Preview 2014 - USC Trojans
USC WR Nelson Agholor
Preview 2014 - USC Trojans: It's a new era and a new time for USC. Now it's time to win big again. (Getty Images)
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What You Need To Know & Top Players
One-on-one with Steve Sarkisian on
defines success for the Sarkisian era?
It's been a very busy offseason as a new regime takes over at Troy.
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian
First year: 0-0
6th year overall: 34-29
Off. 23, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
1. DE Leonard Williams, Jr.
2. LB Hayes Pullard, Sr.
3. WR Nelson Agholor, Jr.
4. SS Su'a Cravens, Soph.
5. FS Josh Shaw, Sr.
6. QB Cody Kessler, Jr.
7. OL Max Tuerk, Jr.
8. RB Javorius Allen, Jr.
9. LB J.R. Tavai, Sr.
10. RB Tre Madden, Jr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Fresno State
Sep. 6 at Stanford
Sep. 13 at Boston College
Sep. 20 OPEN DATE
Sep. 27 Oregon State
Oct. 4 Arizona State
Oct. 11 at Arizona
Oct. 18 Colorado
Oct. 25 at Utah
Nov. 1 at Washington State
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 13 California
Nov. 22 at UCLA
Nov. 29 Notre Dame
The task of finishing what Lane Kiffin started amidst NCAA sanctions now belongs to Steve Sarkisian, who was hired away from Washington last December. The Trojans have lost a lot of traction—and scholarships— since 2010, but Sark and his staff are confident that the worst of the storm has passed. And they're confident that Pac-12 contention isn't far off.
The coaches have been eagerly installing new systems on both sides of the ball, including a far more up-tempo offensive attack. The spring was spent evaluating the holdovers, contemplating position changes and overseeing the quarterback battle won by incumbent Cody Kessler over redshirt freshman Max Browne. The summer will be spent fine-tuning what was started in April, and assimilating a dynamite recruiting class headed by JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson.
Barring a summer surprise, Kessler will again be leading the Trojan offense in 2014. He was on the rise late last year, a trend the program needs to continue this fall.
Sarkisian, though, must flesh out who'll be teaming up with Kessler, besides budding WR Nelson Agholor. The backfield is loaded with options, like Tre Madden, Javorius Allen and Justin Davis, but the receiving corps is littered with question marks. While Agholor is a given, it's incumbent upon Darreus Rogers, Victor Blackwell and George Farmer to begin playing to their potential and physical ability. Of equal importance, how will a line that allowed 34 sacks fare now that all-star C Marcus Martin and steady RT Kevin Graf have graduated?
Defense will again be the cornerstone at USC. In fact, coordinator Justin Wilcox's first Trojan unit could be as stout as Clancy Pendergast's final one, which led the Pac-12 in total D. For Troy, it all begins up front with All-American DE Leonard Williams and the rest of a D-line that's going to be very big and very physical. And it ends with a safety trio of Su'a Cravens, Josh Shaw and Leon McQuay that'll be among the best in America. Otherwise, Wilcox will be looking for his cornerbacks and outside linebackers to be the linchpins that will determine whether the D is very good or great this season.
USC is trending up, long before a game will be played this season. The Kiffin era is mercifully over, replaced by Sarkisian, who by most accounts ought to be a good fit for AD Pat Haden. The program scored big on Signing Day, and it's just a year away from being able to fill a full roster of 85 players. The Trojans are nearly out of the woods, and they're excited to resume competing for Pac-12 titles as soon as possible.
What to watch for on offense: Kessler's targets. Marqise Lee is gone, as is TE Xavier Grimble. Who emerges to take pressure off All-American candidate Nelson Agholor? There are plenty of candidates, but none that have created more excitement than sophomore WR Darreus Rogers and junior TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The 6-2, 210-pound Rogers has elicited Sterling Sharpe comparisons for his hands and physicality. And Cope-Fitzpatrick has had a terrific offseason, taking advantage of Randall Telfer's slow-healing knee injury. Both pass-catchers are capable of breakout seasons in 2014.
