USC Trojans: College Football

Happy Friday!
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
Happy Friday!
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.
1. Reading USC’s spring prospectus, this nugget stopped me: In six games last season, the Trojans used a total of 14 or fewer players on defense. That’s a stark illustration of the effect of the NCAA scholarship penalties. USC has eight starters returning on each side of the ball. But of the 49 returning lettermen, 18 were either walk-ons, injured or scholarship guys who just didn’t play. That’s a reminder of the work that Steve Sarkisian has cut out for him, and of how well the Trojans did to go 10-4 last season.

2. Former Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno entered the race for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor late, and now he has withdrawn early. Another candidate challenged the legitimacy of the signatures on Paterno’s nomination petitions. The legal battle would have consumed considerable time and money leading up to the May 20 primary. Too bad, because as news stories go, it would have been interesting to see if Paterno could use his name recognition to make voters take him seriously. He seemed to be making headway.

3. If you love writing and you love college football history, make sure you read “His Ownself,” the just-published autobiography of legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins. He saw TCU play for the 1936 Rose Bowl, and he saw TCU play in the 2011 Rose Bowl. No one covered the 1960s, the decade of Bear Bryant, John McKay and Darrell Royal, better. You also get Jenkins on the last 60 years of golf, from Hogan to Woods. It’s like standing in the corner of a bar with Jenkins holding court. It is great, great fun.
That was a crazy game of poker.

Atlanta NFTC notebook 

March, 23, 2014
Mar 23
ROSWELL, Ga. -- The Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp is generally one of the most impressive groups of high school football players you will find in the country. This year’s camp didn’t disappoint. Eight invites were handed out to The Opening, a prestigious invite-only camp held in Beaverton, Ore., in July.

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video Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

MIAMI -- South Florida has always been a recruiting hot bed and this year is no different. Out-of-state schools will flock to the talent-rich area to try and land some of the top prospects in the country. Prospects like ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and his teammate Torrance Gibson are two of the highly-ranked recruits that are getting that attention in this class.

McFadden, the No. 58-ranked player in the country, is considering the big in-state schools -- Florida, Florida State and Miami -- and handful of out-of-state schools like Ohio State, USC, LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee.

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Roundtable: Developing spring storylines

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
WeAreSC staffers discuss the opening week of USC spring ball.

Give one offensive player and one defensive player who appears to have stepped up from where they were last fall.

[+] EnlargeMax Browne
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMax Browne has made strides this spring and is adapting to USC's new offense.
Garry Paskwietz: I’ll go with quarterback Max Browne on offense. After a redshirt year spent adjusting to the college game, Browne has come out this spring and showed that he is ready to make this a genuine competition with Cody Kessler. Browne has added bulk and is showing good command on the field. So far, he simply looks confident and in control. Obviously there is still a learning curve with the offense, and the matter of Kessler still being considered the incumbent, but Browne has done his part to put himself in a real good position this spring.

On defense, cornerback Chris Hawkins also spent 2013 redshirting but he is getting a prime opportunity this spring while Josh Shaw is sidelined with a stress fracture. Hawkins has long arms and good instincts, and these reps he’s getting will only help him earn more playing time in the future.

Johnny Curren: On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the player who stands out to me as having made an especially dramatic leap in terms of his development. With Randall Telfer sidelined, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. have really given him an opportunity to show what he can do, and he’s capitalized on it. Showcasing sure hands, and appearing to be more fluid in his movement than he was last season, he’s been making catches all over the field.

Defensively, I’m really impressed with the way Hawkins has performed early on. Always a strong athlete, it looks like he’s playing with a greater level of confidence these days, and he made some impressive plays throughout the week at a position that the coaches need to shore up heading into next season. His Day 1 interception on a Kessler pass was one of the highlights of the first week.

Greg Katz: Browne has not only just taken to a new system similar to what he used in high school, but he is more than making it interesting in the QB competition. Whether Browne can actually overtake Kessler remains to be seen, but it’s becoming clear that Browne has improved his game in understanding defenses and making adjustments.

While LB Quinton Powell is now in a new defensive system, it seems he is around the ball on a regular basis and is effortless playing off the edge or covering in space. Powell’s athleticism certainly is being put to good use, and the speed of the game has slowed down for him.

What has been the most surprising development through one week of spring ball?

GP: Most projections had Max Tuerk at right tackle heading into spring but with Tuerk at center, we’ve seen Nathan Guertler in the first-team role at right tackle, and the veteran has looked solid so far. Guertler got a vote of confidence from the coaches last week when he was awarded a scholarship, and that news came as little surprise for a player who has seen playing time on both the offensive line and a blocking tight end. Guertler specializes in run blocking, which seems to fit well with O-line coach Tim Drevno.

