Five battles to watch as USC opens fall camp

As USC has opened its fall camp on Saturday, here are five key battles to keep an eye on for the Trojans as they enter the 2013 season.

Quarterback

The good news is, replacing a four-year starter named Matt Barkley isn’t anything new for Max Wittek — he had that task as a junior at Mater Dei High School. The bad news is, the USC fan base and attention given the program is just a tad bigger than the bright lights at Mater Dei. As USC’s starting quarterback, Wittek will be under the microscope. Or Cody Kessler. Or Max Browne. The three-man race could not be settled in the spring and will be the hot topic as camp gets underway.

Secondary

The Trojans have a bevy of safeties. Freshman Leon McQuay III showed plenty of flashes during spring practice. Fellow freshman Su’a Cravens looked like he belonged since day one. Demetrius Wright is a proven veteran. Josh Shaw may have been the best of the bunch in spring and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast couldn’t stop saying enough good things about him. And then there’s Dion Bailey, who is an all-conference linebacker, but will be returning to safety where he was a national recruit coming out of high school. Bailey didn’t practice during the spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and couldn’t be evaluated.

Cornerback is a different question. Of the entire defense, that position was clearly the biggest concern as spring came to a close. Chris Hawkins, Devian Shelton, and Kevon Seymour may be the most talented of the bunch, but are also the youngest and most inexperienced. Pendergast says he isn’t concerned with USC’s corners getting torched during the spring because there was no gameplanning involved and he was simply trying to install his new defense.

Running back

Lane Kiffin raised some eyebrows last week at Pac-12 Media Day when he said his current running back group is “back to where it was in the 2004, 2005 range.” That’s huge praise when you consider that’s Reggie Bush, LenDale White — thunder and lightning territory. This group putting up those type of numbers remains to be seen. The depth however is the strength of the group. Silas Redd, who rushed for team highs of 905 yards and nine touchdowns, returns for his senior season. Giving this group a buzz is freshman Justin Davis who enjoyed a good spring. Ty Isaac wasn’t enrolled during spring but much is expected from the blue-chipper.

A player Kiffin is very high on is Tre Madden. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL but now healthy gives USC the type of back the school hasn’t seen in quite some time, Kiffin says. Madden could be an answer to the team’s short yardage woes from a season ago.

Offensive line

While the running back group has the talent and depth Kiffin likes, the offensive line is not quite there, the head coach says. Kiffin added the program is a recruiting class away from getting that position group to a depth and talent level of his liking. In the meantime, the OL showed improvement in the spring. Marcus Martin has made the transition from guard to center, in replace of Khaled Holmes, look fairly seamless. Redshirt freshmen Jordan Simmons and Zach Banner provide the group some depth, but will it be enough?

Wide receiver

The last time Marqise Lee lined up at receiver and didn’t have Robert Woods as a teammate, he had 57 receptions for 1,409 yards and 23 touchdowns. Of course, that was as a senior at Serra High School. At the time, Lee was an unknown commodity at wide receiver. This time around, he won’t be surprising anyone as the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner and arguably the most exciting player in college football. After Lee, the other four scholarship receivers are unproven.

Sophomore Nelson Agholor has generated a lot of buzz this offseason and appears to be primed for a breakout year. De’Von Flournoy, Victor Blackwell, and Darreus Rogers round out the group — but they only have two career catches between them.  The position group suffered two season-ending injuries in the offseason leaving them without George Farmer and incoming freshman Steven Mitchell.