What to watch for on defense: D-line prowess. There were departures, sure, but USC feels it could have one of the best defensive lines in the country this fall. While Leonard Williams is the front man, he's going to get a lot of help in the trenches. DT Claude Pelon and DE Delvon Simmons are high-ceiling newcomers from La Mesa (Calif.) Community College and Texas Tech, respectively. Antwaun Woods is a mainstay at nose tackle. And junior DT Greg Townsend and redshirt freshman NT Kenny Bigelow are poised to come into their own. Running on this unit will be very difficult in 2014.
The team will be far better if… it starts clicking on third downs. USC's inability to extend drives was one of the many problems that plagued an offense that struggled to put together consecutive strong outings in 2013. Steve Sarkisian wants to unveil a balanced offense, one that's capable of moving the sticks equally well on the ground as through the air. When the Trojans finish 97th nationally in third-down conversions, as it did last year, both sides of the ball are negatively impacted.
The Schedule: The Sarkisian era starts out with a bang facing six straight bowl teams from last season in a row including two conference champions with Fresno State to kick things off and a date at Stanford to follow. The non-conference slate doesn't have any layups facing the Bulldogs, going to Boston College, and dealing with the annual date against Notre Dame at home. Outside of the Pac-12 opener in Palo Alto, the conference schedule isn't too bad, either.
Missing Oregon from the North offsets the bad break of having to play Stanford, and getting Oregon State, Washington State and Cal in interdivision play is a relative break. All in all, considering the UCLA game isn't really a true road date, going away to face Wazzu, Utah and Arizona isn't all that bad.
Best offensive player: Junior WR Nelson Agholor. Robert Woods. Marqise Lee. And now Agholor. The third-year Trojan is prepared to take the torch from his predecessors and become the next great wide receiver in the program. Agholor just keeps getting better, honing his fundamentals to match his raw speed and elusiveness. He's the closest thing to a sure-thing on the outside, especially now that Lee is a Jacksonville Jaguar. The drop-off from Agholor to juniors George Farmer and Victor Blackwell, sophomore Darreus Rogers and redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell is steeper than USC would like.
Best defensive player: Junior DE Leonard Williams. During the height of the Pete Carroll era at USC, the Trojans dominated the line of scrimmage with the likes of Mike Patterson, Sedrick Ellis and Kenechi Udeze. Williams has the tools to be the best Trojan D-lineman of the past decade. He does so many things well for a defense, from rushing the passer to stuffing the run. Williams is the kind of lineman, who requires more than one blocker and leaves school early to be a high first-round draft choice. In a salary run junior year, he's about to become a household name.
Key players to a successful season: The interior O-linemen. The graduations of C Marcus Martin and G John Martinez have the Trojans reshuffling the deck this offseason. The unit's best blocker, versatile Max Tuerk, is moving further inside to supplant Martin at the pivot. Senior Aundrey Walker has 18 career starts, but he's lacked consistency and he missed the spring with an ankle injury. Sophomore Jordan Simmons, too, has been hobbled this offseason with a knee injury. The staff is giving long looks to a pair of rookies, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and true freshman Toa Lobendahn, who closed out the spring atop the depth chart.
The season will be a success if ... the Trojans win nine regular season games in Sarkisian's debut. Sure, USC is capable of capturing the Pac-12 this year, but the team is still a step behind the league's powerhouses. And UCLA is only getting better out of the South Division. Sark wants to hit the ground running in 2014, while getting woven back into the fabric of Troy, where he last coached in 2008. If he can achieve the latter, while matching last year's regular-season win total, he and his staff will be sailing into the 2015 campaign with ramped-up expectations.
Key game: Nov. 22 at UCLA. The Bruins versus the Trojans has always been big. It's about to get much bigger, with both teams attempting to recapture their glory days. UCLA is the hottest team in the Pac-12 South, and it's beaten the Trojans in each of the last two seasons. But Troy is on the upswing, with Steve Sarkisian looking to thwart the progress of Jim Mora, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The battle for the Victory Bell is about to get really nasty—and important on a national level—as both rivals take aim at being the king of Los Angeles.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: USC 172.8 – Opponents 120.6
- Yards per pass: USC 8.2 – Opponents 5.8
- First-quarter scoring : USC 124 - Opponents 37
- 2014 USC Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players