JC: The most surprising thing to me has been the fact that the coaching staff appears to have found its answer at center in Tuerk. All of the chatter heading into spring practice had Khaliel Rodgers and Toa Lobendahn set to duke it out at that spot, with Tuerk likely destined to take over at right tackle. Right from the moment camp opened up, however, Tuerk lined up with the first group at center, and that’s where he has stayed. And the good news for Trojans fans is that he’s performed solidly there, providing stability in USC’s new uptempo, shotgun-based offense without any problems.

GK: While I think the speed and tempo of practices on both sides of the line of scrimmage is fascinating, seeing just how quickly the players are adjusting to the new systems is surprising to me. Both sides of the ball seem to be benefiting from the breakneck pace. It’s not perfect yet, but it is a surprise to see how far this team has come in such a short time.

Give one under-the-radar story (player, position group, etc.) that is not getting enough attention.

GP: There have been multiple looks at defensive schemes so far in spring, but the one thing that has been pretty clear is that, no matter which combination of players are in there, the Trojans front seven has a chance to be pretty special. The D-line can look intimidating at times -- and that will only increase once Leonard Williams returns -- and the linebacker group led by Hayes Pullard has a lot of good experience as well.

JC: I think that the excellent spring that Guertler has had has gotten somewhat lost in shuffle, but it really is one of the feel-good stories to emerge this month. A hard worker who made the switch to tight end for a portion of last season, he ran exclusively with the first-team offense at right tackle in Week 1, and he did a nice job. It’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that he remains in the starting lineup once the season begins, but with what he’s shown, I expect him to certainly be in the discussion.

GK: I would say the development of junior defensive lineman Antwaun Woods. Woods has become an acknowledged leader, which shows his growth since he arrived as a freshman. He is more developed physically and is playing on a more consistent basis from down to down. Woods is one player that could emerge as a player that rises above the radar by the end of spring ball.
There was never any question that the defensive line coach succeeding former Trojans defensive line coach Ed Orgeron would be filling some legendary shoes, not to mention that booming Cajun voice.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a reach to say that replacing Orgeron -- one of the most beloved and respected football coaches in USC football history -- was a daunting to near impossible task.

Enter former Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson, 45, who accepted the challenge of replacing the charismatic and intense Orgeron by focusing this spring on making his own footprint as the new mentor of the Trojans’ extremely talented and deep returning defensive line.

So how difficult is it replacing a larger than life figure like Orgeron?

[+] EnlargeChris Wilson
Courtesy UGA Sports CommunicationsChris Wilson says the Trojans' defensive line has a chance to be as good as any other team in the country.
“It’s not difficult at all,” Wilson said. “Ed Orgeron is Ed Orgeron. He is a tremendous coach, a tremendous teacher and a great recruiter, and I am a pretty good Chris Wilson. I kind of just do me. That’s the biggest thing.”

And how does Wilson’s style compare with the loud and intense Orgeron?

“I am kind of like ribs and chicken; I am a combo,” Wilson said with a laugh. “What I do requires of us is to be successful and what that means is that you have to know your players and how they respond and what they respond to. If anything, I am a studier of my guys. I try to find out how they respond and what they do well.”

The departure of Orgeron was not exactly a smooth transition, as Trojans first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian first tried to coax him back to his long-time roots at USC. While those efforts didn’t come to fruition, the Trojans CEO is excited that he could get a respected SEC coach from another fabled program to come west to Los Angeles.

"We are thrilled to add Chris Wilson to our coaching staff," Sarkisian said. "He is one of the premier defensive line coaches in the country and he is also a great recruiter."

Wilson and his wife, Tina, married for 18 years with two children, are no strangers to Southern California. In fact, one of their recent visits to the Southland actually had some foreshadowing and cardinal and gold connections.

“We’ve been out here on vacations before, and a couple of years ago we came out here to visit Ted Gilmore, now with the Raiders, who was here as a receivers coach on Coach [Lane] Kiffin’s staff,” Wilson said. “We’re close friends and we came up and spent a day here with him. I thought even then what a neat place. To be here after three years from that moment is pretty different.”

Of course, anytime you decide to transplant your family from one end of the United States to the other, it takes some discussion and forethought.

“Any time you move across country, there is a lot of dynamics that go into it,” said Wilson, who was a four-year (1988-91) letterman linebacker at Oklahoma and a 12th-round NFL draft selection by the Chicago Bears in 1992. “Just the sheer opportunity to be here are SC, it was a no-brainer. We’re excited to be out here and be with Coach Sarkisian and his staff. It was one of those deals when my wife and I sat down and talked about it, it was pretty clear for us.”

Of course it didn’t hurt for Wilson to know he had some future NFL quality talent at his disposal. But is it the type of talent he saw when he was in the SEC?

“Absolutely,” said Wilson. “We’re big and athletic.”

Then there are those so-called experts that are already proclaiming the Trojans D-linemen the best in the Pac-12 for 2013. Is that a realistic evaluation?

“We have the potential to be, but obviously we haven’t played a game yet,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and we’ve got a lot of unproven talent.

