ESPN Insider's "20 teams that can win it all" series is previewing each of the top 20 teams in Brian Fremeau's five-year program metric, with the help of ESPN's Stats & Information group (for a full explanation and links to all of the previews as they are published, click here). This is the entry for USC.
The USC Trojans are back in the hunt. After a two-year bowl ban left them unable to compete for a conference or BCS national title, the Trojans are once again eligible to make a run at postseason play, and they have a team that is more than capable of getting it done.
The 2011 Trojans finished the season playing as well as any team in the nation, and 17 starters return from that team along with the kicker and punter. The offensive firepower includes a quarterback who threw for more than 3,500 yards, a tailback who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and a pair of receivers who each had more than 1,000 yards in receptions. The defense returns its top four tacklers, and the returning placekicker hit 15 field goals last year as a freshman.
The Trojans will face a challenging schedule, one that is strong enough to help with any strength-of-schedule argument at the end of the regular season. It includes four road trips in a five-game span early in the year -- including a visit to the Stanford Cardinal, a team that has defeated USC three years in a row. The stretch run of the schedule lines up perfectly for a team looking to make a statement on a national title run with high-profile matchups against the Oregon Ducks and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as well as a potential conference title game.