NCAA sanctions will limit USC to 75 scholarship players the next three seasons, so any matter regarding depth is an issue for the Trojans.
Still, several media outlets are expected to rank USC as a leading contender for the Pac-12 Conference title, and possibly the national championship, when the Trojans begin training camp in August in preparation for their Sept. 1 opener against Hawaii.
“It would be pretty hard for me to pick a team preseason No. 1 that’s going to play with at least 10 players less than everybody else does,” Coach Lane Kiffin said Monday during a teleconference with reporters.
The end-of-spring depth chart Kiffin released before the teleconference reveals some cause for concern as USC heads into the summer.
The Trojans have a Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Matt Barkley, perhaps college football’s best receiving duo in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and an experienced back seven on defense. But they are thin at tailback and still searching for answers at defensive tackle.
Curtis McNeal is the starting tailback and D.J. Morgan the backup, with oft-injured Buck Allen behind him. Incoming freshman Nelson Agholor is listed as a receiver and tailback.
Barkley is back for his fourth season as the starter, but neither Max Wittek nor Cody Kessler, co-listed at No. 2, separated himself as Barkley’s backup.
Third-year sophomore Jesse Scroggins, who sat out most of spring practice because of a hip injury, is listed behind the redshirt freshmen.
Kiffin said Scroggins continues to work through academic issues that could affect his eligibility. “Jesse’s got a long two weeks here,” Kiffin said. “He’s got to dig himself out of a hole.”
Sophomore Aundrey Walker is heir apparent to Matt Kalil at left tackle.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Walker started training camp at right tackle. But he was moved to the left side after a week and is ticketed to be Barkley’s blind-side protector. Junior Kevin Graf, who began training camp at left tackle, returns to the right side, where he started every game in 2011.
Walker said Saturday that he would spend the off-season studying the playbook and working on technique, “so the coaches and the quarterback can trust me.”
On defense, sophomore J.R. Tavai is listed as the starting nose tackle alongside returning tackle George Uko. But Kiffin said Antwaun Woods also is in the mix at nose tackle.
Senior Jawanza Starling and junior Demetrius Wright are battling for a safety spot opposite All-American T.J. McDonald.
Isiah Wiley started the last six games at one cornerback spot in 2011, but Brian Baucham, who was academically ineligible last season, and injured Torin Harris are also listed as possible starters at the position.
Kyle Negrete, the punter last season, is listed as a co-starter with redshirt freshman Kris Albarado. Kiffin said there could be a possibility that Negrete would handle short punts, Albarado longer kicks.
USC agreed to a multiyear deal with ESPN Radio that gives the network exclusive rights to nationally broadcast Trojans home football games. The agreement also provides Spanish-language rights for ESPN Deportes Radio, the school said.