The USC Trojans will no doubt go into 2012 with the top offense in the conference. Quarterback Matt Barkley? Tops in the conference. Wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Hard to imagine you wouldn't mind either one of them being your number one option. Barkley has the option of throwing to both.
Running back Curtis McNeal might be one of the most underrated runners in the conference, and with LaMichael James and Chris Polk leaving he could make a bid to be the top back in the conference. The Trojans have two young and promisng tight ends in Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer that should complement the offense properly. And the offensive line might lose a great left tackle in Matt Kalil, but they return everyone else.
Still, although the surface looks shiny for USC, the future is concerning, even if it's not alarming quite yet. Because they are already in the process of losing the one thing that made the Trojans so great in the good old days: Their depth.
USC started 2011 with a logjam at running back with Marc Tyler, Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan, Amir Carlisle, and it was the relatively unknown McNeal that emerged and leapt over everyone else. USC had several capable wide receivers in Brice Butler, Kyle Prater, George Farmer and Brandon Carswell, but it was the freshman Lee who emerged as the partner-in-crime for Woods.
The Trojans won't have those luxuries in depth next year, particularly at those two critical positions. Tyler graduates, Baxter leaves, and now Carlisle is transferring out to Notre Dame. That leaves USC with McNeal as their starter, Morgan their likely backup, and the converted Farmer is going to have to be the platoon. McNeal staying healthy will probably be critical as the Trojans probably can't afford injuries at that position.
(Also, Letting Carlisle go is one thing. Letting Carlisle go to a team that you're guaranteed to face the next few years seems a bit strange, doesn't it?)
USC faces similar issues at wide receiver, where it could be Woods, Lee, and no one else. Carswell graduated. Butler is leaving the program, as is Prater. Farmer is now a running back. So that leaves you with... De'Von Flournoy? Victor Blackwell? Junior Pomee? Darreus Rogers from this class? (Or maybe someone else coming in?) It's a talented group of guys, but none of them are likely to become the third wunderkind that could make USC a fearsome foe.
This is a bit of a gamble for USC to cut these players loose. On one hand, the Trojans need to be ruthless with their scholarships with the restrictions kicking into place. They need to keep on bringing in new players and make sure the prospects pan out. It's the wise thing to do to keep the program from totally going into the gutter after next season, when they start to feel the impact.
On the other, they are one or two bad injuries away from damaging their national championship hopes next season. The thin red line couldn't be that more perilous, even when expectations for the Trojans are sky high.