USC Trojans: Marqise Lee

Before Nelson Agholor walked up the Coliseum tunnel on Saturday following USC’s spring game -- which marked the conclusion of five weeks of practice sessions under a new coaching regime led by Steve Sarkisian -- the junior wide receiver took a moment to reflect.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC wideout Nelson Agholor is hoping to take the next step in 2014 after finishing last season with 56 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns.
“This spring wasn’t just about today,” he said, “it was about 15 practices that we got to get better. So, for me, I got better every practice that I had a chance to practice, whether it was weightlifting, field work ... it didn’t matter. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity.”

Few took more advantage of that opportunity than Agholor. Described as a “gym rat” by USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin for the tireless work ethic that Agholor has put on display throughout his time on campus, the dynamic athlete made highlight play after highlight play, standing out as arguably the most consistent performer of the entire slate of workouts.

It was a case of an already proven player taking his game to another level, and according to Agholor, it was his attention to detail that made the difference.

“I felt like I definitely fine-tuned my fundamentals, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Agholor, who made the trek west to USC from Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep as member of the Trojans’ signing haul of 2012. “It’s all about getting the fundamentals back under you, controlling your effort, and practicing with great concentration.”

Martin was anything but surprised by what he saw out of his star pupil. After all, Agholor showed glimpses of what he was capable of last fall, when, with Marqise Lee hobbled during a portion of the season due to injury, he was leaned upon heavily. Agholor responded by catching 56 passes for a team-best 918 yards and six touchdowns, while developing into one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners.

“You started seeing it last year during the season when he started really taking on that role of, ‘Call my number. I want to be the guy,'" Martin said. “He’s a guy that works hard and he wants to be that guy. I like his attitude and he got a lot better this spring.”

Of course, Agholor figures to have the added pressure heaped upon his shoulders that will come with being expected to follow in the footsteps of Robert Woods, USC’s all-time leading receiver, and Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, as the next great Trojans receiver.

After putting in the time and effort, it’s a role that Martin believes Agholor is more than prepared to take on.

“I think he’s ready for it,” Martin said. “I think that he came to USC for that. If you go back and look at his signing day interview, he said that this day would be here for him today, and he’s worked for it. So I’m happy for him. You know, he’s had Robert Woods to learn from, he’s had Marqise Lee to learn from, and now it’s his turn.”

Unlike Woods and Lee, however, Agholor’s moment in the sun will come at a time when USC will showcase a new up-tempo, no-huddle offense put in place by Sarkisian. Agholor is encouraged by the strides that he, as well as his teammates, made within the system during spring drills.

“I’m very excited because this is an offense that’s really going to show off all of our weapons -- all of our receivers, our tailbacks, our tight ends,” he said. “We’re going to have guys making plays all over the field.”

Before USC’s opener against Fresno State on Aug. 30, Agholor has the long offseason ahead of him, and he’s ready to begin what he expects to be a demanding training regimen with Trojans strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis and staff.

“This summer is a great opportunity for us,” Agholor said. “We’re going to get a chance to get a whole summer with our new strength coaches. We had a wonderful spring with them, now we get the summer with them to develop our bodies, and then we’re going to do a lot of fieldwork and stuff like that. It’s going to be good for us.”

With his mindset focused in the right direction, all of the pieces appear to be in place for Agholor to fulfill every expectation thrown his way.

“He’s someone that we know is dependable, and he’s going to come through for us,” Martin said. “I look forward to seeing what his fall camp will be like, and what the season will be like for him.”
ESPN's Todd McShay released his Mock Draft 4.0 Insider on Friday, but unlike the first three, this one included projections for the second round to go along with the first.

If things were to play out how McShay envisions, the Pac-12 would account for just three first-round picks. The surprise there is not the amount, but who is not included -- UCLA OLB/DE Anthony Barr.

After projecting Barr at No. 7 in his first mock draft in December, McShay had him at No. 11 in versions 2.0 and 3.0. This time? All the way to the second round at No. 36 to the Oakland Raiders.

It's long been assumed the UCLA pass rusher was the obvious candidate to be the first Pac-12 player taken, but the torch -- at least in this instance -- has been passed to Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks at No. 18 to the Jets. McShay's previous forecast had USC receiver Marqise Lee in that spot, but now he has Lee joining former Oregon coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia at No. 22.

McShay notes:
Lee did some serious damage to Chip Kelly's Oregon teams in 2011 and 2012, with a combined 20 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

UCLA offensive guard Xavier Su'a-Filo is tagged for former USC coach Pete Carroll and the Super Bowl champion Seahawks at No. 32.

Seven players from the Pac-12 were projected to go in the second round, and a notable running back from the conference is on the board after the first two rounds.

Reviewing the Pac-12 pro days

April, 3, 2014
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Washington was the final Pac-12 school to host its pro day Wednesday, essentially putting an end to 40-yard-dash season. Here is a look at some of the conference's top prospects and a few others who helped their cause over the past month.

Arizona (March 6)
Big name: RB Ka'Deem Carey. After getting clocked at 4.70 in the 40 at the combine, Carey's pro day was a bit more intriguing than some of the other big-name players. There was some improvement -- various reports had him in the high 4.6-range -- but it wasn't enough to change the book on him. Still, Carey's production should make up for his perceived shortcomings.
Sleeper: OLB Marquis Flowers. Flowers reportedly ran in the 4.4s and had a good showing in position drills.

Arizona State (March 7)
Big name: DT Will Sutton. The Sun Devils' pro day further cemented what scouts learned at the combine, when he turned in below average numbers. There was slight improvement at the pro day, according to several reports, but nothing to save his falling stock.
Sleeper: RB Marion Grice. Grice was invited to the combine, but didn't participate as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late in the season. He also didn't participate at the pro day, but will hold an individual workout for NFL scouts on April 8.

California (March 19)
Big name: DT Deandre Coleman. Coleman only participated in the bench press at the combine, but fared well in field drills on campus with a reported 40 time in the mid 4.9-range. Coleman is projected by most to be a mid-round selection.
Sleeper: RB Brendan Bigelow. Bigelow was perhaps the player with the most to gain at pro day. The book on him has always been that he's loaded with talent and the physical skills necessary to be an impact player. It didn't happen for the Bears before he decided to leave early for a shot at Sunday football. Despite injuring his hamstring midway through his 40, Bigelow still was reported as running in the high 4.4-range with former Cal running backs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best looking on.

