instead leaving it on campus, possibly in the locker room so, "all of the players can enjoy it."

As far as the overall ceremony experience, Lee -- who confesses to being most comfortable in "sweats and a t-shirt" -- said he made sure to get his suit selection approved by wide receivers coach Tee Martin before he went on stage, and that his favorite part of the trip was meeting the other players nominated for awards.

"Met a lot of friends out there, and met some new people -- [Braxton] Miller, [Johnthan] Banks ... I enjoyed my time with them," Lee said. "I was with Kenjon Barner most of the time, along with Johnathan Franklin."

Now ready to get back in the flow of things after missing both of the team's practices this week, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra product already has switched his focus toward having an even bigger 2013 campaign, something that has Martin particularly impressed.

"What's so great about him is I sent him a text and just told him how proud I was of him and, 'Congratulations,' and he goes, 'Can't wait to get better. Thank you,' " Martin said. "So he's just focusing on getting back with his teammates and working to get better."

Pac-12 on Walter Camp All-America team

December, 7, 2012
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The Pac-12 was well-represented on the Walter Camp Foundation's 2012 All-America team, released Thursday.

USC sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, Stanford senior tight end Zach Ertz and a pair of running backs, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner and Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, were named to the first-team offense.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, both seniors, earned spots on the first-team defense.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
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Marqise LeeMatt Kartozian/US PresswireMarqise Lee's 345-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arizona was universally lauded by the WeAreSC roundtable as one of the Trojans' best performances.
There were many ups and downs during the 2012 season. Give your responses on the following items (good or bad) that helped shape the season.

Biggest individual plays

Garry Paskwietz

Instant analysis: UCLA 38, USC 28

November, 17, 2012
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PASADENA, Calif. -- A wild game in Southern California ended with the crowning of a Pac-12 South champion and clear power shift in Los Angeles. Here’s how it all went down at the Rose Bowl.

It was over when: Johnathan Franklin dashed for a 29-yard touchdown run with 4:02 left in the game -- extending UCLA’s lead to 38-28.

It was really over when: Sheldon Price blocked a 38-yard USC field goal attempt with 1:31 left in the game.

Game ball goes to: For as poised and impressive as redshirt freshman Brett Hundley was, it’s got to be Franklin, who blew up in a big way by rushing for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

Unsung hero: UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks had a monster game, notching eight tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.

Stat of the game -- 14: The number of UCLA points off of turnovers.

What it means for UCLA: The Bruins claim the Pac-12 South. Depending on what happens in tonight’s Stanford-Oregon game, UCLA might control the outcome of who wins the North. If Stanford wins tonight, the Cardinal could wrap up the North next week when they travel to UCLA. It’s a bizarre scenario. Or, UCLA could get a crack at the Ducks if Oregon wins tonight. Either way, there are no asterisks this year for the Bruins.

What it means for USC: For starters, a lot of looking in the mirror. The turnovers were killers, and now they have to close out a disappointing year -- against an undefeated Notre Dame team -- knowing they have no shot at playing in a BCS bowl game. This was the cherry on USC’s bummer sundae.

Halftime: UCLA 24, USC 14

November, 17, 2012
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Just when it looked like the UCLA Bruins were going to pull away, Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans brushed off a horrific start and trail 24-14 at halftime.

The Bruins jumped out to a 24-0 lead, capitalizing on a Barkley interception on the first offensive play of the game and a Marqise Lee fumble.

A very efficient first half from quarterback Brett Hundley (16-of-19, 141 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing) and the powerful running of Johnathan Franklin had the Bruins in the driver’s seat.

But after UCLA scored on its fourth straight possession, Barkley finally got USC on the board with 5:58 left in the half on a 33-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor. The Trojans defense finally got a stop and Barkley hit Randall Telfer on a 2-yard touchdown pass.

Barkley is 9-of-15 for 135 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. UCLA gets the ball to start the second half.

