The University of Southern California football Trojans (USC) are considered the leading contender to win the national championship in 2012. Their offense is led by Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley and a whole slew of offensive stars. But what about their defense?
The defense loses some key players including defensive end Nick Perry, who looks like a first round draft choice in the 2012 NFL draft. Also, tackles DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou are gone, as well as middle linebacker Chris Galippo. But there are many talented players coming back next year. Here's the top five.
5. Wes Horton - He's arguably the best defensive lineman on the team and much will be dependent on this lanky athletic lineman. He was named All-Pac-12 Conference this past year. With the aforementioned linemen listed above gone, this will be Horton's chance for a real breakout season in 2012.
4. Nickell Robey - He may be small in stature but this two-year starter is big when it comes to making plays. A dynamic cornerback, he was one of the reasons the defense improved in 2011 and for that, he received first team All-Pac-12. Already considered the best cornerback in the league, although undersized at 5'8" and 165 pounds, he is establishing himself as a shutdown corner and could be one of the best in the country for 2012.
3. Hayes Pullard - An All-Pac-12 selection as a redshirt freshman linebacker, he was a pleasant surprise this year though he did have an excellent spring in 2011. Showing off quickness and a keen knack for playmaking, the 6' 225 pounder is a great tackler and tied for the team lead in tackles. He came on strong at year's end, so look for more in 2012.
2. Dion Bailey - Converted from a safety to linebacker, Bailey was the big surprise star of the defense and won Freshman All-American honors (source - CBS Sports). His speed made up for his lack of size as he was a disruptive force all year while tying for the lead in tackles. The only question will be: can he hold up under the punishment of bigger players. If he can, there's no telling how many accolades Bailey will receive.
1. T.J. McDonald - Considered their star player going into last year, the All-American didn't have the year he was looking for so with some unfinished business (like bowl games, championships and awards), he's decided to come back for his senior season. He has said repeatedly he looks forward to getting his degree. He's arguably the best defensive player in the Pac-12, if not the nation, heading into 2012.
The line may be a bit thin going into 2012 but the defense as a whole looks every bit as good as 2011 and if they can stay healthy, they could be a special unit.
Sources - University of Southern California, Pac-12 Conference, O.C. Register
Daryle W. Hier lived in Los Angeles Ca. most of his life and has been a longtime fan of USC, having followed the Trojans since he was just a youngster. Fight On!