Colorado (March 12)
Big name: WR Paul Richardson. There were 24 teams on hand, with Richardson the obvious prize of the nine that worked out. He only participated in the vertical jump, short shuttle and three-cone drills.
Sleeper: LS Ryan Iverson. Iverson will not be drafted, but after four years as the Colorado long snapper he has a chance to make some money at the next level. His 27 reps on the bench press were a team high. All the Colorado results can be viewed here.

Oregon (March 13)
Big name: RB De'Anthony Thomas. Thomas' 4.50 40 time at the combine was among the disappointments for the conference and turned a perceived strength into average attribute. After his showing in Eugene -- a 4.34 40 time -- the world is back on its axis. On his combine performance, Thomas told the Ducks' official website: “I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy’. I feel like that made me train harder and I used it as motivation.”
Sleeper: CB Avery Patterson. Patterson was left puzzled by his own performance after putting up just 10 repetitions in the bench press, but the two-year starter remains focused on making the jump to the next level. He's likely the type of player that will have to earn his way on a team via a training camp invitation and possibly a practice squad.

Oregon State (March 14)
Big name: WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner could have showed up to the Beavers' pro day as a spectator and it likely wouldn't have mattered. His showing at the combine was enough to solidify his stock as a first-round pick. Cooks didn't take part in field drills, but did run routes.
Sleeper: WR Micah Hatfield. Yes, a receiver with 20 career catches helped his cause. One scout told the Oregonian he had Hatfield at 4.33 in the 40 -- the same times Cooks clocked when he was the fastest receiver at the combine.

Stanford (March 20)
Big name: OL David Yankey. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and St. Louis were the only no-shows at Stanford. If the mock drafts are to be trusted, Yankey figures to be the first Stanford player of the board. He improved slightly on the bench press (22 to 25) and clocked the same 40 time (5.48) from the combine.
Sleeper: DE Ben Gardner. Is it fair to call Gardner a sleeper after earning some form of all-Pac-12 recognition the past three years? Probably not, but after not being invited to the NFL combine we'll go ahead and list him here anyways. Gardner benefitted most from the day, quantifying his explosiveness and athleticism with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.

UCLA (March 11)
Big name: OLB Anthony Barr. After running a 4.66 40 at the combine, Barr was clocked at 4.45 to ease any lingering doubt about his straight-line speed. Barr helped his case to become a top-10 pick and will likely be the first player from the Pac-12 selected.
Sleeper: RB Malcolm Jones. The Gatorade national high school player of the year never developed into the player UCLA fans were hoping for, but he's still hanging on to hopes of an NFL career. He was credited with a 4.57 40 at the Bruins' pro day.

USC (March 12)
Big name: WR Marqise Lee. Lee went Jerry Seinfeld and chose not to run, letting his combine performance serve as the final measurement of his ability. After not lifting in Indianapolis, Lee finished with 11 reps in the bench. He's tagged for the first round.
Sleeper: DE Morgan Breslin. Like Gardner, who he has been working out with in San Ramon, Calif., Breslin was a combine snub. He ran a 4.75 40, put up 26 reps on the bench and registered a 35.5-inch vertical jump. Here are the complete results for the 18 players who took part.

Utah (March 19)
Big name: CB Keith McGill. One of the fastest risers since the season has ended, McGill decided to participate in every drill despite a good showing at the combine. His 40 time (4.52) was a hundredth of second slower than what he did at combine, and his vertical leap (35.5) was about four inches less.
Sleeper: FB Karl Williams. The 240-pound former walk-on clocked a 4.5, which will could give him a shot to get in a training camp.

Washington (April 2)
Big name: RB Bishop Sankey. Content with his good showing in Indy, Sankey elected to just run the 60-yard shuttle and catch passes. Most mock drafts have Sankey, who left with a year of eligibility remaining, as the No. 2 running back.
Sleeper: QB Keith Price. There were 19 quarterbacks at the combine, but Price was not one of them, marking the first time since at least 1999 that the conference didn't send a quarterback -- and it could be longer -- we could only find combine rosters dating back that far. Price got good reviews for his performance Wednesday, but it would still be surprising if he gets drafted.

Washington State (March 13)
Big name: S Deone Bucannon. WSU's remote location and limited number of pro prospects resulted in less than a dozen scouts on hand, but those that were there got to see one of the conference's most intriguing prospects. Bucannon just participated in position drills after performing well across the board in Indianapolis.
Sleeper: K Andrew Furney. Furney showed a leg capable of hitting from beyond 60 yards and further established himself as a potential candidate for training camp invitations.
Last week, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay updated their top-10 lists at each position for the upcoming NFL draft.

Here's a look at how the Pac-12 offensive players stack up:

Quarterback

Marcus Mariota might have been taken No. 1 overall if he decided to leave Oregon, but without him the Pac-12 doesn't have any top-10 representation. Washington's Keith Price, who was not invited to the NFL combine, has a big day on Wednesday when the Huskies hold their pro day. Barring a team taking a flyer on him in the draft, Price is probably going to have to take the undrafted route to forge a NFL career.

Running back/fullback

The surprise here is how little both analysts think of Carey, who was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards. Sure, his 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine (4.70) didn't do him any favors, but this feels like a situation where the film isn't speaking as loudly as it does for others.

The love for Thomas was a bit surprising as well, but it's also tough to compare him to the rest of the group because he doesn't project as a true running back in the NFL. His versatility undoubtedly scored him points, but it also should be noted that 10 other running backs clocked faster 40 times at the combine -- including Stanford's Tyler Gaffney. See the whole list here Insider.

Receiver/tight end

Cooks and Lee, a pair of Biletnikoff Award winners, will both expect to hear their name called in the first round. After that, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the pass-catchers fall into place.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOregon State wideout Brandin Cooks could be a first-round pick.
Notably absent is Colorado WR Paul Richardson, who ran a 4.40 40 at the combine and caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Buffaloes. He still figures to have a shot to go in the second-round to third-round range.

