Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #3 USC Trojans

USC Logo 2Nineteen wins in the last two seasons is a great accomplishment at a lot of programs but not at the University of Southern California where expectations are always through the roof. The Trojans will be almost back to full strength scholarship-wise in 2015 and with 14 starters returning are poised to make a run at the Pac-12 South Division crown as well as a conference championship for the first time since 2008. The Trojans have been on the negative side of the press clippings in recent weeks after Head Coach Steve Sarkisian was intoxicated at a school function. It’s never a good thing to have a distraction like that to begin a season but if any team is equipped to deal with outside distractions, it’s one in Los Angeles.

USC Senior Quarterback Cody Kessler
USC Senior Quarterback Cody Kessler

The unquestioned leader on offense is senior quarterback Cody Kessler who had an amazing but quiet junior season in which he threw for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. The only knock against Kessler in 2014 was that he didn’t perform as well in the big games but just about every big game was on the road so he’ll have to improve on that. In the backfield with Kessler, junior Justin Davis will handle the tailback duties who will be recovering from an Achilles injury in 2014 and he’ll also be backed up by senior Tre Madden and Ronald Jones. Out wide USC will have some very talented but inexperienced receivers all except for John ‘Juju’ Smith who as a true freshman last season caught 54 passes for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns. He took a backseat to Nelson Agholor last season but he will be the prime target for Kessler in 2015. The strength of the Trojan offense will be the offensive line which returns all five starters from last season. Anchored by senior center Max Tuerk, the offensive line will need to improve on the 32 sacks it allowed last season when they were mostly first year starters. This season they will all be returning starters and will be protecting a potential Heisman candidate at quarterback. If the Trojans can stay healthy, they could be one of the best offenses in the country.

USC Senior Defensive Lineman Antwaun Woods
USC Senior Defensive Lineman Antwaun Woods

On defense, the Trojans lose four of their top six tacklers from a year ago but literally return everyone else on that list including seven starters. Up front, senior defensive lineman Antwaun Woods looks to be a terror in the middle along with fellow 300-pounder Delvon Simmons but they will be flanked at defensive end by two new starters. Senior Claude Pelon, a physical freak of nature at 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, and junior Jabari Ruffin will be the two new defensive ends. Two seniors and a junior will comprise the linebacking corps with two of them returning as starters. Senior Anthony Sarao is the returning team leader in tackles with 74 and will need to be the leader on the defensive side of the ball. Junior Su’a Cravens is right behind Sarao with 68 tackles and will cover the strong side of the defense. The defensive backfield will get put to the test in 2015 as the conference is extremely pass happy these days but USC will be in good hands with three returning starters who will be looking to get their passing yards per game allowed down from the nearly 300 yards they allowed last season. Senior Kevon Seymour will lead the group from his corner back position and on his other side will be sophomore Adoree’ Jackson who is primed and ready for a breakout season as a defensive back and return man. The Trojan defense will be good again in 2014 and won’t need to be that good given the offense will be productive but if they can get pressure on the quarterback like they did last season (33 sacks) and defend the pass also, they’ll be the best in the conference.

USC Trojans Head Coach Steve Sarkisian
USC Trojans Head Coach Steve Sarkisian

The Trojans open the season with three straight home games against the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the first meeting between the two, Idaho who USC is 8-0 all-time against and Stanford who the Trojans have beaten in the last two meetings. The Cardinal have been a dark horse pick for many to win the Pac-12 and will the first part of a two game early test for the Trojans. The month of September ends in what I think will eventually decide the Pac-12 South when USC travels down to Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. October begins with a bye week before a home game against Washington on a Thursday night then a big road game in South Bend against the resurgent Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Up next is the Utah Utes followed by the Cal Bears who are both expected to be much improved from last season and both gave the Trojans fits last season and Utah actually beat USC. The first game in November is the reigning South division champ Arizona Wildcats who will be looking to avenge their two point loss to the Trojans where the Wildcats made a late charge but fell just short 28-26. It’s back on the road for two straight games against the Colorado Buffaloes on Friday night followed by the much anticipated road trip to Eugene against the reigning conference champion Oregon Ducks. The last time USC traveled to Autzen Stadium, they walked away with an upset win over the then-number 4 ranked Ducks 38-35. The season ends in the coliseum against cross town rival UCLA who the Trojans are looking to snap a three game losing streak against.

The USC Trojans are one of those programs who just make college football better when they are good and in 2015, they have an opportunity to be as good as anyone in the country. I would put their starting eleven up against just about any other starting eleven in the country but where USC’s weakness lies is in the two and three deep depth chart. One of the byproducts of the NCAA sanctions from a few years ago is that their backups are typically a pretty significant step down in talent from the starter. USC is a very good football team who can’t afford any major injuries but if they stay healthy, you’ll be hearing ‘Fight On’ a whole lot more than the last few seasons.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Capacity: 93,607
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – Capacity: 93,607

2015 USC Trojans Schedule

Sept 5th            Arkansas State
Sept 12th          Idaho
Sept 19th          (21) Stanford
Sept 26th         at (15) Arizona State
Oct 3rd             BYE WEEK
Oct 8th             Washington (Thurs)
Oct 17th            at (11) Notre Dame
Oct 24th           Utah
Oct 31st            at California
Nov 7th            (22) Arizona
Nov 14th          at Colorado (Fri)
Nov 21st           at (7) Oregon
Nov 28th         (13) UCLA

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