2015 USC Trojans Football Preview
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian (2nd year at USC: 9-4; 7th overall: 43-33)
2014 Record: 9-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12
Bowl Result: National University Holiday Bowl 12/27/14: USC 45 Nebraska 42
The 2014 campaign—which saw USC compile a 9-4 mark with three of those losses coming by six points or less—was a successful transitional year for the Trojans under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian and showed what could be in store for the proud program under their new leader.
While the Trojans aren’t as loaded as it appeared they might be prior to running back Javorious “Buck” Allen (1,489 yards rushing and 458 yards receiving, 15 total TD), wide receiver Nelson Agholor (104-1,313-12) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (80 TT, 9.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) declaring for the NFL Draft, there is still enough talent on hand for USC to be considered a legit contender to make a playoff run in ’15.
It starts with veteran signal-caller Cody Kessler. Kessler, a fifth-year senior, completed 70 percent of his 452 attempts last year en route to throwing for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive was how he protected the football, as he threw only five interceptions.
JuJu Smith, who was second on the team with 54 catches for 724 yards and five touchdowns a season ago, has the potential to emerge as Kessler’s new top target. Junior Darreus Rogers (21-245-4) is another returner that could emerge as a significant contributor in the passing game.
With the departure of Buck Allen, junior Justin Davis—who ran for nearly 600 yards (4.6 ypc) and four scores last year—may get the opportunity to become the feature back.
Offensive line play should not be a source of concern, as all five starters are back—including Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao, both of whom had excellent freshman seasons in 2014.
While the defense shouldn’t be weak per se’, it could be the weakest link of this team and possibly keep Sarkisian’s second team out of the playoff hunt.
In addition to the loss of Leonard Williams, the Trojans will also be without linebacker Hayes Pullard and rush end J.R. Tavai—two more key cogs in their front seven. Pullard and Williams were the team’s top two tacklers while Tavai and Williams produced 14 of the team’s 33 sacks.
On the back end, corner Adoree’ Jackson (10 BU and 10 PD) and Su’a Cravens—who is a defensive back/outside linebacker—possess award-winning potential. Cravens led the team in tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (3) while also being third in sacks (50).
In the kicking game, USC will be replacing punter Kris Albarado (41.4 avg, 24 FC, 16 I20) and place kicker Andre Heidari (9-11 FG; 3-3 from 40-plus with two makes over 50 yards).
The return game—particularly kick returns—should be very good with the versatile Adoree’ Jackson back. Jackson averaged nearly 30 yards per return and took two back for scores as a freshman. Agholor, who has moved onto the NFL, was equally explosive returning punts and he also took two to the house. The explosive Jackson could take over those duties as well this year.
The schedule features SC playing their first three, five of their first seven and seven games overall at the Coliseum. The Trojans should collect wins against Arkansas State and Idaho in weeks one and two prior to a strong test against Stanford’s physical style of play in game three. Sarkisian’s club will face strong road tests at Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon.
Take USC to quite possibly reach the 10-win plateau, but with the program still experiencing a lack of depth in spots—as a result of the sanctions stemming from the Pete Carroll Era that limited scholarships in recent years—it will likely be on the outside looking in when it comes to the College Football Playoff. However, with the way Sarkisian and staff are recruiting, the Trojans are setting themselves up for a tremendous run of success and will be in the national title hunt soon.
By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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