McShay lists Lyerla as the pass-catcher with the biggest risk:
Lyerla has some significant behavioral and emotional issues (leaving the Oregon program at midseason in 2013 and being arrested for cocaine possession weeks later) that just aren't worth dealing with, even for the potential reward his talent promises, were he to straighten things out.

See the whole list here Insider.

Offensive line

If they were quarterbacks, Yankey and Su'a-Filo would be forever linked. Widely regarded as two of the best offensive guards in the country, it will be interesting to see who goes off the board first. Su'a-Filo was the players' choice as the best offensive lineman in the conference in 2013, but Yankey was given the honor in 2012.

Martin is one of eight players Kiper and McShay agree is the best player at his position. See the whole list here Insider.
The 2014 NFL draft doesn't kick off until May. That gives us plenty of extra time for speculation and guesswork.

Helping fuel that guesswork are the newest posts from Mel Kiper, who released his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider, and Todd McShay, who posted his updated list Insider of the top 32 NFL prospects.

Three Pac-12 players appear on each list.

UCLA’s Anthony Barr checks in as the highest-projected player from the Pac-12 to be drafted. Kiper has the outside linebacker at No. 11 going to the Tennessee Titans.

Per Kiper:
Barr has seen his stock slip some, but he put together a good pro day, and gives the Titans another pass-rusher aside from Derrick Morgan. In general, drafting the best possible player supersedes need unless the value lines up with need pretty well, but this is a spot where the needs are multiple and I can just see the team taking the best player. Barr can provide an early impact.
Wide receivers Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Marqise Lee (USC) are the other two Pac-12 players projected to be drafted in the first round.

In terms of ranking the prospects, McShay has Lee as the top-ranked player from the Pac-12 at No. 18, followed by Cooks at No. 22 and Barr at No. 23.

Here’s McShay’s take on Lee:
Lee didn't run a great 40 time at the combine (4.52 seconds), but he shows very good speed and explosiveness on tape, and is a big-play weapon after the catch and as a vertical route-runner. He had too many drops in 2013, but showed good ball skills during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

The conference has had at least one player drafted in the first round every year since 1967 -- and it looks like that trend will continue. Since 2000, 55 players from the league have been drafted in the first round.
LOS ANGELES -- With spring football launching Tuesday at USC, one of the focal points of Steve Sarkisian’s staff will be the evaluation of players with the option for position changes, which could include player movement from offense to defense or vice versa.

The amount of player position movement in the spring could also have an impact on the position options of the incoming freshman class. A case in point would be the highly anticipated arrival this summer of enormously skilled defensive back/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra). Jackson, however, might not be the only entering freshman whose position could be decided by what happens this spring.

If you don’t think that correct player evaluation and placement doesn’t make a difference, just look back on the recently concluded career of Devon Kennard, who came to USC as a highly touted defensive end. In his five years at Troy, Kennard seemed to be constantly changing defensive positions and responsibilities.


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Offseason spotlight: USC

February, 28, 2014
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: WR Darreus Rogers , So., 6-2, 210

2013 summary: Rogers caught 22 passes for 257 yards last season.

[+] EnlargeDarreus Rogers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY SportsDarreus Rogers has a good chance this spring to put a stranglehold on the USC No. 2 WR spot.
The skinny: Marqise Lee is gone. So Nelson Agholor will step in as the Trojans' No. 1 receiver in 2014, a post he arguably held last season even with Lee on the team. But who will be No. 2? While many will be watching the QB competition between incumbent starter Cody Kessler and touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, USC really needs someone to decisively step into the No. 2 WR role. Rogers, the leading returning receiver after Agholor, flashed plenty of promise last season as a true freshman. He has good size, hands and play-making ability. Further, there won't be too much competition this spring, with the oft-injured George Farmer coming off a knee injury, as is Steven Mitchell. Both figure to see only limited action. Rogers' chief competition might be the Victor Blackwell, but he caught just four passes last season and has yet to show much. Further, there is pressure on Rogers to step up this spring, because a strong incoming receiver class -- Juju Smith, Rahshead Johnson and Ajene Harris -- will arrive this summer, and those guys surely are eyeballing immediate playing time.

Previous spotlights
As Marqise Lee returns home from the NFL combine, it appears as if his status as a first-round choice in the upcoming draft is secured.

In a draft that features several receivers with projected first-round grades, Lee is settled right behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins in most rankings, and chances are that either Lee or Texas A&M's Mike Evans will be the second receiver taken.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMarqise Lee is likely to be among the first three receivers taken in the draft, but will he be able to buck a recent USC trend and reach elite status in the NFL?
Once Lee is drafted, the next step will be to translate his impressive athletic gifts into success at the NFL level. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Lee was one of the more dynamic playmakers in college football in the past three seasons, with a Biletnikoff Award and a slew of USC records on his resume.

In order for Lee to make it big in the pros, however, he will need to buck one of the more mysterious trends from USC football in recent years -- the inability of Trojans receivers to really shine in the NFL.

It’s not as if there has been a lack of talent at the position over the last decade. Players such as Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert all put up huge numbers while wearing cardinal and gold but, for various reasons, never saw that production continue once they moved into the pro ranks.

Seven of the top 10 pass-catchers in USC football history played in the last decade, but only Robert Woods -- entering his second season with the Buffalo Bills -- is still active in the NFL with a chance to achieve elite success.

It’s not really something that can be easily explained when you consider how successful those players were at USC. Granted, they were also surrounded by quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, running backs like Reggie Bush and offensive linemen such as Ryan Kalil. And most of those receivers were either coached or recruited to USC by Pete Carroll, who is riding high these days as a Super Bowl champion.

When you think back to the dominance of Williams or the excitement of 4th-and-9 from Jarrett, it becomes all the more strange to understand. Steve Smith was on his way to a nice career with the New York Giants before a knee injury really halted him, so that means you have to go back to Keyshawn Johnson -- who played at USC in 1994-95 -- before you really see a USC receiver who put up huge numbers in the NFL. Johnson is ranked No. 29 on the all-time NFL receptions list with 814.

