What to watch for: USC spring scrimmage
What a difference a year makes. The last time USC was wrapping up spring practices, the Trojans were destined to become preseason No. 1 in the polls. Now Lane Kiffin and company hope to rebound and rebuild.
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USC's spring scrimmage gets under way at the Coliseum on Saturday at 1 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Los Angeles, with live look-ins throughout the game on the Pac-12 Network. There's no Matt Barkley or T.J. McDonald around to help guide the Trojans through their latest rough patch, so a return to national prominence rides on new team leaders. Here are several story lines to watch for:
Will Max Browne make it a three-man quarterback race?
Life after Barkley began in earnest last season when Max Wittek took over for two games as the starter. Wittek showed flashes in the Notre Dame game with his cannon of an arm, but also produced a disastrous Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech. As a result there's not a ton of separation between Wittek and the other two challengers for the signal-caller job in Cody Kessler and Max Browne.
Kessler has been impressive this spring so far and has taken advantage of additional reps while Wittek sat out with a minor injury that caused him to miss a few practices. Plenty of eyes will be on Browne too. The USA Today National Offensive High School Player of the Year, Browne enrolled early hoping to do just what Barkley did four years ago and get a jump on winning the job. He's picked up the playbook fairly well and has a very good arm along with great anticipation.
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Offensive line shuffling
One sure way to help a young quarterback is to provide solid protection up front. That may not be the case at the outset for USC as several injuries have led to some shuffling, but the Trojans' coaching staff is hopeful for what the group can become. There are some fresh faces in the mix and a few familiar ones in new spots, such as former tackle Max Tuerk and Marcus Martin getting reps at center. John Martinez and Kevin Graf pretty much have the right side on lockdown, while the left tackle spot is Aundrey Walker's to lose. Saturday's scrimmage will be more about individual play than the overall unit as the Trojans' coaching staff sorts out who fits where.
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Last season USC, which invented "Student Body Left" and "Student Body Right," gave up more rushing yards than it rushed for. Coaching changes on both sides of the ball followed.
New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who comes over from Cal, has transformed his unit by implementing a new 5-2 alignment. It's a little unusual to see for those that have paid attention to USC's defense the past few years, and has caused a few linebackers and defensive ends to move around or stand up a bit. The coaches are excited about what it can do given the personnel on hand, including a fully healthy Devon Kennard coming off the edge or Hayes Pullard manning the middle at linebacker. It may take some getting used to with so many different looks that Pendergast can throw at offenses, but so far the transition has gone well as USC looks to get back to being a force on defense.