High expectations for USC, passing attack

Kirby Lee/US Presswire

Matt Barkley is back to direct one of the most potent passing attacks in USC Trojans history.Coming off of a two-year postseason ban, the USC Trojans plan to make their presence felt nationally this season. Matt Barkley and several other offensive skill players are back for a team that went 10-2 and averaged 36 points per game last season.

Returning Statistical Leaders
USC Trojans

This is the first time since 2005 that USC has had its top passer, top rusher, and top two receivers return from the previous season. That team was coming off an undefeated season and national championship, and would run the table before falling to the Texas Longhorns in the final moments of the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena.

Aside from having the most prolific weapon in college football that season in Reggie Bush, USC's returning offensive group could be even more explosive in 2012 -- especially Matt Barkley and the Trojan passing assault.

Barkley's numbers from 2011 were better across the board than Matt Leinart's were when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2004. Barkley threw for more yards and touchdowns while completing a higher percentage of his passes in 2011 than Leinart did in 2004.

What's particularly scary for Pac-12 defenses is that Barkley has improved from year to year. His touchdowns have gone up and interceptions have dropped every year at USC, while Leinart's numbers were relatively unchanged during his three seasons leading the Trojans.

Matt Barkley Throws of 15+ Yards

Barkley’s biggest improvement last year came when throwing the ball deep. He increased his completion percentage on passes 15-or-more yards downfield by 10 percent and didn’t throw an interception when throwing deep.

While Leinart often deferred to Reggie Bush and Lendale White in the red zone in 2005 (40 combined rushing TDs in 2005), the strength of the 2012 team lies with Barkley and his two favorite targets on the outside, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

The 2011 season marked the fourth time that a pair of USC receivers each eclipsed 1,000 yards, as Woods and Lee combined for 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns. USC gained more yards from Barkley passing to Woods and Lee than 38 FBS teams had through the air for the season.

Matt Barkley by Target, 2011 Season

Woods and Barkley already hold several school and conference records. If they each replicate their success in 2012, even more records will fall.

Assuming a repeat performance of his 2011 statistics, Woods would be the Pac-12 career leader in receptions and would be tied for second in career touchdown receptions, all in three seasons. Barkley would be the eighth FBS quarterback to throw for more than 115 touchdowns in his career, and would be the Pac-12 career leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

Though setting records would be nice for these two players, the entire team has made it clear that there is a singular goal for the Men of Troy -- a BCS Championship.

Sharon Katz contributed to this post