USC Trojans: USC Trojans

Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

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Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    41%
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    22%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,807)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.

Big changes for 2014 USC Trojans 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
10:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- As the USC Trojans prepare to open their 2014 training camp on Monday, you probably already know that there are big changes coming. The changes on and off the field could be the biggest for USC since the arrival of John McKay as head coach back in 1960.

The offense: Tailback U., as you know it, is now currently in mothballs. So long traditional McKay "I-formation.” Forget about asking first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian about the term "tailback. It doesn't exist. If that isn't a huge change, what's next? No Traveler? No marching band?

At last week's Pac-12 media days, Sarkisian was asked whether the offense was no longer Tailback U. The former Pete Carroll assistant's response was that he believes in a power running game first but went on to say he sees no difference between the terms "tailback" and "running back." They are both he same to him.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
10:00
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
Our list of the Top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

15. UCLA LB Eric Kendricks

2013 stats: 106 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

Why he's ranked here: In his time at UCLA, Kendricks has gone from an outstanding defensive scout team member to being a crucial element to one of the best linebacking groups in the conference (and maybe the country). In his redshirt senior season, we are expecting big things. And we aren't the only ones. UCLA coach Jim Mora sees big things happening for Kendricks. At Pac-12 media days last week he spent quite a bit of time complimenting Kendricks. First, on his leadership, saying, "He's kind of a glue guy. Without even saying a lot, he's kind of that guy that everyone wants to orbit around." Second, Mora complimented Kendricks' personality, explaining that if his daughter married Kendricks, he would be perfectly OK with that. Third, he said Kendricks had great hair.

We can't guarantee all of that (though, if there's a Pac-12 award for best hair, he'd have to be a semifinalist, right?) but the first fact seems pretty valid. Kendricks' leadership is going to be huge for the Bruins this season, and when a player is given that kind of a role by his coaches, and looked up to by his teammates, a lot of times that results in very big numbers on the field. Will he record double-digit tackles in games? There is a good chance. In 2012, he averaged 10.6 per game and in 2013 (ailed by injuries) he averaged 8.8. But he's just the first of two Bruins linebackers in this grouping on our countdown. Running backs, take note ...

14. Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson

2013 stats: 78 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: Thompson was second on Washington last season in tackles, but he's going to take on a bigger role this season as he begins his journey as a two-way player (perhaps he can ask No. 13 a few questions about that role). At Pac-12 media days, coach Chris Petersen addressed this and said, "We don't want to water him down and make him less of a defensive player. So I think there is a fine balance there and we'll continue to work through that." What exactly that fine balance is, we'll see. But there are certainly reps to be had at running back as the Huskies attempt to replace the production of Bishop Sankey. And Thompson could be a guy who contributes there. With the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball for Washington, Thompson -- who wasn't talked about too much even a year ago -- cracked the top 15 players in the conference in 2014.

13. UCLA LB Myles Jack

2013 stats: 75 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions; 38 carries, 267 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns

Why he's ranked here: So, with Thompson taking on a larger role on both sides of the ball, Jack is scaling back a bit. He was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, but this season, look for him to be much more a defensive player. Jack has athleticism pouring out of him, and with more of a focus on defense, and the discipline that brings, he could be scary, scary good this season -- so good he is the second-highest ranked linebacker on this list (not bad for a sophomore).

Though Mora didn't have quite the flowery sentiments about Jack as he did Kendricks (no hair or dating his daughter comments), he did say that if anyone were to ask UCLA players who the hardest-working Bruin was, that they would all say Jack or quarterback Brett Hundley. That is what the fans should care about. With someone who has his talent and athleticism, the fact that he is still the hardest-working player on the team means something. And that is going to show on the field this season. Could he lead the Pac-12 in tackles? Maybe. Could he and his top-25 counterpart Kendricks be an absolute nightmare to face this season? We think definitely.

12. USC LB Hayes Pullard

2013 stats: 94 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: For two of the past three seasons, Pullard has led the Trojans in tackles. Chances are that this could be Year 3 for him in that category. He is going to have serious competition for best linebacker in the conference (cough, cough, Nos. 15-13), but with 39 starts and 282 tackles under his belt, we're pretty sure Pullard is going to make the most of his senior year. At Pac-12 media days, USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought the strength of his team was in its front seven, and at the middle of that front seven for the Trojans this season is going to be Pullard. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior should crack 100 tackles this season, and we wouldn't be too surprised if at least 10 of those are for a loss.

