Joey Kaufman is the sports editor for the USC student newspaper The Daily Trojan. You can also follow Joey on Twitter @Joey_Kaufman. He was kind enough to give us a preview of USC football for Saturday's game from a USC perspective...
In many respects, USC is a rather simply team to understand. Last season its defense was absolutely atrocious despite the arrival of Monte Kiffin, the architect of the famed Tampa-2. The Trojans, nonetheless, posted their worst season statistically since 1955. The consensus heading into the 2011 season is, well, they can't be much worse.
The offense, however, showed some signs of life a year ago, finishing No. 26 nationally in total yards per game and No. 37 in points per game. Understandably, much of the attention this fall has been on the development of junior quarterback Matt Barkley, who is expected to take the next step, becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate, etc., etc. Interceptions have been Barkley's Achilles' heel through his two seasons with the Trojans. As a freshman in 2009, he threw 14 interceptions compared to just 15 touchdowns. Last season, the second-year signal caller trimmed his interceptions total to 12, while throwing 26 touchdown passes, but still ranked second-to-last among Pac-10 starting quarterbacks in interceptions.
For USC to win this season, it needs Barkley to shine, considering the suspension of Marc Tyler, inexperience at wide receiver and even more inexperience on the offensive line. There is plenty of talent with junior left tackle Matt Kalil and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods projecting as future NFL draft picks, but there are other areas that remain question marks. As of right now, it remains possible that the Trojans will start two freshmen at left and right guard in Marcus Martin and Aundrey Walker. And rounding out the offensive line, USC does not boast a single starter (veterans Kalil and Khaled Holmes are both juniors).
Additionally, the Trojans will likely call upon a starting tailback for Saturday's opener that did not log a single carry in 2010. Freshman Amir Carlisle was in high school, D.J. Morgan was recovering from ACL surgery and redshirted and Curtis McNeal was academically ineligible. Sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter, who is also vying for the starting job, did finish with 59 carries for 252 yards and one touchdown.
That's the offense, largely, talented yet inexperienced. More on the USC defense, and suggestions for visiting Gopher fans on where to eat and drink in LA after the jump...
Defensively, it's much of the same. The defensive line is loaded, even more so with junior Devon Kennard switching from middle linebacker to defensive end. And the secondary is more inexperienced with All-American candidate T.J. McDonald starting at one safety. Sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey, who started all 13 games as a freshman a year ago, is back as well. There are a ton of familiar faces on defense, which based on last year's production might not necessarily be a good thing, but Kiffin has noted that continuity and a simplification of schemes might be enough to foster improvement.
There are unquestionably a fair number of question marks.
Where to eat/where to drink?
For those of you making the journey from Minnesota to Los Angeles for Saturday's showdown, here are a few stops.
Because of the 12:30 p.m. kickoff, brunch might be a popular option, and unless you're into fast food or have some strange allegiance to USC hospitality, it might be best to avoid most eateries on campus. The Pantry, a popular 24/7 café located downtown just a few miles north of campus, should satisfy your pancake fix, as can Jacks N Joes, which is located near Figueroa and Adams - just a few blocks north of campus. There is also a Chick-fil-A near the Coliseum, which is a popular gameday choice for many.
As for post-game drinks or pre-game drinks, check out both the Lab and McKays, located adjacent to the Radisson Hotel on Figueroa one block east of campus. There aren't a ton of bars near campus, so if you're not fond of either, L.A. Live is a five-minute trip on the dash north and does have far more options.