USC-UCLA pregame

November, 17, 2012
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Good morning from The Rose Bowl and not-so-sunny Southern California.

The most obvious storyline for this afternoon’s game between USC and UCLA is that the winner is the Pac-12 South champion and punches its ticket to the Pac-12 championship game.

But there are also plenty of subplots -- like the resurgence of the Bruins under new head coach Jim Mora and the fact that UCLA is ranked ahead of USC for the first time since 2001.

But the Trojans have a pretty good offensive weapon named Marqise Lee. The receiver has 663 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his past three games. For the season, Lee has seven 100-yard receiving games, which leads the Pac-12 and is tied for the most in FBS. He has 792 yards after the catch, the most of any player from an AQ school.

Look for him to tax a UCLA defense that ranks 10th in the conference against the pass and yields 266 yards per game.

UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin has been pretty good also -- especially when he runs outside the tackles, where he averages 8 yards per carry.

With plenty of offensive weapons on both sidelines and middle-of-the-road defenses, we’re expecting a high scoring affair.

W2W4: USC-UCLA

November, 16, 2012
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The USC Trojans (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) and UCLA Bruins (No. 17 BCS, No. 17 AP) haven't matched up in a game that meant this much in a long time.

The winner of Saturday's 12 p.m. PT game at the Rose Bowl will secure the Pac-12 South title and earn a trip to the conference championship to compete for a bid to another game at the Rose Bowl.

Here are 10 things to watch in the winner-take-all matchup:

1. Mora vs. Kiffin. Long-term, the most important takeaway from this game will be who takes the upper hand between the two coaches who seem destined for a nice rivalry. Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin have the perfect mix of similarities and differences to make things interesting -- coaching bloodlines, NFL failures and recruiting successes, plus their opposite personalities. Mora is engaging and exciting as a speaker; Kiffin is, at his best, mildly entertaining. But who's a better coach? Perhaps we'll find out on Saturday.

2. More Marqise Lee. Lee hasn't lost any of his luster over the past couple of weeks, as he continues to be probably the second-hottest player in the country, behind only Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The whole defense thing from last week didn't work out, and Lee said he won't be playing there this week, but even so, he should be able to exploit a weak UCLA secondary. Lee is just 14 catches, 86 yards and four touchdowns away from breaking the Pac-12 single-season marks in all three categories.

3. Strength vs. weakness. If this isn't a recipe for abject disaster, what is? UCLA's biggest weakness is its secondary, and specifically, at corner. USC's biggest strength is its receivers, the top pass-catching duo in the nation. If the Bruins single-cover Lee with Sheldon Price or Aaron Hester at any point, they'll essentially be inviting the Trojans to score a touchdown. If they double- or triple-cover him, they'll be inviting Kiffin to re-explore throwing the ball to Robert Woods, which has never worked out too poorly for USC.

4. Hundley and Franklin. USC has Lee and Matt Barkley. UCLA has Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, and the Bruins' duo isn't far off in terms of overall excitement and ability to explode for dynamic plays. It'll be particularly interesting to see how the Trojans try to stop Franklin, who has reinvented himself this season as an outside runner after running mostly between the tackles in the old Bruins scheme. As for Hundley, he's a dual-threat quarterback who has been more effective as a passer than a runner, and he makes his living passing short to backs and tight ends. In fact, only one of the Bruins' top four receivers is an actual wide receiver, and only four of Hundley's 24 touchdown passes have gone to an actual receiver, not counting newly healthy running back/receiver Damien Thigpen.

5. The offensive lines. No, they won't be battling directly against one another, but the Trojans' and Bruins' lines will collectively determine a lot of what happens at the Rose Bowl. UCLA's offensive line is particularly young and hasn't kept Hundley off the ground, but the Trojans' linemen probably would've been on the hook for more sacks if Kiffin didn't call so many three-step drops because of them. Who will step up to the occasion? If there's an indicator, maybe it's that USC starts a fifth-year senior at center in Khaled Holmes, and UCLA starts a redshirt freshman, Jake Brendel.

