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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 16. USC Trojans

16. USC Trojans
Cody Kessler

Coach: Steve Sarkisian (1st year)
2013-2014 Record: 10-4 (6-3 Pac-12)

August 30th vs. Fresno State
September 6th @ Stanford
September 13th @ Boston College
September 27th vs. Oregon State
October 4th vs. Arizona State
October 11th @ Arizona
October 18th vs. Colorado
October 25th @ Utah
November 1st @ Washington State
November 13th  vs. California
November 22nd @ UCLA
November 29th vs. Notre Dame

It is amazing how the right coach with the right attitude and connection with his players can change a team's season. After a disastrous start to the 2013 season under Lane Kiffin, they started off 3-2, the Trojans went 6-2 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, with victories over Stanford and other big conference games. Although the Trojans decided not to bring back Orgeron (they hired former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian) this roster is still filled with the fantastic talents that led them to that 6-2 finish.  Although this schedule is filled with tough games as usual, USC is starting to return to the dominant program they once were and they have a chance to win the Pac-12 South.

Backfield: Cody Kessler seemed more comfortable and smarter under Orgeron during the second half of the season and ended up throwing for 2,968 yards, 20 touchdowns, while completing 65% of his throws. Kessler doesn't have a huge arm but has an accurate arm. He isn't an incredibly fast but he can make plays with his legs and he has excellent pocket awareness. Backup quarterback Max Wittek will sit out this year, earn his degree and then transfer. That leaves redshirt freshman Max Browne as the starter if anything happens to Kessler. Browne, a five-star commit for Lane Kiffin and USC last year, has looked strong in the spring. The Trojans are gifted with a deep stable of playmakers inside this backfield. Junior Javorius Allen is the team's leading returning rusher, rushing for 785 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. He is a versatile back that can do a number of different things; he has a dangerous mix of speed and strength and he can make plays as a receiver. Joining him will be Tre Madden, who ran for 703 yards last year and should still get a fair bunch of carries and junior Soma Vainuku will likely be the starter at fullback.

Receivers: Kessler has one of the nation's best receivers to throw the ball to in junior Nelson Agholor, a speedy playmaker with excellent hands. Agholor proved to be a big play threat last year, averaging 16.4 yards per reception. Few defensive backs have the speed to keep up with Agholor, who can beat defenses with a quick first step. Joining Agholor will be sophomore Darreus Rogers, a player who works the middle of the field very well. Agholor's big-play ability deep opens up lanes underneath for Rogers, who had 22 catches a year ago. George Farmer was a big-name recruit for USC coming out of high school but his career with the Trojans has been filled with injuries. Last year, a torn ligament in his leg forced his season to end. If he can manage to stay healthy he could be a great complement to Agholor in the passing game. Four-star athlete Juju Smith will likely spend most of his time at receiver. Smith is a tremendous athlete who could make a major impact for the Trojans immediately. Another incoming freshman Adoree Jackson is a local product from California, who saw practice time playing both ways. He looked very good as a cornerback and might not get a ton of looks at receiver but he should still be able to make plays on both sides of the ball. Senior Randall Telfer returns at tight end. Last year, Telfer saw very little action because of Xavier Grimble, but Grimble is now gone, opening up opportunities for Telfer.

Offensive Line: The receivers are just one reason why Kessler could have a great junior season; the offensive line has the talent to have a really strong 2014-2015 season. Although the right side is a question, the unit is still solid. Gone is center Marcus Martin, but junior Max Tuerk could take over at that position. Tuerk is a good athlete with the smarts and versatility to play center, guard on both sides or possibly even tackle if USC really needs him to. Senior Aundrey Walker is the starter at guard, likely on the left side. Walker might be just as important to this unit as Tuerk, nobody on the line has the experience he has. Sophomore Zach Banner was a pretty big recruit for the Trojans a couple years ago and should finally get the opportunity to prove himself. Banner is absolutely massive, you won't see a lot of players bigger than him in the nation. He is 6'9" and weighs in at 345 pounds, giving him the raw tools to be dominant. Though, he doesn't move very well and could get beat off the edges, especially with the quick ends and other pass rushers in the Pac-12. The right guard position is a big question but Sarkisian and the Trojans brought in a number of linemen that could start there in this 2014 recruiting class. Damien Mama is the No. 4 guard in this year's class and he has the potential to grow into a dominant linemen. Another incomer, Viane Talamaivao, also has great potential and will definitely compete for snaps.