Of course, all of that means little for Lee, or Woods, as both players will stand on their own merits, but it does offer a chance for the oddity to come to an end. USC receivers have had a lot of success over the years, and it would be good for Trojans fans to see their favorite sons continuing that at the next level.

Pac-12 results from the NFL combine

February, 24, 2014
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Raise your hand if you thought Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney would run a faster 40-yard dash than Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas at the NFL combine.

Put your hand down, liar.

Granted, it was still only by a hundredth of a second -- Gaffney ran 4.49 and Thomas 4.50 -- but, still, Thomas built his reputation on speed, while Gaffney's was more on toughness and vision. It ranked as one of the surprise performances among Pac-12 players over the weekend at the NFL combine.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWashington running back Bishop Sankey made a move up draft boards with his performance at the NFL combine.
Sunday proved to be a great day for Washington running back Bishop Sankey, who might have jumped Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey on some draft boards, according to ESPN's John Clayton.

From Clayton's story:
There may not be a running back who could entice a team to use a first-round pick, but the backs who ran Sunday looked great. Bishop Sankey of Washington may have entered the combine as the No. 3 halfback, but his stock probably rose with a 4.49 40 time along with a good show of lifting strength. Tre Mason of Auburn displayed second-round numbers with his 4.5. Both backs might have jumped ahead of Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, who had a 4.70.

Sankey ranked No. 2 among running backs with 26 reps on the bench press and his 40-time was tied for No. 9.

Another one of the weekend's big winners was Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, who turned in the fastest 40 among receivers. His time of 4.33 was second to only to Kent State running back Dri Archer, who ran a 4.26.

Cooks, who set Pac-12 single-season records with 128 catches and 1,730 receiving yards this year, also turned in the fastest time registered in the 60-yard shuttle (10.72) at the combine since at least 2006. During that same time period, he's tied for the fastest time in the 20-yard shuttle (3.81) with Tennessee cornerback Jason Allen from 2006.

Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the John Mackey Award winner, has a stress fracture in his foot that is expected to need six to eight weeks to recover, according to a report from the Tacoma News Tribune. Due to the injury, Seferian-Jenkins was able to participate only in the bench press. He put up 20 reps, which ranked tied for No. 10 among the 15 tight ends who participated.

See the complete list of Pac-12 invitees.

Here are the Saturday and Sunday results from the Pac-12 players in the 40 and bench press:

Running back

Gaffney, Stanford: 4.49/did not lift
Sankey, Washington: 4.49/26 reps
Thomas, Oregon: 4.50/8 reps
Carey, Arizona: 4.70/19 reps
Silas Redd, USC: 4.70/18 reps
Ryan Hewitt, Stanford (fullback): 4.87/did not lift
Marion Grice, Arizona State: Did not participate
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (transferred from Oregon): 4.51/15 reps

Wide receiver

Cooks, Oregon State: 4.33/16 reps
Paul Richardson, Colorado: 4.40/did not lift
Shaquelle Evans, UCLA: 4.51/13 reps
Josh Huff, Oregon: 4.51/14 reps
Marqise Lee, USC: 4.52/did not lift

Offensive line

Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA: 5.04/25 reps
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford: 5.28/26 reps
David Yankey, OG, Stanford: 5.48/22 reps
Marcus Martin, C, USC: did not run/23 reps

Tight end

Colt Lyerla, formerly of Oregon: 4.61/16 reps
Anthony Denham, Utah: 4.77/did not lift
Jake Murphy, Utah: 4.79/24 reps
Richard Rodgers, TE, California: 4.87/16 reps
Seferian-Jenkins, Washington: did not run/20 reps
Xavier Grimble, USC: did not run or lift

Quarterback

No Pac-12 quarterbacks are at the combine, which is a rarity. The conference has sent at least one every year since at least 1999, which was as far back as we could go to find combine rosters.
Former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee went through on-field drills and testing on Sunday at the NFL scouting combine with an eye on solidifying his position as a projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

Lee came into the day ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver Insider by Mel Kiper Jr., and there was a lot of interest in his 40-yard dash time to judge the status of his left knee injury. which hampered him during the 2013 season. Lee came away with an official time of 4.52, which should not hurt his draft stock. It wasn’t one of the top 10 times for the wide receiver position. but it is fast enough when combined with Lee’s other athletic gifts.

Lee -- who measured in at 5-foot-11 ¾ and 192 pounds -- also had a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 7-inch broad jump (both marks were among the top 10 at his position). He also looked fluid and loose during the pass-catching drills. Lee showed good hands -- including one solid sideline catch where he was able to make the grab and turn up field -- and he responded well to coming up limping after going down on one deep ball.

In their ESPN.com mock drafts, Todd McShay has Lee going to the St. Louis Rams with the No. 13 pick Insider while Kiper has him being picked in the No. 18 spot Insider by the New York Jets.
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine gets underway this week in Indianapolis, and there will be seven Trojans in attendance to perform in front of league coaches, scouts and personnel men.

Here’s an alphabetical look at the former USC players and where they stand heading into the combine:

S Dion Bailey: The combine probably isn’t going to do much to drastically alter Bailey’s draft status one way or the other. He’s not going to grow and he’s not going to wow with his speed, but one area in which he can look to impress is with his pass-coverage skills. Bailey is viewed as a “tweener” by NFL standards, stuck between ideal measurables at safety and linebacker. The good news for Dion is that he played both at USC, and he produced at both spots as well. That always looks good on the resume. He could also be the kind of guy who shines on special teams. Mel Kiper from ESPN currently ranks him as the No. 5 safety, a very good showing that could translate to a mid-round draft status once teams factor in the intangibles he brings.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonWR Marqise Lee is the marquee name among the Trojans at the NFL combine.
TE Xavier Grimble: Grimble is a guy who can use the combine to benefit his draft status because the reality for him is he has a long way to go in the eyes of the scouts. His move to declare early was met with raised eyebrows by NFL folks who view his USC career as somewhat underachieving. Right now he isn’t listed by Kiper as a top-10 tight end. Injuries and scheme had something to do with that perceived underachievement. Now is the time for Grimble to begin proving he is ready for the next level. The measurables are there, and the good news for him is that USC tight ends have a recent history of sticking with teams (Fred Davis, Anthony McCoy, Jordan Cameron, David Ausberry, Rhett Ellison, etc).

