The 2014 Pac-12 season starts tonight, and that is unquestionably a righteous thing. The first week's slate of games? Well, it's not exactly going to awaken any echoes. Still, Confucius say he who casts a disrespectful glance at a season opener finds his beer warm and his prayers to the college football gods unanswered.

Yet with all due respect, the Pac-12 plays five games versus overmatched FCS foes and is double-digit favorites in four other games. The only underdog is California, which visits Northwestern.

Ah, but that second Saturday. That, my friends, is a biggie. Not entirely across the conference, but two games will attract beaucoup Pac-12 and national eyeballs and are decidedly meaningful in terms of setting up the first season of the College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota and Oregon can make a significant statement with a win over Michigan State in Week 2.
Start with No. 8 Michigan State's visit to No. 3 Oregon. This might be the biggest nonconference matchup of the season, and it's even bigger after the season-ending injury to Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. The Spartans are now the clear favorites in the Big Ten, as the Ducks are the popular preseason pick in the Pac-12. It might look like a Rose Bowl, but it probably ends up operating like a CFP elimination game. Or validation game.

It's an intriguing matchup, too: Celebrated offense versus celebrated defense, with the Ducks, led by preseason Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota, facing Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who might be the best in the business.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Stanford plays host to No. 15 USC. The Trojans used to feast on the Cardinal. Now this is a bitter and highly competitive rivalry. What makes this game fun is the rivalry is as much player-based as fan based. That bitterness ignited between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh -- "What's your deal?" -- and has maintained its burn over the past few years, with the teams exchanging major upsets the past two seasons.

It also won't cool things down, at least in terms of perception, that new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw were at public loggerheads last year over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries in a tight victory over Sark's Washington team. While it might be responsible to note that Shaw and Sarkisian seem to get along well and chat amiably at coaching functions, that would de-sensationalize an angle the Pac-12 blog would prefer to jump up and down and point at next week.

It also has been established, though less publicly, that more than a few Stanford players were extremely unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation, most notably DE Ben Gardner, whose NFL career has already been waylaid by the shoulder issue that hampered him against the Huskies.

We also must add that the irreverent Stanford band surely is already clicking its collective heels over the possibilities the "Josh Shaw Tall Tale of Heroism" offers for a halftime snark.

Even if you cast aside the emotions, this is a big Pac-12 game. The winner figures to establish itself as a top-10 team and national contender. While they occupy different divisions, one will end up 0-1 in conference play and the other will be 1-0. In what figure to be tight races in both divisions, that one-game swing could prove critical.

A USC victory would be a significant event in the South Division. The Trojans don't play Oregon, as UCLA does. Arizona State doesn't, either. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both play Stanford. The Sun Devils visit USC. In other words, in terms of schedule strength among the contenders, a USC win over Stanford might change the perception of the South race.

Of course, from a coach's perspective we are getting ahead of ourselves. USC plays host to Fresno State on Saturday. While the Bulldogs don't look like the formidable foe the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, they certainly have a pulse. Stanford plays UC Davis and Oregon plays South Dakota. Both will roll, though some Davis folks have pointed out the Aggies upset the Cardinal in 2005, one of the notable moments of Walt Harris' coaching tenure.

As you well know, sports teams play one game at a time.

"We approach this game, literally, exactly like every other one," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of South Dakota and, by extension, Michigan State. "To do anything else would be a conflict of our process, disrespectful to our opponent and to the game."

While Helfrich and Shaw admit that they spent plenty of time this offseason reviewing Michigan State and USC/Washington film knowing about their big dates in Week 2, the nature of football is routine, and routine dictates you prepare for each game the same way.

Dangers of looking ahead this week? Unlikely. For one, it's the first game of the season. The opportunity to play a real game in front of a crowd after a long preseason camp is a reward in itself. Don't expect players to be blasÚ and unfocused.

And there are stakes for players in game one, no matter how undecorated the foe is, according to Shaw.

"We have a lot of guys still competing for things, for who's going to get more playing time," he said. "I'd feel bad for the guy who shows a sign of not focusing on the task at hand. He's going to meet with a not very happy Coach Shaw."

Pac-12 Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
This week is really going to test the picking prowess of your Pac-12 reporters. OK, maybe not so much. The conference is a heavy favorite in almost every game, with Cal being the only underdog with its trip to Northwestern. If the league doesn't cruise in Week 1 with at least 10 wins, that would be considered a bad opening week. To the picks!