11. Stanford OT Andrus Peat

Why he's ranked here: At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw told NFL.com that he thought Peat was second to just one offensive tackle he has ever been around -- 11-time NFL Pro Bowler John Odgen. That is pretty high praise. Peat is the highest offensive tackle and second-highest offensive lineman on our list. Assuming nothing goes insanely wrong, he will be an easy all-conference pick at the end of the season and possibly a semifinalist or finalist for the Outland Trophy. At 6-7, 316 pounds, he's going to be pretty tough to move. We're certainly looking forward to a few potential matchups with top defensive linemen (one, whose name will pop up later on in this list ...) as Peat looks to prove himself as the most feared tackle in the Pac-12. At this point in time, he has our vote. We'll see how the season shakes out.

Check out the rest of the rankings here: No. 25-21, No. 20-16

USC roundtable: Impact, battles and more 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
7:15
AM PT
The WeAreSC staffers discuss various topics related to the opening of USC Trojans fall camp practices next Monday.

Who will have the biggest camp impact? (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Steve Sarkisian says this will be a physical run-first offense and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Buck Allen to establish himself early as a critical piece of the system. The reigning Trojans MVP is in great shape and appears ready for that kind of role. On defense, Leonard Williams may be the most talented and Hayes Pullard is the most productive -- but in terms of impact, I'm going to go with Su'a Cravens. His athleticism should allow for him to make a lot of plays.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesThe Trojans' offense will run through quarterback Cody Kessler and tailback Javorius "Buck" Allen.
Johnny Curren: On offense, I'm going to go with Allen. The fourth-year junior tailback is in fantastic shape right now, and with Sarkisian showing a real desire to pound the ball on the ground, he should get plenty of chances to shine. On defense, Williams is the one to watch. Close to 100 percent after undergoing offseason surgery on his shoulder, there's every reason to believe he'll have an even bigger 2014 campaign than his season of 2013, when he garnered ESPN.com first-team All-America honors.

Greg Katz: Cody Kessler on offense. The Trojans' offense may have more explosive players, but the system doesn't work unless Kessler works, and he has been relentless in not only learning Sark's no-huddle, fast-paced offense but executing it and teaching others. Williams on defense. Teammates of the "Big Cat" know he played with pain in his shoulder last season and was never 100 percent. In the summer, however, it was darn scary just how must quicker and intense he was during voluntary workouts.

What will be the best position battle?

Paskwietz: The Trojans enter camp with no clear-cut starter at left guard and as many as four candidates for the job. The one veteran in the mix is Jordan Simmons, but he is coming off knee surgery last fall. The other three possibilities are all true freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. All are extremely talented, but all will be taking part in their first fall camp practices as Trojans, though Lobendahn did participate in spring drills.

Curren: I'm tempted to say the battle at Sam linebacker between Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell, but after seeing J.R. Tavai shine throughout the summer workouts, I'll go with the competition between he and Scott Starr at rush end. Both performers are excellent athletes who play physical and fast to the ball off the edge, and I look forward to watching them bring out the best in each other in fall camp.

Katz: Because of the importance of both offensive guard positions, one would have to lump this as a critical unit position battle. Whether starting senior right guard Aundrey Walker, coming off an ankle injury, and Simmons, coming off of a knee injury, at left guard can be physically in shape and hold up to the pace of the offense remains in question. What isn't in question are the true freshmen O-liners such as Lobendahn, who is a well advanced talent despite his inexperience.

Who will be the surprise player of camp?

Paskwietz: It's hard to call Adoree' Jackson a surprise player in anything when you consider he was the highest-rated recruit in this USC class. The surprise will come, however, in just how good he will be from the word go. And I'm not talking just at one spot, he will make a case for playing time on offense, defense and special teams.

Curren: I really liked what I saw out of Leon McQuay III, both in the spring as well as this past summer. He's going to really open some eyes in his role as the starting free safety. Having bulked up considerably since his freshman season, he's also played with a new level of confidence over the past six months.


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The tailback recruiting picture got a little clearer for the USC Trojans on Monday night with the verbal commitment from Aca'Cedric Ware.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian had stated at the beginning of the recruiting cycle for the Class of 2015 that he would be looking to take two tailbacks, and that was before the transfer of Ty Isaac at the end of spring ball. With only one underclass scholarship tailback on the roster (Justin Davis), there was a definite need at the spot and it figured the Trojans would have their pick of players to choose from.


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The Trojans scored a big get on Monday night when Cedar Hill (Texas) Class of 2015 running back Aca'Cedric Ware committed to USC. The Trojans, who likely need two tailbacks in this class, just lost out on Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany's Dominic Davis to Washington State last weekl. There simply aren’t a lot of prospects at the position on USC’s radar, so Ware’s commitment is significant.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound ball carrier attended the Rising Stars camp earlier this summer, and he obviously impressed enough for the Trojans staff to continue in their pursuit of him. Ware rushed for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, and he averaged 9.27 yards per carry. He chose USC over Iowa, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he becomes the 13th commitment for Trojans from the Class of 2015.