LB Devon Kennard: It’s interesting to see that there isn’t a lot of buzz about Kennard heading into the draft process. You would think Kennard would be someone that would fit the type of player every team would be looking for -- a solid citizen and dependable player who is coming off a senior season in which he was named a finalist for the Lott Trophy. Kennard is also the son of a former NFL player. His time at USC was filled with position changes and a critical injury that could have derailed him, but instead he responded by coming back stronger than ever. Look for Kennard to get more teams taking notice at the combine, on his way to a long and successful NFL career.

WR Marqise Lee: Lee could end up being one of the more high-profile players at the combine with a lot of anticipation to see how he compares with some of the other top wideouts. It’s a very good year at the position, and Lee can stake his claim at the head of the group. One area to watch will be the 40-yard dash. Lee is known for being fast, but he can really open some eyes if he puts up a low number. Right now Kiper has him as the No. 2 wide receiver, and both Kiper (No. 18 to the Jets) and Todd McShay (No. 13 to the Rams) have him going in the first round.

OL Marcus Martin: Martin has seen his stock rise since declaring for the draft. Kiper currently ranks him No. 1 at the center position. That’s impressive for a player who has played only one year at the position after starting for his first two years at USC at left guard. That versatility definitely helps him in the eyes of NFL scouts, as does the fact he stepped into the starting lineup three games into his true freshman season and never left. The combine will be the first opportunity for Martin to show his athleticism and strength against the other center prospects while likely securing a mid-round draft projection.

TB Silas Redd: The combine setting isn’t going to show the real value of a player like Redd. Sure, it will be nice to test him in shorts and T-shirts in the 40, but you aren’t going to see what Redd brings to a team until you put on the pads and ask him to run the football. That’s when you’ll find an extremely tough guy who knows how to pound the rock. In the meantime, Silas will interview well, teams will test his knee to make sure it is sound, and he will hope for a late-round selection.

DL George Uko: Outside of Grimble, Uko is the USC player with the most to gain from the combine. Uko had flashes of good play in his career but not nearly enough to warrant an early to mid-round selection at this point. The good news for Uko, however, is that there are only a certain amount of men with the combination of size and ability to play on the defensive line, and he is one of them. The combine will offer him a chance to do something special to start moving up the defensive line depth chart because, as of right now, Uko does not crack Kiper's top 10 at the position.

Mailbag: Saban's evil plot

February, 14, 2014
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Greetings. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the notes!

Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: What are your thoughts on the proposed new 10-second defensive substitution window rules, or what I'm calling "The Oregon Rule." Please explain to me how teams with smaller, faster players can ever expect to beat teams with bigger, stronger players if speed is not a viable weapon. I feel like I'm watching Nick Saban tell Chip Kelly to get off of his lawn in slow motion. Please make it stop. Football needs FEWER esoteric rules instead of more.

[+] EnlargeSaban
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban would not win any popularity contests on the West Coast.
0006shy from Los Angeles writes: I just saw the proposed rule change to punish hurry-up offenses. What a joke! What an absolute joke! If the NCAA truly cares about player safety then they should ban games against FCS teams (USC, UCLA and Notre Dame have NEVER played an FCS team.) Nick Saban's five-star athletes pounding Chattanooga players for 60 minutes creates far more serious injuries than a no-huddle offense ever will.

John from Eugene, Ore., writes: Please, reassure us Pac-12 fans that this ridiculous rule change intended to slow down uptempo offenses is not going to pass. Please tell me that just because the rest of the football world seems to worship the ground Nick Saban walks on, that doesn't mean that the NCAA will pass rules that give him exactly what he's whining for? I can't imagine I'm the only person writing in on this. There's no way this proposed change is actually made, is there?

Ted Miller: Don't forget Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. He's as much behind this as Saban.

Further, yes, it is notable that the sudden concern for player safety comes from coaches who don't run uptempo attacks and have been gashed by them over the past few seasons. Hmm.

And, yes, their motives are, at best, 97.6 percent disingenuous. Bielema and Saban, a fantastic football coach who reportedly once ignored and stepped over a convulsing player, and others who support this proposed rule change, are doing so to gain a strategic advantage. Pure and simple.

The diversity of schemes in college football is one of the biggest reasons the sport is so popular. I can tell you without any doubt whatsoever that the sport would not be as popular -- probably not nearly so -- if everyone ran Alabama's or, yes, Stanford's offense.

A fast-paced game not only is fan-friendly, it -- as Haggmeez notes -- gives teams that rely on smaller, faster players a better chance to compete with teams with a gaggle of five-star recruits with NFL measurables.

As uptempo coaches such as Arizona's Rich Rodriguez have noted, if you really are concerned about player safety, make blitzing illegal. That would reduce the number of blow-up shots during game by 30 percent, a number that was arrived at with just as much science as went into this effort to thwart uptempo offenses.

Do I think it will pass? No.

But the NCAA is involved. It's presence tends to inspire stupid and/or disingenuous things to happen.


Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Very happy to see that my top 25 list ran this past week (for the second year in a row, might I add). Obviously, since I kept all the same players on my list as the official Pac-12 Top 25, I didn't have any major problems with it. My question is in regard to the logic behind the order of some of the choices. In your response to my list, you mentioned that most people would probably pick Marcus Mariota first if holding a conference draft, and I tend to agree with that. But in that same scenario, someone like Marqise Lee would certainly be among the top 10 picks too, and I don't think he belongs in the top 25 for this past season. Later, you continue to assert that Will Sutton belongs ahead of Leonard Williams, even though (I assume) you and Kevin were responsible for Williams being named an ESPN first-team All-American. I guess my question is, when does production/accolades overshadow potential/other intangibles (like positional value), and when is it the other way around?

Ted Miller: Don't expect perfect logic. There are a variety of considerations -- many subjective -- that go into our weekly power rankings of teams, as well as our top-25 ranking of players.

It's a blend of factors such as postseason accolades, statistics, NFL prospects, positional value and a player's pure value to his team. Kevin doesn't consider NFL prospects as much as I do, though I think of that consideration as more of my mental draft picking -- as in, who would I pick first? -- when making a tough distinction.