Why Washington State will win: The Scarlet Knights really don't have an answer for Mike Leach's Air Raid offense and in Connor Halliday's senior year -- his third season with Leach -- even good defensive backs will struggle. On the other side of the ball, the Wazzu defense is improved and the pass rush is going to get after Gary Nova, who was sacked 25 times last season (tied for No. 96 in the country). -- Chantel Jennings

Why Colorado will win: Colorado State has a veteran quarterback in Garrett Grayson, but the Buffs finally have some experience in the secondary (though they'll miss Jered Bell). A confident Sefo Liufau leads an offense that has depth at receiver and tailback. Should it be close, Colorado also has veteran specialists. It might not be a blowout, but on paper the Buffs are the better team. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why UCLA will win: When one team has better talent at just about every position and a better coaching staff -- which is the case here with UCLA -- the possibility of an upset is rare. Yes, the Bruins have to deal with a cross-country trip and an early start (noon ET), but that won't be much of a hurdle playing against a team that enters the season on a 10-game losing streak against FBS teams. -- Kyle Bonagura

Upset pick: I'm going with an upset here. I think Cal is much improved from last season and even though the Bears are on the road, I think they'll come away with the win. Northwestern has been forced to find a replacement for transfer running back Venric Mark in the past few weeks and I think Cal QB Jared Goff is going to be better than people are giving him credit for. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: Fresno State didn't belong on the same field with the Trojans when they met in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, and now the Bulldogs are without QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams. USC lost talent, too, but returns more than enough to indicate this one won't be much different from the previous matchup. -- Kyle Bonagura

More consensus picks: Utah over Idaho State; Arizona State over Weber State; Arizona over UNLV; Oregon State over Portland State; Stanford over UC Davis; Washington over Hawaii; Oregon over South Dakota

Pac-12 morning links

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Could it be? In a bizarre twist, a horse is abusing a jockey. Might this be the start of a terrifying planet of the horses? In this announcer's opinion, almost certainly yes. And away I go.

Leading off

While there are still plenty of questions swirling about the Josh Shaw situation, we at least have some confirmation that his original story was a lie. As a result, Shaw has been suspended indefinitely from the team and has retained counsel.

Here's a few of the stories that are out there: What a rush

Interesting little stat here courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks.

I like Oregon to continue their streak. The only argument against being that with three backs it's possible that we could see three guys in the 700- 800- 900-yard range. Plus you factor in injuries, assorted carries for whoever has the hot hand and a quarterback that's going to rush for about 700 yards and it's possible Oregon doesn't get a 1K rusher. Possible, but not probable.

Stanford is going to be really interesting to watch as they move back to a by-committee backfield. But even when they had that approach in previous years, they were still able to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. A lot of it will depend on who emerges as the 15-20 carry back (if there is one) and how quickly the four new offensive linemen come together. But if I had to bet, I'd like both of these schools to continue this streak.

Heisman love?

Chris Huston, who runs the site released his preseason straw poll for 2014. It's a small sample -- only 10 Heisman voters from around the country -- but the results are slanted heavily toward the Pac-12, including a couple of names we haven't previously seen connected with the award. First, the results (first place votes in parentheses):

1. Marcus Mariota, Jr., QB, Oregon — 24 (6)
2. Jameis Winston, So., QB, Florida State — 19 (3)
3. Brett Hundley, Jr., QB, UCLA — 6
4. Bryce Petty, Sr., QB, Baylor — 5
5. Myles Jack, So., LB/RB, UCLA — 3 (1)
6. (tie) Leonard Williams, Jr., DT, USC — 1
Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB, Wisconsin — 1
Ty Montgomery, Sr., WR, Stanford — 1

Mariota, we expected. Same for Hundley. Even Jack we'd heard had been getting some Heisman love. (And in case you missed it, the Pac-12 blog talked with Jack about all of the preseason attention he's been getting). But it's interesting to see USC's Leonard Williams and Stanford's Ty Montgomery on the list.

Williams, we know, is an All-America defensive linemen and considered by many to be the best in the country and a top five pick in the 2015 draft. Chances are this is just some preseason posturing from voters. There's always talk in the preseason that a defensive player will break through and win. We saw it with Jadeveon Clowney and Ndamukong Suh. And while the Pac-12 blog would love to see the day that "the best" college football player wins the award (see this column from 2012, Huston is actually quoted), the odds of it happening are slim.

