2014 USC Preview: What You Must Know
USC DT Leonard Williams
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About USC (Getty Images)
2014 USC Preview
What You Need To Know...
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The coordinator is the same. The system is changing. Steve Sarkisian held on to Clay Helton, who'll help to install a new up-tempo, fast-paced style of play. Running the attack will be incumbent QB Cody Kessler, who has so far held off the challenge of former five-star gem Max Browne. The Trojans will be looking for more pop and explosiveness this fall after ranking No. 9 in Pac-12 scoring a year ago. Kessler will be surrounded by tremendous backfield depth, headed by Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis. But the junior's receivers have a lot to prove. While Nelson Agholor is an emerging superstar, no other Trojan caught more than 22 passes in 2013. There's cautious optimism around campus that sophomore Darreus Rogers can bloom into another big-play complement on the outside. Troy's biggest concern will be up front, where the unit is going to be unmistakably green. Even the O-line's best blocker, junior Max Tuerk, is facing a degree of uncertainty, as he moves from guard to center to succeed Marcus Martin.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The Trojans were outstanding under Clancy Pendergast. They could be even better for Justin Wilcox, one of the game's up-and-coming defensive coordinators. Wilcox inherits a ton talent, especially at safety and near the line of scrimmage. Troy's D-line will have a chance to control the tempo of games, with All-American Leonard Williams being flanked by tremendous size and ability. Veteran Hayes Pullard spearheads the linebackers from the inside, but he'll need outside help from the likes of J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell. The secondary is a tale of two different comfort levels. The safeties are exceptional, bolstered by the returns of Su'a Cravens, Josh Shaw, Leon McQuay and Gerald Bowman. The corners, though, still have something to prove. If McQuay proves he's ready to handle free safety, it could create an opportunity for Shaw to shift to cornerback. Wilcox, who whipped Washington into shape for two years, is going to love coaching the stars USC brings back in 2014.
Players You Need To Know
1. DE Leonard Williams, Jr.
In just his second year at Troy, Williams is already a reigning All-American. He built on a smashing debut as a Trojan by making 74 tackles, 13.5 stops for loss and six sacks. Defensive linemen just don't finish second on a team in tackles, but Williams possesses a rare and coveted skill set. At 6-5 and 290 pounds, he's uncommonly athletic and quick to the pocket, which allows him to contribute on the inside or at defensive end. The upcoming season will be a banner one for Williams, who's about to attract plenty of attention from NFL scouts and national award voters.
While he might not be massive and he might not be the type of anchor you'd stick on the nose, everything else is there to be a dominant superstar at the next level. There isn't a better combination of quickness, size and power on any college interior. A blur off the ball and always working, he's great at getting into the backfield with a fantastic first step to go along with his closing skills on the quarterback. The coaches rave about him both for his play and his desire, and now the spotlight will be on all season long to see if he can take another step forward into No. 1 overall pick territory.
Plyers You Need To Know
2. LB Hayes Pullard, Sr.
Pullard decided to return for his senior season, an important development for the 2014 D. He's a savvy vet, with three years of starting experience and 282 career tackles on his resume. Last season, the 6-1, 230-pound stalwart patrolled inside linebacker for a team-high 94 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and six passes defended. Pullard earned Second Team All-Pac-12, showing off his explosiveness and range in run defense and in coverage. He can help his 2015 draft stock by shoring up his fundamentals as a tackler this fall.
3. WR Nelson Agholor, Jr.
Agholor really came into his own in his second season with the Trojans. He turned 56 receptions into 918 yards and six touchdowns, adding two touchdowns and a school-record 19.1-yard average on 18 punt returns. The 6-0, 185-pound Nigerian-born native of Tampa, Fla. is an extremely fluid overall athlete, with the separation speed to pick up huge chunks of yards after the catch. Sure, Agholor is still a little unpolished with his routes and his hands, but he has a great work ethic, and he's coming off another terrific spring.