That was my thinking for Mariota over Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey. You could argue that Carey was more accomplished in 2013, but I'd still say that Mariota's numbers plus his overall value, which is augmented by his playing the most important position, give him the edge.

You noted Marqise Lee. Good question. Lee, in terms of talent and potential, certainly is among the top 25 players in the Pac-12. Probably top 10. But you have to take into account what he actually did this season. His numbers, in large part due to poor QB play and injuries, were not very good. So his down numbers get prioritized over his talent, knocking him off this list.

In some ways, my "draft" idea also overlaps with production -- what a guy actually did that past season. And poor production mutes pure talent factors. See also, Thomas, De'Anthony.

Similar reasoning, by the way, also cost Stanford DE Ben Gardner. The coaches still gave him a first-team All-Pac-12 nod, despite his missing the season's final six games because of injury, but we pretty much ruled him out because of that. Not his fault, but that still seems reasonable to me.

As for Sutton and Williams, most would project Williams having a higher NFL upside. He also had slightly better numbers than Sutton this year, though Williams was a defensive end and Sutton a tackle. Yet what kicked Sutton up a notch was the simple fact he -- again -- was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. That was slightly surprising, but it also was something that validated the idea that Sutton's numbers were down from 2012 because of blocking schemes that were obsessed with him, an invaluable benefit for a defense.

Are we always 100 percent consistent? No. But we do try.


Jonathan from New York writes: With respect to your concerns about Stanford being able to replace Tyler Gaffney's productivity at the running back position, I wonder if you had any insight into whether Barry Sanders has the potential to have a 1,500-yard season. It's true that Coach Shaw didn't give him enough carries this year to come to any conclusions, and even on the punt return unit he mostly had fair catches. But I don't know whether Sanders had such little playing time because Gaffney was just so dependable and successful, or whether it was because Sanders was not showing much potential in practice. Perhaps you don't know any more than I do, but I'd be curious for your take if you have any thoughts.

Ted Miller: My guess is Stanford won't have a back gain 1,500 yards next year. My guess is it will be more of a committee effort. I also think the Cardinal still will run the ball well, just not in the Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney one-workhorse way.

Of course, in advance of the 2014 season, I expected it to be 60-40 between Gaffney and backup Anthony Wilkerson. Gaffney just played too well to take him out.

As for Sanders, I really have no feeling for how things will play out for him next fall. While it's fun to imagine him being a clone of his father, perhaps the most thrilling ball-carrier in NFL history, it's probably unfair to expect him also to have once-in-a-generation talent.

Sanders will be competing with Remound Wright and Ricky Seale for carries, and I've heard little that suggests one is leaps and bounds superior to the other. They seem to have complementary skill sets, so that suggests they each get touches. As the season progresses, one would expect a more clear pecking order to develop.

This, by the way, is a good review of where the Cardinal stands at running back heading into spring practices.


Mitty from Saint Joe, Calif., writes: Which Pac-12 fan base do you most like to target with passive-aggressive shots? I've only noticed one. Kevin will get the same question because he targets the same fan base.

Ted Miller: Passive-aggressive? Moi?

I've always thought of myself as aggressive-aggressive, though my fuse, thankfully, has grown longer in my fourth decade.

Kevin and I, on occasion, discuss tweaks, insults and rants directed at us in the comment sections or elsewhere, but it takes up less of our time than you might think. We don't hold grudges. We really do try our best to remain as objective and fair as possible with all 12 teams. I've never heard anything from an official representative of a school -- coach, AD, sports information director, etc. -- suggesting we were being unfair or favoring or disfavoring a program. That's a fact we take a lot of pride in.

What I have noticed is that fans of teams that aren't doing well tend to think we are unfair to their team, whether that's about win-loss record or recruiting. The inescapable fact is teams that are winning get more coverage, just as teams that sign highly ranked recruits get more attention on national signing day.

Of course, more coverage for a team probably means more of their fans are showing up on the blog, and fans come in all forms. There clearly has been an "Oregon Effect" since the blog started in 2008. Ducks fans, by my unscientific estimates, seem to be the most active here, expressing both love and hate for your gentle bloggers.

But mostly love. Because it's impossible not to, in the end, love the Pac-12 blog.


GoCougs from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Kevin forgot about one Pac-12 alum's participation in the Super Bowl. Please pass on the love for Steve Gleason.

Ted Miller: Great stuff.

Gleason is an inspiration. An all-time great.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both released their second mock drafts and the duo is in agreement that the Pac-12 should have three first-round selections.

UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is projected at No. 6 (Kiper) to Atlanta and No. 11 (McShay) to Tennessee.

On why he has Barr out of the top 10, McShay wrote:
I've been a little underwhelmed by what I've seen from him on tape so far, which is why I have him sliding a bit, but I still have more to study and he's a naturally gifted player with a unique combination of athleticism and size.

McShay is higher on USC receiver Marqise Lee (No. 13 to St. Louis) and Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks (No. 18 to the Jets) than Kiper, who has Lee to the Jets at No. 18 and Cooks to the Panthers at No. 28.

The only major Pac-12 related change from Kiper is that he no longer forecasts Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton going in the first round.

For Kiper's draft click here Insider; and for McShay's click here. Insider

Mailbag: SOS and top-25 grousing

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
5:30
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Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

By the way, we will be reviewing the top-25 list on Monday, explaining some of our thinking, and looking ahead.

So stay tuned! To the notes!

RidingTheRange from Dallas writes: Thanks for your Top 25 list! I enjoy this every year. However, with Top 25 lists, they always encourage witty banter. And here's my suggestion: Where is Ty Montgomery? If memory serves me correct, the KR/PR from Utah was rated last year. Montgomery was a much more integral part of the Stanford offense (though the offense as a whole was not particularly potent). Any word on where he would actually fall or if there was any debate between the Pac-12 bloggers?

Ted Miller: I suspect the list last year will be more controversial than this year's. Kevin fired off a first draft to me and Kyle a few weeks ago, and that list stuck pretty well with minimal changes. We also knew the handful of players who would be tops among the "HOW CAN YOU LEAVE OFF [PLAYER X]? YOU HAVE LOST ALL CREDIBILITY!"