Even for a guy like Montgomery, who is expected to be a significant special teams contributor to go with his receiving stats. We'll see how this all shakes out in November and December. As the Pac-12 blog wrote last week, we've been fooled by preseason favorites before. Still, nice to know the rest of the country has its eyes on the West.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (LA themed)

Some new artwork in the Coliseum.

What say you, America?

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news from across the country. Today's offerings: UCLA quarterback commitment Josh Rosen is off to a strong start in Week 1, showcasing why he will be a valuable recruiting tool for the Bruins this season. Plus, most of the Pac-12 attention has been on UCLA, USC and Oregon, but don't forget about the quality classes at UofA and ASU, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

video Josh Shaw will play football again. But it shouldn't be for the USC Trojans.

Not after this. Not after humiliating his coaches, his teammates and the program. Not after a blatant lie that grew worse when he, for some inexplicable reason, tried to make himself out a hero.

If there has ever been a more bizarre set of circumstances at USC, I can't remember it. This school has had its share of drama recently. From the Reggie Bush scandal, the ensuing NCAA sanctions, the Lane Kiffin experiment, to the bumbling coaching situation at the end of last season. This is the last thing beleaguered athletic director Pat Haden needed.

What Shaw has done is not only embarrass himself, but he has torpedoed everything Haden and coach Steve Sarkisian have been trying to do to change the culture at USC.

People were laughing and making fun of them on national television late Wednesday afternoon. "This kid said he saved his nephew from drowning, and he really did what?" Every Trojans fan watching had to grimace as the TV people carried on.

It doesn't matter how he really injured his ankles. Had he come forth immediately and told school officials what happened, he probably still would have been suspended. But it wouldn't have blown up into a national story.

Talk about your public relations nightmare.

There's also a matter of timing. Shaw's lie dropped on them like some kind of giant anvil -- providing the worst kind of late August distraction as the team prepared for the 2014 season opener against Fresno State on Saturday.

If you have to feel bad for anybody today, feel bad for the rest of the players on this USC team. They are as stunned as anyone by what Shaw did. This is a guy they named a captain just a few days ago. As much as they don't want this to affect their preparation for the season, it will.

That's why Haden and Sarkisian shouldn't delay their action. As soon as all the details of what occurred are known, they should do what they have to do.

They should tell Josh Shaw that he can no longer play football for USC.

USC's Josh Shaw admits to lying

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27

USC senior cornerback Josh Shaw has admitted to lying about how he suffered his ankle injuries last weekend and has been suspended indefinitely, the school said in a statement Wednesday.

Shaw said he suffered a pair of high ankle sprains Saturday night after jumping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, who was struggling in the pool. Shaw said his nephew did not know how to swim. He admitted to team officials on Wednesday that the story was a complete fabrication.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said Tuesday the school received several calls questioning the authenticity of Shaw's story and had been investigating the matter.

"We are extremely disappointed in Josh," Sarkisian said in the statement. "He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story.

"I appreciate that Josh has now admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this. I hope that he will not be defined by this incident, and that the Trojan Family will accept his apology and support him." 

(Read full post)

USC coach: Probe in 'holding pattern'

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27

LOS ANGELES -- USC football coach Steve Sarkisian said the school's investigation into the authenticity of Josh Shaw's story about saving his nephew from potentially drowning is in a "holding pattern" and is now being handled by campus authorities.

"It's pretty clear that there's quite a few conflicting stories out there," Sarkisian said after practice on Wednesday. "Any information we have been provided up until this point we have pushed along to campus authorities. We're really going to let it play out in their hands up until this point and quite honestly we're in somewhat of a holding pattern. That's where we are at. Anything I do get that I can provide you guys with, I will, believe me, I will."

When Sarkisian was asked specifically what campus authorities were handling the investigation he said, "everything above me."

"In this day and age of college football and head coaches' responsibilities, I'd be foolish not to push everything up the ladder," Sarkisian said. "I think we learned that a couple years ago with a couple other high-profile coaches, so everything I've ever done when things come across my desk is to push them to campus authorities and let them do their due diligence.

"When things come back to me, then I can comment on them. Until then, I don't really have much to say on it."

