Pac-12 Networks preview: USC
This post is one in a series of 12 as we visit each Pac-12 school on the Pac-12 Networks Football Training Camp tour. Check Pac-12.com in advance of each school's Football Training Camp stop for a quick season preview ahead of that night's show.
On deck Aug. 30 is a Las Vegas Bowl rematch between USC and Fresno State at the Coliseum. USC ushers in a new age on that day, but don’t call it a comeback because Steve Sarkisian has been a Trojan for years: seven years in three different stints as an assistant coach as well as the fall of 1992 when he attended USC and was on the baseball team, as a matter of fact. The Trojans return 16 starters – the most in the Pac-12 – from a team that went 10-4 in 2013. Sark is bringing his up-tempo, no-huddle, 10-to-13 seconds between snaps offense, and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is bringing the 3-4 defense to Hollywood in an attempt to take USC back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2008, when Sark was the Trojans' offensive coordinator.
- USC brings back eight starters on offense, including its leading passer (QB Cody Kessler), rusher (RB Buck Allen), receiver in terms of yards and touchdowns (WR Nelson Agholor), and three of five starting offensive linemen from 2013. Kessler won’t be able to throw the ball to receiver Marqise Lee, who took his 22 USC and five Pac-12 records with him to the Jacksonville Jaguars, or be able to take snaps from his center Marcus Martin (now with the San Francisco 49ers), but he’ll have a stable of running backs at his disposal. USC returns the deepest backfield in the Pac-12 with three of its top four rushers coming back. Buck Allen (785 yards, 14 TDs), Tre Madden (703 yards, 3 TDs) and Justin Davis (361 yards, 6 TDs) combined for 1,849 yards and 23 rushing TDs behind returning left tackle Chad Weeler, Max Tuerk who slides over to center from left guard, and right guard Aundrey Walker. There is so much talent at USC that you can even find legendary kickers just hanging out on campus. (The good stuff starts at 0:55.)
- The Trojan offense ranked ninth in scoring offense (29.7 points per game) and 10th in total offense (400 yards per game) in 2013. But with Kessler coming back for his second year as a starter and with weapons like Nelson Agholor –who led USC with 918 receiving yards, 6 TDs, and ranked second on the team with 56 receptions – to go along with Sark’s faster tempo, there should be many more opportunities to put up bigger numbers. USC averaged 66 plays per game on offense in 2013. At UW, Sark’s offense averaged 79 plays per game and he expects the Trojans to be over 80 this season. In case you need a reminder, Sark Daddy knows a thing or two about throwing the rock and putting up big offensive numbers.
- On defense USC brings back one of the best units in the Pac-12 – ranked in the top 25 in the nation in eight statistical categories a year ago – pretty much intact for the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under new coordinator Justin Wilcox. The Trojans return eight starters from a side of the ball that ranked first in the conference in total defense (335 yards allowed per game) and third in scoring defense, allowing 21 points per game in 2013. They ranked second against the run and second against the pass in the Pac-12, and they will have seven of their top 10 tacklers back to try to be the top D in 2014.
- One could argue that defensive tackle Leonard Williams and his 138 career tackles, including 27 for losses (with 14 sacks) in two seasons is the top defensive lineman in the country coming into the season. USC is known for producing solid linebackers, and three good ones return in leading tackler Hayes Pullard, J.R. Tavai and Lamar Dawson, among others. In the secondary, the men of Troy lose safety Dion Bailey but return a phenomenal backend in corners Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour to go along with strong safety Su’a Cravens. These three combined for nine interceptions in 2013.
- With all of the talent USC has coming back, we can’t forget all of the fresh faces that are coming in as USC signed what many believe to be one of the top recruiting classes in not only the Pac-12, but the country in 2014. With ballers like receiver/safety Juju Smith and corner/receiver Adoree Jackson in the mix, the Trojans are very excited to kick things off. If you don’t believe me, how about I show you how much excitement there is.
Nelson Agholor was the number two punt returner in the nation in 2013, averaging 19.1 yards per return. Agholor had several spectacular punt returns, including a 93-yarder against Cal, the same day he ran back two returns for touchdowns. But who has the longest punt return in USC football history?
Tweet me the answer @RyanMcGrady and I will respond “Got it! How great is (insert the name of the correct answer)? #FightOn brother/sister.”
(Credit: USC Sports Information Department. Tim Tessalone and Paul Goldberg provide notes for days.)