The toughest thing for a major college football program to accomplish is to build and maintain momentum from one year to the next. In 2013, USC was able to turn around an unsettled season playing tough down the stretch and finishing with a Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State. USC avoids Pac 12 North foes Oregon and Washington in 2014. The Trojans two toughest games of the year are at Stanford September 6th and at UCLA on November 22nd.
The Trojans are 0-4 in the last two years against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. New Head Coach Steve Sarkisian inherits 14 returning starters from a 10-win season. Three of those starters Guard Khaliel Rodgers, Running back Tre Madden and recently CB Josh Shaw will miss some games due to injuries. The Trojans had a 6-3 Pac 12 (South) conference record in 2013.
Coach Sarkisian stated that the 2014 USC Trojans will play fast and run a high number of plays. Coach Sarkisian also stated that USC will run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. It might sound simple or just coach-speak, but contrary to popular belief it is the essence of football and a much-needed return to tradition for program formerly known as running back U.
Cody Kessler is the unquestioned starter at quarterback, in 14 starts Kessler completed 65.4-percent of his passes for 2,968 yards 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. QB Max Browne played well at fall camp, but is starting the season as the number two QB. Heading into fall camp the offensive line, thought of as the weak link with a serious need for two players to emerge as starters at right guard and right tackle. Despite still dealing with NCAA sanctions the Trojans have brought in a series of top recruiting classes addessing needs and providing much-needed depth.
Throughout fall camp the number one group LT Chad Wheeler, LG Toa Lobendahn, C Max Tuerk, RG Khaliel Rodgers and RT Zach Banner has started to come together. Three freshmen Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao will play prominent roles. Guard/Tackle Aundrey Walker, Tackle Nico Falah, Center/Guard Giovanni Di Poalo, Guard/Tackle Nathan Guertler and Guard Jordan Simmons will provide depth.
The Trojans have a three-headed monster at tailback with Tre Madden (5.1 Yards per carry in 2013), Javorius Allen (5.8 Yards per carry in 2013) and Justin Davis. The Trojans wide receiver corps filled with talent and depth, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer will start with veterans Darreus Rodgers and Victor Blackwell providing depth. Although freshman Juju Smith, Ajene Harris and Adoree' Jackson look poised to make an impact. The Trojans are thin at the Tight End position, but Randy Telfair appears ready to shine in Coach Sarkisian's offense.
The USC defense led by Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox, who led a University of Washington defense that held Stanford to two of its five lowest yard totals in 2012 and 2013. The Trojans defensive line led by All-American Defensive End Leonard Williams, Nose Tackle Antwaun Woods and Rush End J.R. Tavai. Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon will provide depth in the interior. Defensive End Greg Townsend, Cody Temple and Malik Dorton will provide depth at defensive end positions.
Fifth-year Senior and two–time team captain Hayes Pullard (who led the Trojans in tackles in two of the last three years) will start at MIKE Linebacker, Anthony Sarao will start at WILL linebacker. Jabari Ruffin was lost to a season-ending ACL tear early in camp. Several thought that Quinton Powell would immediately move up the depth chart and start at SAM linebacker, but Scott Felix is now the starter and Powell is behind both Felix and Uchenna Nwosu.
Scott Starr was impressive in the spring and if healthy will make an impact. There is a very good chance that Su'a Cravens will line up at SAM linebacker in some nickel and dime defensive situations against teams that run four wide receiver sets. Cravens and Washington Huskies safety Shaq Thompson are about the same size and have similar athletic ability.
Lamar Dawson is coming off of a knee injury suffered in 2013. Michael Hutchings, Olajuwon Tucker, Quinton Powell, Scott Starr and Uchenna Nwosu will provide depth. USC has a lot of depth in the secondary. At Cornerback, due
to Josh Shaw being lost indefinitely to injury Kevon Seymour will be the only returning starter. Chris Hawkins will more than likely be the other starter. Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton are two returning veterans that will factor into the rotation.
USC bolstered their cornerback corps in recruiting. Three freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Jonathan Lockett, Lamont Simmons have all shown well in camp and are ready to make an impact. The Trojans are solid at the Safety positions with the return of Su'a Cravens, Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III. Bowman and McQuay III have both played well in camp and
listed number one on the depth chart at Free Safety. Su'a Cravens will start at Strong Safety, John Plattenburg and Matt Lopes will provide depth.
USC can now add stability to their mix of talent and depth. If the Trojans can stay healthy, receive a little luck and a few of their talented freshmen can make an impact this team can ruin a few Pac-12 title runs.
Prediction: 10 - 2