(Read full post)

Pivot Points: Power Five conferences 

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
Gary AndersonMichael Hickey/Getty ImagesThe Badgers could very well be playing a playoff contention knockout game in Week 1.
With the countdown to college football’s kickoff now measured in hours, we thought we would revise a feature from 2013 called “Pivot Points.” As a refresher, it’s cause-and-effect: “If X happens, then Y will happen.”

Here's one take for each Power Five conference:

If Wisconsin can get past LSU this week, then the Badgers will be in the playoff.

I’ll quickly lay out why the Badgers will at minimum gain momentum if they win this week.

Up next: Western Illinois, Bowling Green, South Florida, Northwestern, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue. That takes you to the middle of November, when they close with Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

So even with some front-seven question marks and a first-time starter at QB, Wisconsin is 100 percent a playoff threat. But the Badgers will likely have to go undefeated to make it, which means knocking out a wild-card LSU team this weekend.

In fact, there’s a shot this could be a playoff contention knockout game. Both teams are on the fringe, and this is a win that both could very well need to woo the committee.

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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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.
The talk of Pac-12 town this season is the quarterbacks. Yes, yes, we know.

But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.

The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?


How many 1,000-yard rushers will the Pac-12 have in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,331)

In 2013 there were four 1,000-yard rushers: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,885), Washington’s Bishop Sankey (1,869), Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney (1,709) and Oregon’s Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.

In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?

Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.

USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?

Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.

With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

Josh Shaw's story questioned

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC says it has received a few phone calls contradicting a story from cornerback Josh Shaw, who said he sprained his ankles jumping from the second story of an apartment to save his nephew in a pool.

LOS ANGELES -- USC football coach Steve Sarkisian said the school has received several calls questioning the authenticity of Josh Shaw's story about saving his nephew from potentially drowning and is investigating the matter.

Shaw said he suffered a pair of high ankle sprains Saturday night after jumping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, who was struggling in the pool. Shaw said his nephew did not know how to swim.

"Josh Shaw, first and foremost, is a good person and a good kid," Sarkisian said after Tuesday's practice. "He came to us with what had occurred Saturday night, and I have no reason and no history to not believe Josh and his story and what has occurred. Within the last few hours or so, we've gotten a few phone calls contradicting what Josh said occurred Saturday night, so we're going to continue to vet. We're looking at it. Beyond that, I only know what I know. Josh is adamant with what occurred, and we'll continue to vet some of the other stories that have come across our desk and our phones and see where we can go from there."

(Read full post)

Set to play in a new scheme put in place by first-year USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, here's a position-by-position glance at how the Trojans look on defense as they inch closer and closer toward the team's season opener.

Defensive line

Headlined by 2013 All-American defensive end Leonard Williams, the Trojans defensive line is the backbone of an extremely formidable USC front seven. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Williams missed some time early in camp with a shoulder strain, but he's returned to action and looks poised to have another monster season. At nose tackle, Antwaun Woods -- who started six games in 2013 -- also missed some time in camp due to a hyperextended elbow, but he too has returned and is showing no ill-effects from his injury. At the starting interior defensive tackle position a pair of transfers in Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon share the top spot on the depth chart. Both are big, strong athletes, and Simmons brings the added bonus of possessing the ability to slide over to nose tackle. Greg Townsend Jr. had a promising camp and seems to be over his injury woes, so he'll likely factor into the rotation at defensive end. Cody Temple was sidelined for a majority of camp after suffering a concussion, but he's getting back in the swing of things now and is listed as the No. 2 nose tackle. Freshmen Malik Dorton and Don Hill, as well as fifth-year senior walk-on Teddy Baker, will also provide depth on the interior.

Over at rush end, J.R. Tavai and Scott Felix have battled it out since the spring, and both players have shined throughout the competition. In fact, as camp progressed Wilcox increasingly lined Felix up at SAM linebacker -- where he's now listed as the starter -- in an effort to get both defensive playmakers on the field at the same time. Charles Burks is another option at rush end.


Fifth-year senior MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard led the Trojans in tackles in two of the past three seasons, and having been chosen as a captain in back-to-back years now, he also serves an important role as a team leader. Lining up next to Pullard at WILL linebacker will be Anthony Sarao, who has continued to assert himself as a valuable piece of the defense after starting the final seven games of the 2013 campaign. Sophomore Michael Hutchings is the primary backup at MIKE, and freshman Olajuwon Tucker made a major move during fall camp, to where he's now established himself as the No. 2 WILL linebacker. Still needing to add a little bulk to his 6-3, 230-pound frame, he's shown a knack for being around the ball. Senior Lamar Dawson, who has started 20 games in his career, figured to be a factor at WILL linebacker, but he still hasn't quite recovered from the knee injury that he suffered last season, and Sarkisian recently said that he expects him to be out another month or longer.