4. SS Su'a Cravens, Soph.
Every bit as good as advertised. Cravens played like the five-star recruit he was last February, immediately evolving into one of the program's best all-around defenders. He proved to be mature, intelligent and physically ready to excel at this level. The 6-1, 215-pound starter in all but one game at strong safety showed violent pop in making 52 tackles, while tying for second on the team with four interceptions. Cravens has all of the tools, both physical and intangible, to become the next great enforcer out of the USC secondary.
5. DB Josh Shaw, Sr.
Shaw is a free safety who also happens to be capable of playing cornerback, a luxury for the defensive staff. Where he winds up will depend on how the other defensive backs perform. Shaw is coming off his best season by far since transferring from Florida in 2012, making 67 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss, four interceptions and seven pass breakups. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, the honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection has the size, ball skills and physicality that NFL teams covet in defensive backs.
6. QB Cody Kessler, Jr.
Kessler finished his sophomore season on a tear, a trend the Trojans hope he'll carry into 2014. So far, so good. The incumbent has held off touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, and looks to be a good fit for Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Kessler went 236-of-361 for 2,968 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while displaying the quick feet and agility to escape the rush. But it was over the final six games that he amassed a head of steam. Kessler completed 70.8% of his throws for 11 touchdowns and two picks, earning the Las Vegas Bowl MVP. He plays with plenty of moxie, heart and energy, but now it's time for him to start carrying the offense a little more.
7. OL Max Tuerk, Jr.
Not only is Tuerk the Trojans' best O-lineman, but he's also their most valuable one. In two seasons, the 6-6, 285-pounder has flashed his versatility and intelligence by opening games at three different positions, left tackle, right tackle and left guard. The two-time All-Pac-12 pick will likely to add a fourth spot on the resume this fall, replacing Marcus Martin at center. Long-armed, heady and light on his feet, Tuerk is a natural to build chemistry with QB Cody Kessler, particularly since the two are roommates.
8. RB Javorius Allen, Jr.
Allen was a revelation in 2013, which is why he was voted by his teammates as an improbable team MVP. A reserve in the first half of the year, he picked up the slack for an injured backfield by rushing for more than 100 yards in four of the final six games. In total, Allen went for a team-high 774 yards and 14 touchdowns on 134 carries. The 6-1, 215-pound Tallahassee native runs with a nice burst through the hole, while shedding tacklers en route to the end zone.
9. LB J.R. Tavai, Sr.
Coaches, regardless of the program, love players like Tavai. He's selfless, versatile and poised to contribute whenever—and wherever—he gets inserted into a game. Last year, for instance, he was available to play defensive end and defensive tackle, yet wound up starting eight games at outside linebacker. And the 6-2, 270-pounder produced at an honorable mention All-Pac-12 level. Operating with a non-stop motor, Tavai produced 56 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. If he gets snaps, he's going to deliver.
10. RB Tre Madden, Jr.
Madden was carrying the Trojan game in 2013 before a hamstring injury essentially shut him down in the second half of the year. Through the first five games, the converted linebacker rumbled for at least 93 yards in each outing. At 6-1 and 220 pounds, Madden is a physical between-the-tackles runner, with enough giddy-up to dole out punishment to defensive backs. Still, he also caught 15 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 703 yards and three scores on 138 carries.
11. NT Antwaun Woods, Jr.
Woods has been battling all offseason to keep his job on the interior, no small challenge considering Troy's depth and talent pool up front. He's started 10 games during his career, including six in 2013, when he made 19 tackles, two stops for loss and a sack. The 6-0, 310-pound Woods is a stout space-eater in the middle of the D-line, occupying blockers long enough for USC's more athletic defenders to step up and stop the run.
12. LT Chad Wheeler, Soph.
Sure, Wheeler is still young and unrefined, but the program is excited about his future as Cody Kessler's blindside protector. Wheeler underwent a baptism by fire in his first year, earning Freshman All-American nods as a full-timer at left tackle. The new staff loves the sophomore's work ethic and footwork, which allows him to properly seal off the edge. Once Wheeler adds some girth and muscle to his 6-7, 275-pound, he could bloom into one of the Pac-12's better young tackles.