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USC Football Spring Practice Preview: Unfinished Business

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Begins: March 6

Spring game: April 14

We're still about eight months away from discovering what "unfinished business" means, exactly. Those two words have become increasingly popular among USC fans -- a sort of rallying cry so to speak -- since Matt Barkley uttered the popular phrase during his "I'm coming back to school" speech last December.

Does "unfinished business" entail USC returning to the top of the Pac-12 and finding the road back up the 110 to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl? Does it mean winning a BCS national championship? Perhaps, is it just a bowl game in a warm-weather state?

Whatever its meaning is, it underscores an important distinction this spring: USC is expecting big things come fall.

With Barkley's return, the Trojans figure to enter the 2012 season ranked in the top five, possibly even as high as No. 1. The team returns 19 starters, including two specialists after closing 2011 with four consecutive victories. Barkley figures to be a leading Heisman candidate. Even, Lane Kiffin is suddenly palatable these day.

But don't book tickets to Miami just yet. It's March after all.

Spring will prove to be an interesting time for the Trojans, because no matter how impressive they look on paper momentarily, there are a few things that need to be sorted out before the season kicks off against Hawaii on Sept. 1 at the Coliseum.

Call it the lingering depth dilemma if you will.

This season, because of scholarship restrictions, USC can carry just 75 scholarship players as opposed to the standard 85. Currently, it boasts just 76 -- it'll have to get down to 75 by fall camp.

The headliners are well known: Barkley, tailback Curtis McNeal, receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and safety T.J. McDonald.

The positions that are up for grabs this spring and the guys behind them on the depth chart are, subsequently, less obvious.

First and foremost, Kiffin and his staff will begin searching for a left tackle following the departure of Matt Kalil, who opted to declare for the NFL draft. The candidates: junior tackle Kevin Graf and sophomore tacke Aundrey Walker. Graf started last season at right tackle, and Walker saw action in 11 games at a couple different spots. Both are 6-foot-6 and more than 300 pounds. Walker is considered more athletic and slightly bigger. But Graf has the edge when it comes to experience, which could give him in the edge in the end. Oddly enough, this is the sole position on the offensive line where the Trojans will have a new starter. Four of the five spots will feature returners.

Elsewhere, USC will look for a No. 3 wide receiver after Brice Butler and Kyle Prater transferred to San Diego State and Northwestern, respectively. The leading candidate there: George Farmer, who spent last season either injured or at running back. Farmer was a high school teammate of Lee and Woods.

And on the defense line, the Trojans must replace All-American defensive end Nick Perry, who also left early.

A lot of what will happen this fall depends on whether the Trojans can duplicate their November renaissance from last season. The Barkley-Woods duo was the focal point of the team early in the year, but steadily, its young players, on defense especially, grew and developed into all-conference-type guys.

With so many back, it's natural to assume that the improvement continues. But whether the Trojans do in fact take the expected next step depends to a large degree on whether that projection continues. The spring should start to provide some answers.

Follow Joey on Twitter @joeyrkaufman