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Friday, March 22, 2013
USC's 10 breakout candidates

By Johnny Curren

For college football players across the country, the spring marks a time of opportunity, a chance to dive headfirst into position battles and to make a move up the depth chart -- particularly for those lesser-known players, as well as the new additions to the rosters.

But for Lane Kiffin’s USC squad, which now has two weeks of spring ball under its belt, that atmosphere of opportunity and competition has been even more pronounced than usual. With four new assistant coaches added to the staff this winter, not to mention a complete change in defensive philosophy, there has been a feeling permeating throughout the program that everyone is starting out fresh. It’s in this environment that a number of players looking to take a giant leap forward, not to mention a few newcomers, have shined at times this spring, showing that they could be ready to make a significant impact.

Here’s a look at 10 maybe not-so-familiar faces who have made the most of the spring so far.

1. WR Nelson Agholor (6-foot-1, 185 pounds, So.)
Agholor certainly showed promise last season, particularly against Stanford and Oregon, but he’s taken his game to a higher level this spring, and on a more consistent basis. A true game-breaker with exceptional speed, he collected four receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown in the team’s most recent scrimmage, and he looks to have the inside track for Trojans’ No. 2 receiver spot. With the way he’s been playing, he has the potential to put up some big numbers.

Cody Kessler
Cody Kessler's hoping his spring performance will be enough to propel him into the starting QB job.
2. QB Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.)
Entering the spring as part of a three-man competition for the starting quarterback job, Kessler has been arguably the top performer at the position. Often referred to as a gamer by Kiffin, he’s been particularly effective in the team’s two scrimmages, completing 25 of 34 pass attempts for 353 yards and one touchdown. With fellow redshirt sophomore Max Wittek expected to return soon after missing a week of action with a sprained MCL, the battle for the No. 1 job will pick up full speed once again, but Kessler has made quite a statement already.

3. LB Anthony Sarao (6-0, 215, RS So.)
Building off a 2012 campaign that saw him collect 40 tackles, Sarao is taking the next step forward in his development. Transitioning nicely to his role at WILL linebacker in the 5-2 defense, he looks like a natural fit. What’s been most surprising, however, is that he’s lined up with the first team defense throughout the spring so far -- ahead of Lamar Dawson who has also played extremely well – and he looks anything but out of place.

4. S Su’a Cravens (6-3, 215, Fr.)
The star of what has been a stellar group of early-entrant freshman, Cravens looks more like a seasoned vet than a green first-year safety. He’s quickly made a name for himself as a sure tackler with a nose for the ball, and Kiffin has already compared him to Robert Woods and Nickell Robey – two former USC stars who made immediate impacts as freshmen.

5. RB Javorius “Buck” Allen (6-1, 215, RS So.)
Buried on the depth chart for the past two years, Allen has been one of the great surprises this spring. Running with greater confidence and physicality than ever before, he rushed for a team-best 65 yards and one touchdown in the most recent scrimmage. The big question now is if he can keep it up.

6. OL Jordan Simmons (6-5, 335, RS. Fr.)
Lining up primarily at right guard, where he serves as the backup to John Martinez, Simmons has been impressive. Catching everyone’s attention in the first week with a huge pancake block on freshman Kenny Bigelow, he’s been playing mistake free while showcasing improved footwork, and he appears ready to contribute if called upon.

USC's George Farmer made little impact during his freshman season.
Plagued by injuries so far in his career, George Farmer is hoping 2013 is his breakout season.
7. RB Justin Davis (6-1, 215, Fr.)
Another freshman who just arrived in January, Davis jumped right into the tailback rotation and has looked completely at home, putting in solid showings practice after practice. Surprisingly physical for such a young player, he’s a north-south runner who hits the hole hard, and he adds depth as a capable performer at a position that desperately needs it.

8. TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6-5, 245, So.)
While Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer grab most of the attention at the tight end position – and for good reason – Cope-Fitzpatrick has quietly had a very productive spring. Showing vast improvement from last fall in his blocking and pass-catching skills, expect him to become a bigger part of the rotation in 2013.

9. WR George Farmer (6-1, 205, Jr.)
Having arrived on campus with sky-high expectations, Farmer’s career has been slow to take off due primarily to injuries. Standing out in the team’s first scrimmage with a three-catch, 74-yard performance, he’s looked better than at any other point in his career, and there is hope that this could be the turning point everyone has been waiting for.

10. WR Darreus Rogers (6-2, 195, Fr.)
Big and physical, Rogers gives the USC offense a set of skills that no other receiver on the team possesses. Quickly developing into a real big-play threat, he came on strong last week, coming up with a 52-yard touchdown reception in Saturday’s scrimmage.