[+] EnlargeShaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is going to have to move foreard without Josh Shaw in the immediate future.
With Jabari Ruffin going down with a season ending ACL tear early in camp, it was assumed that Quinton Powell would immediately moved into the No. 1 spot at SAM linebacker, but instead Felix has assumed that role. Meanwhile, Powell, who enjoyed a strong spring, is left battling freshman Uchenna Nwosu for the primary backup job. Right now Nwosu is actually listed ahead of Powell on the depth chart.

Defensive backs

Similar to the situation at wide receiver on offense, the Trojans found themselves with a seeming overabundance of talent in the secondary throughout fall camp -- particularly at cornerback -- after suffering from a lack of depth there last fall. But with the recent news that fifth-year senior cornerback Josh Shaw will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering two high ankle sprains while rescuing his nephew in a pool this past Saturday, this is a unit that all of a sudden will have to move forward, for at least awhile, without its most seasoned, and reliable performer at cornerback.

In the absence of Shaw, Chris Hawkins is the likely favorite to take his place atop the depth chart, with Kevon Seymour, who started 11 games for the Trojans in 2013, on the other side. It's a challenge that Hawkins appears more than up for. The redshirt freshman actually lined up with the No. 1 unit for a majority of the spring, as Seymour was sidelined early on due to illness.

Sarkisian and his staff also made a concerted effort to shore up the cornerback spot in the last recruiting cycle, and that will obviously aid the situation here. One of those freshmen, Adoree' Jackson, looks ready to make an immediate impact, and he'll almost certainly push for major minutes as well. One of the Trojans' most highly-touted signees, he's lived up to every bit of the hype so far, starring at both cornerback and wide receiver in practice. An explosive athlete, he figures to see more time on the defensive side of the ball early, especially now. Jonathan Lockett and Lamont Simmons are two more freshmen who have shown well, and it's not out of the question to assume that one or both will now be relied upon to contribute. Ryan Dillard and Devian Shelton are two veteran reserve players, although both are currently sidelined with injuries.

At safety Leon McQuay III and Gerald Bowman performed at a high level during fall camp, and both are listed as sharing the top spot at free safety, although Bowman spent quite a bit of time running with the No. 1 unit at strong safety. Su'a Cravens, a 2013 freshman All-American, battled illness and a groin injury during a portion of fall camp, but he looks to be healthy enough to have gained his starting job back at strong safety. He'll also see plenty of time at the Dollar spot -- a linebacker/safety hybrid position that plays to his strengths as a bigger, more physical defensive back with outstanding football instincts.

Freshman John Plattenburg will help add depth, and walk-on Matt Lopes is another name to watch out for. D.J. Morgan, a converted tailback who has been hampered by knee and leg injuries throughout his career, was held out for a majority of fall camp.
With fall camp in the books and the Trojans now immersed in game-week preparations for Saturday's season opener against Fresno State, here's a position-by-position look at where things stand for USC on offense today.


After emerging from a highly-publicized competition as USC's unquestioned starter at quarterback in the spring, Cody Kessler continued to perform at a high level throughout fall camp, appearing to grow more and more in command of Steve Sarkisian's new up-tempo offensive attack with each practice that passed. Having completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdown and 7 interceptions a year ago in 14 starts for the Trojans, there's every reason to believe that his numbers will only go up in 2014.

Second-year freshman Max Browne had a solid camp as well, and he'll serve as the primary backup. Freshman dual-threat quarterback Jalen Greene appears destined to redshirt this season, although with the strides that he's already made, he certainly looks to have a bright future.

Running back

The Trojans have a three-headed monster at tailback in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis. Allen -- the Trojans' team MVP in 2013 -- came into camp in fantastic shape and looks to be a perfect fit in Sarkisian's offense. He, along with Madden -- who rushed for more than 100 yards in four of USC's first five games in 2013 -- took the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 unit during the majority of fall camp. Madden hasn't practiced in a week due to a turf toe injury, and he's a game-time decision at this point. That paves the way for Davis, who excelled in the team's fall camp scrimmages, to carry a heavier load.

