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Insider

Big changes for 2014 USC Trojans

7/31/2014

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.

In other words, in Sarkisian's no-huddle, fast-paced, shotgun offense the main running back is to the right or left. A reverent moment of I-formation silence for former USC Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Charles White, and Marcus Allen.

The defense: Really, how many defensive formations can you trot out on the field? There's a 4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 4-4, and the 3-8. The 2014 Trojans, under first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, will be going with a combination of 3-4 and 4-3. How much of the new system the former Oregon safety manipulates may be determined by depth and injuries. Already having lost reserve redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow, the particulars of the Trojans defense could be a numbers game.

The differences from last season's standout defense and this season's unit will be carefully scrutinized. Be reminded that even McKay, at times, changed his defensive alignments -- a 5-2 to a 4-3 -- during his tenure.

Special teams: McKay rarely made placekicking changes, and a change this season, although unlikely, would be dramatic. Overall, nobody will pay attention to the Trojans special teams team until they materialize as truly special or uncomfortably not so special. Senior placekicker Andre Heidari could play a major role in Sarkisina's first season as Trojans head coach. Heidari was a freshman sensation back in 2011, garnering first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Since his glorious freshman season, Heidari's career has been a rollercoaster.

As a precaution, can you name Heidari's backup? No? Well, it's currently sophomore Alex Wood and if you begin to learn about Wood early in the season, that wouldn't be a good sign.

The Coliseum: Before and after USC took control of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, much noise has been made about massive changes coming to one of the nation's most iconic sports venues. No real major changes have been executed, but fans are told the evolution is within the next couple of years. One of the anticipated major changes coming is the already controversial idea of Trojans fans helping pay for extensive Coliseum improvements through a personal seat license (PSL) for preferred season ticket locations. Do you think McKay would ever have thought of such a financial strategy?

The Coliseum looks pretty much the same as it did during the McKay era -- with the exception of the Olympic track (thanks to the late Al Davis and his former Los Angeles Raiders) and the recently blocked view of the iconic peristyle end of the Coliseum by those corporate VIP boxes.

To be fair, there has also been the addition of a well-received, giant video board a couple of seasons ago. Let's also not forget the already painted cardinal and gold upper rim of the Coliseum to emphasize this is "our house.” If the expected Coliseum upgrades come during the Sarkisian era, it could turn out to be a Coliseum that all of Sarkisian's predecessors might find a welcome change.

The fans: It would be safe to say that Trojans fans are optimistically cautious regarding the Sarkisian era. While Sarksisian resurrected a moribund Washington program (0-12) in 2008, his last four seasons in Seattle weren't exactly acceptable records for USC (7-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-4). However, because he is a likable coach, a former well-respected Pete Carroll assistant, and is now recruiting in the heart of Southern California's mother load of prep talent, Trojans fans are keeping their fingers crossed.

To his credit, Sarkisian is not afraid of change -- whether it be to the Trojans offense, defensive, or fan sensitive uniform alterations (can't wait to see those new shiny red helmets and glistening grey face masks). He continues to show that he and the athletic department are willing to make adjustments to policies. He and his superiors have recently scored two major public relations coups with the recent proclamation that 2014 training camp is open on most days to the general public, and the media will be now allowed to view full practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the regular season -- both are a reversal of a previous edict.

Big changes are in the air. It all contributes to what should be an interesting USC future.

John McKay would probably agree.