There they were, sitting together for an ESPN SportsCenter interview the other day, Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen.

The new head coach at USC, and the coach who might have been. The former head coach at the University of Washington, and the coach who arrived in Seattle as soon as the other passed him on the way out.

Appearing there side-by-side on television seemed so appropriate, considering they will be inexorably linked for the rest of this fascinating transition season, for the season after that and probably for the remainder of their college coaching future. Their unique career paths literally dictate the constant comparison.

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Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans feel the need for speed.

If you're looking for signs of where the new USC coach is going to make his biggest imprint this fall, it would be a good idea to look at the up-tempo offense that the Trojans will utilize.

Huddling? That's a thing of the past, the Trojans will be too busy hustling to the line of scrimmage for the next play. And don't expect to see the quarterback under center much either, Cody Kessler will line up primarily in the shotgun with a single back. That means USC, the home of the modern I formation, will not use a full-time fullback and will run a lot of three-receiver sets.

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USC chat: Pac-12 media days

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
7:00
AM PT
Garry Paskwietz will talk all things Trojans in conjunction with the beginning of Pac-12 media days. His chat begins at 2 p.m. PT and can be found here.

Our preseason Pac-12 standings 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
3:15
PM PT
With Pac-12 media day coming up on Wednesday the WeAreSC staffers give their preseason rankings for the conference along with title game participants and projected winner.

Garry Paskwietz

North

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Roundtable: Summer workouts

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
11:00
AM PT
WeAreSC staffers look back on the USC summer workouts.

One player who stood out (offense/defense)

Garry Paskwietz: Running back Buck Allen on offense. The first thing you notice about Allen is how much he has bulked up in the upper body over the offseason. Then you notice the leadership, the once quiet kid from Tallahassee has become a vocal team leader, and he has the kind of respect that comes when other players know you have a unique talent. Leonard Williams on defense. The All-American is at the peak of his game right now and the defense feeds off his energy, which always seems to be positive.

Johnny Curren: On offense, Nelson Agholor picked right up where he left off after an outstanding spring and shined throughout the summer. Leading the wide receivers through their drills each day, he was remarkably consistent, and he certainly appears poised to take his place as the next great USC pass-catcher. On defense, Williams looks better than ever after post-season shoulder surgery. With incredible physical tools to go along with outstanding technique, he was flat-out dominant at times during the 11-on-11 periods.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nelson Agholor picked up where he left off after an outstanding spring and put his leadership on display during summer workouts.
Greg Katz: Since there is virtually no real skill position contact in the summer, I would say Agholor stood out for me on offense. Not only was he running the routes of an experienced player, he was consistent in catching the ball and very explosive once he caught it. Like one should be shocked or surprised, but with renewed confidence following successful shoulder surgery, it appears Williams looks even quicker and more intense. His spin and swim moves and explosion past determined offensive linemen was at times breathtaking.

Most Improved (offense/defense)

GP: Max Browne on offense. Don’t get me wrong, this is still Cody Kessler’s football team, but Browne continues to make the kind of progress that you want to see from a talented backup. There is a lot of talk about the possibility USC is looking at more of a dual-threat quarterback for the future, but at some point you still need to throw the ball and Browne does that extremely well. On defense, I’ll go with Leon McQuay. There was plenty of focus on Su'a Cravens last season as a star freshman safety -- deservedly so -- and the Trojans could be looking at their next big-time pair of safeties with the way McQuay looked this summer. He is filling out on his long frame, yet he is so fluid with the way he moves, we really saw him emerge as a guy making plays on a lot of balls.

JC: Building off an excellent spring, Zach Banner continued to develop throughout the summer and I’m impressed with where he is these days. He is more flexible and noticeably quicker out of his stance, and he also emerged as a real leader. Defensively, I thought Claude Pelon really showed he is ready to take on a big role in the fall.

GK: Given his youth and inexperience, the offensive player that seemed to really make improvements was true freshman offensive tackle Chris Brown. Although he is young and inexperienced, he was very coachable and seemed to improve each time I saw him. The least heralded of the new offensive linemen, he really showed me something. It certainly wouldn’t be considered an insult to an experienced player to be called most improved, but I liked what I saw from senior J.R. Tavai on defense. In voluntary workouts, he seemed to know exactly where he should be, did what he was supposed to do, and looked extremely quick and agile. I was impressed with his overall improvement.