Walk-on James Toland IV and converted cornerback Anthony Brown are two reserves at tailback, although Brown has been sidelined as of late with a hyperextended elbow.

One big question that arose as soon as Sarkisian became head coach was whether or not there's was a real role for the fullback in his offense. If fall camp is any indication, however, the answer is most definitely ‘Yes,' as both Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner were utilized in a variety of ways. Vainuku, in particular, appeared to make more plays coming out of the backfield than ever.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Ric Tapia/Icon SMINelson Agholor led the Trojans with 56 catches for 918 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
Wide receiver

The Trojans will field a wide receiver corps marked by talent and, in contrast to last season's squad, a plethora of depth. Nelson Agholor is the headliner. The team's leader in receiving yardage (918) in 2013, he's been showing off his versatility in practice, lining up outside as well in the slot periodically. George Farmer had arguably the best camp of his career, and it paid off in him landing atop the depth chart at the wide receiver spot opposite Agholor. After having been hampered by injuries throughout his time on campus so far, there's reason to believe this could be the year that he finally breaks through. Darreus Rogers and Victor Blackwell are a pair of veterans who will provide depth. Rogers, who now wears the highly-coveted No. 1 jersey, is a big and physical target who will try to improve on what was a promising freshman year in 2013. Blackwell, a fourth-year junior, asserted himself as a potential deep threat in practice this month.

There are also a host of freshmen who look poised to make an instant impact at wideout, perhaps none more-so than JuJu Smith. Bringing a unique combination of size, speed and sure hands to the table, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him make a name for himself right from the get-go.

At the slot receiver position Ajene Harris is the name to watch. Somewhat of an underdog coming into camp after lining up at quarterback and defensive back on the high school level at Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, he now sits atop the depth chart after shining throughout fall camp. Highly sought-after two-way standout Adoree' Jackson will also see time here -- in addition to cornerback -- after asserting himself as a legitimate big-play threat.

Second-year freshman Steven Mitchell -- who was once thought to be the favorite to start at the slot position ahead of Harris and Jackson -- has been held back by knee and groin issues.

Freshman Rahshead Johnson, as well as veteran walk-ons Christian Tober, George Katrib, Robby Kolanz, Christian Guzman, David Mellstrom and Aaron Minor are others who will provide depth at wide receiver.

Tight end

The loss of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (academics) obviously dealt this already-thin unit a significant blow, but the good news is that Randall Telfer looks healthy and primed for a big season in Sarkisian's tight end-friendly offense. Former Wake Forest pitcher-turned walk-on quarterback-turned tight end Chris Willson currently sits at the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. And then there's freshman Bryce Dixon, who just might be the most exciting performer of the bunch. A fantastic athlete with outstanding skills as a receiver, he certainly appears to possess the tools to allow him to flourish in Sarkisian's offense -- perhaps sooner than later.

With this group low in numbers, Sarkisian said that he might rely more on fullbacks Vainuku and Pinner, and that does seem to mesh with what was seen in fall camp.

Offensive line

Perhaps no unit was surrounded by more uncertainty heading into fall camp than the offensive line, but Tim Drevno's group has slowly started to come together. Still plenty of questions exist today, particularly with a trio of freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao all expected to play crucial roles.

The No. 1 group for the majority of camp was comprised of Chad Wheeler at left tackle, Lobendahn at left guard, Max Tuerk at center, Khaliel Rodgers at right guard and Zach Banner at right tackle. With Rodgers currently out with a knee sprain, however, it's Mama who is slated to get the starting nod against Fresno State -- meaning that for the first time in the post-World War II era the Trojans will likely have two freshmen starters on the offensive line in an opener. Fortunately for Sarkisian and Co., both Mama and Lobendahn appear to be up for the challenge. Aundrey Walker, who was hobbled early in camp, has started to come on, and with Sarkisian noting that he plans to rotate players in and out of the lineup along the offensive line, it stands to reason that he will see time somewhere on the field in a reserve role. He's currently listed as a backup at both tackle spots as well as at right guard. Talamaivao is the primary backup at left guard after beginning camp as a reserve center.

Center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo, guard/tackle Nathan Guertler, tackle Nico Falah and guard Jordan Simmons will all provide depth -- although Simmons has missed extensive time due to his 2013 knee injury.

Freshmen tackles Chris Brown and Jordan Austin (hip surgery) will likely redshirt.