Utah's Reggie Dunn ended up at No. 25 last year because he returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, which had never been done before. Yes, it was controversial. To me, the worst omission from the list was Desmond Trufant, and we not unfairly took a lot of crud for it. Kevin felt more strongly about Dunn than I did, but I'd also say that setting an NCAA record is pretty darn shiny on a résumé.

Montgomery returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2013 and was the Cardinal's leading receiver, ranking ninth in the Pac-12. You could make a case for him.

But here's what I typically say to folks making the case for another player: Who do you take off our top-25 to make room for Montgomery?

Here's the bottom six:

No. 20: Trevor Reilly, DE/OLB, Utah
No. 21: Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No. 22: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 23: Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
No. 24: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
No. 25: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

That's a pretty strong group to break into.


Bobby from Phoenix writes: Carl Bradford not in the top 25? You guys were very generous to put in Sutton, Grice and Kelly, but I can't imagine a list without Bradford! Rabble rabble rabble!

Ted Miller: Bradford was one of the top guys who got left out, along with several All-Pac-12 defenders, such as Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, USC LBs Devon Kennard and Hayes Pullard, etc.

I'm surprised more Washington fans aren't griping about leaving out Kikaha, who finished second in the Pac-12 with 13 sacks. We rated him higher than Bradford, who had 8.5 sacks, and I personally found leaving him out one of our toughest calls, in large part because he came back from two knee surgeries this season.

Bradford had a good, but not great, season. In fact, I'm not sure he'd rank better than fifth on the Sun Devils defense this season, behind DT Will Sutton, DB Alden Darby, CB Robert Nelson and LB Chris Young.

Further, with all that talent, I do question why the Sun Devils' defense wasn't better, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 in yards per play -- 5.5 -- and seventh in scoring (26.6 ppg).


Spencer from Orem, Utah, writes: I would argue that Anthony Barr is better than Ka'Deem Carey. I would be interested on your thoughts on why you disagree.

Ted Miller: You could argue that. I'm sure many folks are guessing that Barr is headed to a better NFL career as a perennial All-Pro.

NFL prospects factor more in my judgments than they do with Kevin. To me, it's a safeguard against getting too googly-eyed about statistics. That said, what separates Carey are his numbers. To quote our review:
"[Carey] ranked second in the nation with 157.1 yards per game. He completed his career by topping 100 yards in 16 consecutive games, a Pac-12 record and a streak that hasn't been accomplished by any other back in a decade. He is Arizona’s career rushing leader (4,232 yards) and ranks seventh in Pac-12 history."

Barr had a great season and earned consensus All-American honors, just like Carey. But his best football is in front of him. His numbers -- 10 sacks (No. 3 in the conference) and 20 tackles for a loss (No. 2) -- were good, but not epically good, like Carey's.

Further, I think UCLA's defense wouldn't have collapsed without Barr. If you took Carey away from Arizona, the Wildcats would have lost at least a touchdown from their scoring average of 33.5 and wouldn't have sniffed bowl eligibility.

So that's the distinction.


Undeniable Stanford Homer from East "of" Palo Alto writes: My question is about the top 25 players list for this past season. I understand the issues with rankings vs. grades is same reason why people do rankings over grades -- you get to say 1 player is "better" then another player because of their standing in the rankings. As we all know, the top 10 players are all All-Pac-12 performers, but by ranking them you infer that one is better than the other, causing intrigue and argument (which is both good and bad). What I am wondering is when you compile this list, how do you have eight players better than David Yankey, and five players ahead of Trent Murphy. The former was the best player on the best team on the best unit in the Pac-12 (hard to argue unit but this question is too long for my explanation already, and hard to argue with Morris but he already had one) and the latter is the best defensive player (depends on if you look at qualitative data, the DPOY by coaches vs. quantitative data, statistics). I know you have reasons why you chose players over these two outstanding athletes but i just would like to hear them.

Ted Miller: We rated Yankey at No. 8 as the Pac-12's top offensive lineman, despite his playing guard and not tackle. I don't think guards would make the top 10 many years. But Yankey, a unanimous All-American, is a beast.

That said ... I'm not sure he's better than UCLA OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, who won the the Morris Trophy over Yankey, an award voted on by opposing defensive players. Yankey got more All-American love, but Su'a-Filo, who ranked 12th, was just as beastly. It will be interesting to see who ends up better in the NFL.

So who do you drop from our top seven in order to boost Yankey? That's a pretty salty group.

Murphy is the most interesting case. The Pac-12 blog named Murphy the conference Defensive Player of the Year after the coaches went with Sutton. Why? Murphy ranked second in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with 15 sacks and fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with 23.5 tackles for a loss.

Like Carey, his numbers speak for themselves, as well as his being the best player on the conference's best defense.

So how did he end up rating behind Barr at No. 3? And how do I type this without immediately contradicting my explanation for putting Carey ahead of Barr (epic numbers!)?

We have debated this before, and I've had what some might call controversial takes. I ranked Matt Barkley and Matt Scott higher in 2012 than many might have in large part based on the notion of, "If you were drafting Pac-12 players for your team, what would be the selection order?"

That's not specifically about NFL prospects. It's about who you subjectively view as being the best college player.

While I think Murphy was the most accomplished defensive player in the Pac-12 this year, I also think Barr was the best defensive player. If I were drafting Pac-12 players for the Ted Miller Super Awesome squad, I'd pick Barr before Murphy.

But would I pick Barr before Carey? I'd rate that a toss-up. Ergo, I fall back to Carey's numbers for our ranking order.


Paul from Boise, Idaho, writes: I'm willing to bet nobody would have guessed that at the end of the year, both Marqise Lee and De'Anthony Thomas would be left out of the illustrious Pac-12 postseason top 25. It seems every season a team or a top-tier player plays subpar, either because of injury or an underperforming team. Would the blog care to take a gamble and bet on somebody next year that is in danger of underperforming?

Ted Miller: Injuries are the biggest reason neither Lee nor Thomas made the Top 25, though Thomas was pretty underwhelming much of the year.

There's no way I'd speculate on who might get hurt next fall. That's sort of morbid.