Biggest surprise

GP: How good Adoree' Jackson looked on offense. If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have said his main position would be in the cornerback rotation while getting spot duty on offense if possible. After seeing him in workouts, however, I think his role is going to be bigger on offense this season. The starting receivers will be Nelson Agholor and Darreus Rogers, but if you’re judging by what we saw on the field this summer, I would put Adoree' next on the list of receiver options, because he is just so dynamic with the ball in his hands.

JC: He wasn’t one of the highly publicized prizes of the Trojans’ most recent recruiting haul, but arguably no incoming freshman was more consistent throughout the summer than Ajene Harris. A high school quarterback and defensive back, he looked remarkably at home at wide receiver. Showcasing sure hands and a high level of athleticism, he provided reason to believe that he just might be able to earn some playing time right off the bat.

GK: The player that was the biggest surprise to me was true freshman Ajene Harris. A former quarterback at L.A. Crenshaw, his transition to wide receiver caught my eye immediately. His potential is very intriguing, and it would appear he has a very bright future. He could be the most overlooked freshman of this incoming class.

Keep an eye on ...

GP: The offensive guard spots. There was anticipation coming into the summer to gauge the health of Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Jordan Simmons (knee). Though both saw limited action in workouts, it wasn’t enough to know for sure what their status is going to be for fall camp. The other options might be inexperienced, but there is talent to choose from with Khaliel Rodgers, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. At some point, however, those 18 starts under Walker’s belt would be welcome for a young line, particularly with an opponent like Stanford waiting in Week 2.

JC: The USC tailback corps. With Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis all in the fold, the Trojans have a uniquely talented group. So long as they stay healthy, all three members have shown they are ready to put up some big numbers, especially with USC head coach Steve Sarkisian having expressed a desire to pound the ball. Allen, in particular, looks to be in phenomenal shape.

GK: This question could be best answered by the offensive line, namely its young group of very talented true freshmen. In Lobendahn, Talamaivao, Brown, and Mama, it was surprising to see how well they were able to hold their own against an experienced group of returning defensive linemen. The freshmen offensive linemen might be inexperienced, but they didn’t back down one bit to their older teammates.
The USC Trojans are currently sitting in the No. 17 spot in the ESPN Class of 2015 rankings with 12 verbal commits, including six members of the ESPN 300. With this being the first full signing class of the post-sanction era for the Trojans, Steve Sarkisian and his staff are not even halfway to the 25-man limit they can sign.

Here is a position-by-position look at who has given a verbal commit, how many scholarships the Trojans may use for each position, and what the outlook is for each spot.


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The running back position for the Trojans this year would appear to be one of the strengths of the team. Not only is there a trio of proven backs available in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, but there are also a pair of big fullbacks capable of carrying the ball in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.

As fall camp approaches, however, there will be a couple additions to the group that bring the unique element of speed. D.J. Morgan is returning from a knee injury that has limited his on-field work over the summer, while Anthony Brown is transferring over from the cornerback position for his final year of eligibility. There's a deep logjam ahead of them on the depth chart but the fact that they bring speed to the table could be a big factor in their favor.

It's well known that Steve Sarkisian will be bringing the up-tempo style to the USC offense this year and he is promising a run-first attack, one that will rely heavily on the explosive abilities of his skill players. At the very least, there could be a role for Morgan or Brown as change-of-pace backs late in the game, to provide that spark of fresh legs when the defense is tiring. Or there is always a chance they earn bigger roles or contribute on special teams. Regardless, the situation gives Sarkisian even more options with which to design his game plan to take advantage of their speed.

Morgan was a youth group world champion in the hurdles during high school and, after redshirting due to a knee injury suffered during the playoffs of his senior year, showed enough promise early in his USC career to start the first two games of his redshirt freshman year. Fumbling issues eventually landed him in Lane Kiffin's doghouse, and another knee injury in fall camp last year cost him the 2013 season. Morgan has 83 carries for 364 yards and a touchdown in his Trojan career.

Brown ran for 1,681 yards as a senior in high school (8.5 average per carry) so he has shown ability with the ball in his hands. He came to USC as a corner and had six career starts, including a promising stint as a redshirt freshman when he was inserted into the lineup due to an injury to Torin Harris, but a broken ankle against Cal kept him out the remainder of the season and he never really got back in the groove of the corner rotation.

This isn't the first time Brown has brought up the issue of moving to running back, it's something that was discussed after the 2012 season as well. With a deep group of young talent at corner for the Trojans, Brown decided it was worth another shot and this time the move will be made.
USC Trojans coach coach Steve Sarkisian added yet another solid recruiting piece to his 2015 class after San Clemente quarterback Sam Darnold committed to USC on Friday.


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