(Read full post)

WeAreSC Roundtable 

November, 15, 2012
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What will be the key matchup for USC offense vs UCLA defense?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Jae HongAnother virtuoso performance by Matt Barkley against UCLA would go a long way in helping USC to a sixth consecutive win in the series.
Garry Paskwietz: I think it will be the USC receivers against the Bruins' secondary. Right now the Bruins rank No. 103 in the nation against the pass and that’s not where you want to be against Marqise Lee and company. This is a critically important game for Matt Barkley and it would be a great time for him to rise up and help deliver a win under these circumstances. There’s also been a lot of talk about the absence of Robert Woods from the SC passing attack recently, so don’t be surprised if he gets plenty of touches as well.

Greg Katz: The key match-up will be how the vaunted Trojans wide receiver corps produces against a very suspect UCLA secondary. In last season’s 50-0 trouncing of the Bruins, Matt Barkley tossed a school record-tying six touchdowns and threw for 423 yards. Unless the Bruins secondary has made unbelievable strides, the Trojans passing game is certainly capable of schooling the Bruins again.

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Five storylines: USC-UCLA 

November, 15, 2012
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Here are five storylines as USC (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) travels to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) on Saturday.

1. Battle of L.A. is even more relevant this year: You don’t need any extra incentive to get the juices pumping for this game, but this year there is the added motivation of having the winner advance to the Pac-12 title game. It’s an unexpected development when you consider where both teams started the season. But it’s no fluke. Jim Mora has quickly re-energized the UCLA program, and it is trying to take advantage of a USC program that has stumbled a few times. The Trojans, however, have the memories of last year’s 50-0 whitewash over the Bruins to serve as a reminder of how good they can be.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Wily LowMarqise Lee could be primed for another huge game when he squares off against a suspect UCLA secondary.
2. Can Marqise Lee continue his torrid streak?: There might not be a hotter player in all of college football. Lee is No. 2 in the nation in all-purpose yards, receptions and reception yards after a 10-catch, 161-yard performance last week when he was suffering from an allergic reaction. Assuming he is allergy-free on Saturday, look for Lee to exploit a UCLA secondary that is struggling this year. The Bruins’ pass defense is giving up 266 passing yards per game, which is No. 103 in the country.

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Trojans respect UCLA playmakers

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
2:09
PM PT
Josh Shaw Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJosh Shaw (right) has made a smooth transition from safety to cornerback for the Trojans this year.
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans continued to gear up for Saturday’s matchup with UCLA with another full-pads practice on Wednesday under beautiful sunny conditions on the USC campus. With the added storyline of a berth in the Pac-12 championship game on the line, coach Lane Kiffin continues to stress the importance of focusing on the task at hand.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement around it,” Kiffin said of this weekend’s crosstown clash at the Rose Bowl. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re preparing for the game and for the opponent, and not worry about the hype around it.”

But for players like senior safety T.J. McDonald, this is a game that always holds at least some extra significance that’s hard to ignore.

“It means a lot,” McDonald said. “It’s a rivalry game. You come here … you watch this rivalry, you know what it means, so you’ve just got to live up to those expectations. The great players that came before you played in this game, showed out and you want to be able to carry that tradition on. It means a lot, not just for us, but for the entire Trojan Family.”

More Hundley talk
Kiffin continued to praise the play of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Wednesday. Having completed 76.9 percent of his passes for 823 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions over his last three games, he’s been incredibly efficient as a redshirt freshman.

“Especially the way he’s played the last three games, he’s put together unbelievable numbers,” Kiffin said. “So I think you start watching [and ask], ‘How can that happen with a freshman?’ It’s very unusual. And they’ve done a great job with him. It’s a great system. They’ve somehow managed him -- to be a freshman, but not make a ton of mistakes and not turn the ball over a lot, which is unusual in a first-year system and a first-year quarterback. So, a lot of credit to them and to him.”

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