Further, only eight guys will be back next season: 1. Marcus Mariota; 8. Brett Hundley; 10. Leonard Williams; 14. Taylor Kelly; 15. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu; 21. Sean Mannion; 23. Hroniss Grasu; 25. Myles Jack.

Of that list, the most challenged will be Mannion because he loses No. 4 Brandin Cooks.

I expect Mannion's passing numbers to go down in any event because I suspect coach Mike Riley will work a lot harder to be more balanced next fall. The key for Mannion is being more efficient and avoiding the mistakes that littered his season's second half.


Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: Here we are, just one week before national signing day and the Pac-12 has a whopping 35 combined commits in the ESPN 300. By contrast, Alabama and LSU have a combined 32 ESPN 300 commits just between the two of them (not including the JC 50). I'm not usually one to buy into recruiting rankings at face value, but the disparity is fairly staggering. Do you think that the Pac-12 is going to be able to continue to keep up with the amount of raw physical talent that is being basically channelled into these southern power programs?

Ted Miller: Yes.


Jack from La Quinta, Calif., writes: Ted and Kevin, many thanks for your work in keeping the Pac-12 Blog current and interesting. However, I am still smarting over your season grade of B-plus for Stanford. Stanford won its division, won the Pac-12 championship and was only defeated by four points in the Rose Bowl by the third-ranked team in the country -- certainly no blowout. But they only deserve a B-plus. I think you place too much emphasis on the postseason -- bowl games, a national championship and ranking the Pac-12 against other conferences. The road to a Pac-12 championship should be your primary emphasis. The rest is gravy. Many Oregon players started looking too far ahead, to a national championship instead of next Saturday's game. Look where they ended up. The Rose Bowl on 1/1/14 was not a worthy goal for Oregon. Your thinking plays a part in influencing players, coaches and fans and your current emphasis is not in the best interest of the sport. I certainly would not give Stanford a solid A for their work. They lost two games on their way to the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl. But, this is no less than an A-minus performance -- unless winning the Pac-12 conference championship is no big deal and is only a stepping stone to more worthy goals.

Ted Miller: Is this an example of the grade inflation at Stanford that Cal fans are always telling me about?

You meet expectations, you get a B. You want an A? Exceed expectations.

Stanford has become an elite team -- a Pac-12 and national title contender. It's not graded the same as most other teams. It has a smaller margin for error. 11-3 is a good, but not great, season on The Farm these days. That should feel like good news, by the way.

Stanford and Oregon were co-favorites to win the Pac-12. Both Kevin and I picked Stanford to win the Pac-12. By winning the Pac-12, the Cardinal therefore met expectations. If the Cardinal had won the Rose Bowl, they would have received an A-minus.

What are the knocks on Stanford's season?

It lost to two teams it was better than: Utah and USC. And, in a toss-up matchup with Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, it got solidly beaten.

Good, but not great.

No Pac-12 team received an A this year. An "A" for Stanford and Oregon would have been a final top-five ranking and a BCS bowl win. An "A" for, say, Washington State, would have been eight wins, including the Apple Cup, and a bowl victory.

Just like Stanford, Arizona State also got a B-plus, the highest grade any Pac-12 team received from us this year. If the Sun Devils had won their bowl game, they would have received an A-minus. UCLA also got a B-plus. If it had won the South Division and its bowl game, it would have received an A-minus.

The Pac-12 blog doesn't believe in grade inflation. It is a demanding taskmaster. It believes in high standards.

And awesomeness.


UCLA Fan from Federal Way, Wash., writes: I was just wondering why I haven't seen anyone talk about how after it was all said and done, the four hardest schedules of the year belonged to Pac-12 teams. Including those four, eight Pac-12 teams were ranked in the top 13 for strength of schedule. There was only one SEC team in the top 13. I haven't heard anyone talk about this, and would like to hear your opinion about what this says about the SEC vs. Pac-12 discussion, among other things.

Ted Miller: It shows that the Pac-12 was the deepest conference, top to bottom, in the nation. Not sure anybody really disagrees with that. Further, in a year when the Pac-12 did well overall, it means the nine-game conference schedule significantly boosted strength-of-schedule measures.

If this continues to be a pattern going forward, the Pac-12 should do well in the eyes of the selection committee for the four-team college football playoff, which has said it will put an emphasis on strength of schedule.
Every season in college football there are previously unproven players who rise up to play major roles for their teams. For the Trojans in 2014, here are five players who will be looking to make their mark in a USC uniform for the first time:

1. DL Delvon Simmons: This 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech could have an immediate opportunity to step into the starting lineup to replace George Uko. Simmons started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and has 40 career tackles under his belt, along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At the very least, he is expected to be a key part of the interior D-line rotation next fall.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCan highly-recruited wideout George Farmer star for the Trojans in 2014?
2. S Gerald Bowman: There was a lot of hype surrounding Bowman when he transferred in as a highly-ranked junior college prospect but academic delays and injuries have prevented him from making an impact . There isn’t a ton of depth at the safety spot so Bowman will have the chance to get immediate playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that forced a redshirt year in 2013.

3. OL Jordan Simmons: It has been a rocky road for Simmons at USC. His freshman year started with knee surgery prior to the season but he came back in the second half of the season and was named offensive service team player of the year. Simmons was showing promise last fall as a road-grading guard until he hurt his knee trying to catch a pass before a practice and will be sidelined for spring.

4. WR George Farmer: It seems like forever since Farmer came to USC as the top-ranked receiver in the country. It has been so long that his high school teammates -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- have already wrapped up their college careers and will be playing in the NFL next year. Farmer, meanwhile, will be hoping that his knee rehab goes well enough to allow him back on the field to regain the momentum he was showing last spring before suffering the injury.

5. RB D.J. Morgan: Another player who has battled knee injuries, Morgan has two career starts under his belt with 364 yards on 83 carries and one touchdown. There is a clean slate waiting for Morgan when he returns -- Morgan had fallen in Lane Kiffin’s doghouse for fumbling -- but there is also a deep and talented stable of backs to compete with for carries. The one thing Morgan brings to the table is speed and if he is healthy enough to offer that he will have a chance to crack the rotation.

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