Defensive Line:
Junior defensive tackle Leonard Williams had a fantastic 2013 season and he has many NFL scouts drooling. He is likely a Top-5 selection in the 2015 NFL Draft and has a chance to have a monster year for USC. Williams, who could also play defensive end, has incredible instincts and is a great athlete. Not just an elite pass rusher, Williams moves very well side to side, he had 12 tackles in the team's victory over Notre Dame. Joining him on the line will be junior nose tackle Antwaun Woods, a hard-working linemen. The questions are at both defensive end positions, with Devon Kennard, who also spent time at outside linebacker. Senior J.R. Tavai could start at one or he could play as an outside 'backer. Tavai has a great motor and is pretty quick, he could benefit from Williams occupying blockers. Four-star commit Malik Dorton and JUCO defensive tackle Claudeson Pelon will look for some snaps and opportunities.
Hayes Pullard

Linebackers: For a long time, USC has had a tradition of having great linebackers, from Rey Maualuga Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing and just this past year, Hayes Pullard, who is back. Pullard, who will play middle linebacker, was an All-Pac-12 player in 2013 and he should continue to improve. Pullard is a four-year starter in Los Angeles and is a team captain, he should be the leader of this defense. Senior Lamar Dawson also is returning, giving USC yet another gifted linebacker with valuable experience. At the other outside linebacker slot, expect sophomore Jabari Ruffin to see snaps, possibly even start for them. Junior Anthony Sarao will compete for playing time at outside linebacker. Sarao and Ruffin don't have the experience Dawson and Pullard have but they do have potential and Ruffin is an amazing athlete. Incoming outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu will compete for some snaps but could be heading for a redshirt year; a three-star recruit. Sophomore Michael Hutchings provides valuable depth, he can play both inside and outside 'backer.

Secondary: This unit does have questions but should still be pretty solid. Sophomore safety Su'a Cravens has All-Conference talent. He has incredible athleticism and a high motor; he has the
potential to have a huge year after a solid true freshman campaign. The other safety position is a question mark, sophomore Leon McQuay III could have a chance to start. McQuay is young and can miss assignments but the tools are there for him to be a quality starter alongside Cravens. Senior Josh Shaw could see some time at safety, but he spent time last year at corner. Not the most athletic player on the field, Shaw uses his great instincts and hard-work to become a real pest for opposing offenses. Junior Kevon Seymour is the likely starter at the other cornerback position, albeit undersized. Just 5'9", Seymour is prone to having issues with some of the bigger receivers in the Pac-12 but he doesn't back down from a challenge. Adoree Jackson looked so good in the spring and he could push for a starting role. He could possibly push Shaw out of cornerback, which could allow Shaw  move to safety.

Special Teams: Senior kicker Andre Heidari has had a very crazy career at USC, but he is trying to go out on a good note. Heidari has looked great times (he hit 15 of 17 field goals his freshman year) but has also had some huge mistakes. Punter Kris Albarado is back for his junior season. In the return game, expect big things from Nelson Agholor, who can field punts or kicks. Jackson could also help in kick return duties.

Sarkisian was gifted with a great, talented roster and a veteran quarterback to begin his tenure at USC. Though, he will get tested early and often as the Trojans' first road game is a meeting with Stanford and the season ends with the usual tests of UCLA and Notre Dame. The Trojans are climbing out of the hole that was created for them in the Reggie Bush scandal, but don't expect a Pac-12 Championship. Kessler may not be ready for such things yet, but USC should definitely make some noise this year.

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