“I like our mindset and I like our work ethic. We have a chance to be as good as anybody in the country if we can just stay the course. We are very big across the board, and what I like about us is that we’re able to play on all three downs. They’re not just space-eaters.”

And what about talented Trojans such as returning junior All-American Leonard Williams and intriguing potential of redshirt freshman Kenny Bigelow?

“They’re very talented and gifted athletes,” Wilson said. “They’re strong and very explosive. They’re what you look for in any conference.”

Of course all this perceived defensive talent and the first-year defensive line coach are adjusting to a new system directed by new coordinator Justin Wilcox, who came south with Steve Sarkisian from Washington.

How challenging will the new defensive system be compared to past season’s?

“They are similar, but every call we make has specific fundamentals and it’s no different here,” Wilson said. “For every call that Coach Wilcox makes it requires a certain technique. If we’re playing an odd front, there is a certain technique. If we’re playing a four-down front there’s a certain technique. We have to master every call we have in our arsenal.”

In terms of learning, Wilson believes that the Trojans’ new defensive system is a necessity with the type of explosive offenses in today’s college game.

“Everybody has to be so multiple nowadays, so at Georgia we were a 3-4 and also we were a 4-3 defense,” Wilson said. “When I was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, we mixed in both the 3-4 and the 4-3, so you have to be very multiple nowadays to stand up to these spread offenses as well as the quarterback run game.”

Judging by the early results before this week’s spring break, it appears Wilson has successfully instilled the foundation of his own coaching footprint, and Sarkisian and the Trojans defensive linemen thus far couldn’t be happier with the fit.

3-point stance: Tide adjusts at QB

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
1. With the signing of Florida State transfer quarterback Jacob Coker, Alabama head coach Nick Saban papered over a recruiting misstep. Without Coker, the Crimson Tide had no experienced quarterback to follow AJ McCarron. Phillip Sims, who had been the next in line, left Tuscaloosa nearly two years ago for Virginia. As Coker signed, 2015 recruit Ricky Town switched his commitment from Alabama to USC. But clearly that’s only a coincidence. Coker’s eligibility expires after 2015.

2. Once the NCAA put a black mark on Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt dating to his days at Miami and the Nevin Shapiro case, it was a matter of time before Hurtt shifted his career to the pro game. My colleague Brett McMurphy reported that Hurtt is going to the Chicago Bears. It was clear that Texas wasn’t going to welcome his arrival with Charlie Strong. History has shown that NFL teams don’t care about NCAA sanctions. The pro game has a lot fewer recruiting rules.

3. Adam Rittenberg’s analysis of the Big Ten’s issues at quarterback in 2014 reminded me of the lack of experience at quarterback in the Big 12 last season. David Ash of Texas began the season with 18 starts, the most of any quarterback in the league. It didn’t take long to see the Big 12’s offensive problems. But by the end of the season, the young talent began to grow up. If you saw Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb, you know what I mean.

#CampusConnection: Primetime Live

November, 16, 2013
Under the bright lights of the LA Coliseum, Stanford looks to keep its BCS title hopes alive against a suddenly resurgent USC. We’ll be discussing that game and many more during Saturday Primetime Live.

So head on over to Campus Connection at 8 ET and follow the games along with several of our reporters. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.

Nation's 10 most valuable position groups

August, 12, 2013
The most valuable position group in 2012 quite literally pushed Alabama to its third national championship in four years. The Tide’s offensive line helped one of the country’s more efficient offenses average 5.59 yards per rush (sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision) and 6.95 yards per play (fifth).

That’s quite a standard for a program celebrated for its defensive prowess during its recent run. It’s no wonder Notre Dame, as good as that defense was all year, was hapless versus Bama. Three pieces of the 2012 Crimson Tide line are now gone -- including the 10th and 11th overall NFL draft picks -- but this is how Alabama football stacks up: Its O-line, despite those losses, ranks atop our 10 most valuable position groups for 2013, which features units with top talent that play a critical role in determining their teams' success.

With that in mind, check out Travis Haney's ranking of the 10 most important position groups for the 2013 college football season. Insider
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Class of 2014 safety Quincy Wilson won’t be announcing his decision until the first week of August, but he has narrowed his list of schools to Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State, South Carolina and USC.

The 6-foot-1, 197-pound standout from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School of Nova South -- whom ESPN ranks as the No. 12 safety in the country -- made that announcement after participating in Florida’s Friday Night Lights one-day camp. Wilson said he had a good time at Florida Field and spent a lot of time with UF commits Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day), J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee), Dalvin Cook (Miami Central), and Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla./Dixie County) as well as fellow uncommitted recruit Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), the nation’s No. 5 overall player and No. 2 cornerback.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- ESPN 300 linebacker Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield) is one of the most sought-after inside linebackers in the country, ranked third at his position and No. 59 overall in the 2014 class. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound prospect visited Florida with some of his 7-on-7 teammates before they played in the IMG 7v7 National Championships in Bradenton, Fla., over the weekend.

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