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August 2, 2014

On the eve of a new era

The USC football team reports for fall camp on Sunday, which means the Steve Sarkisian era is about to kick off for the Trojans. Will Sark's reign be more of the same from the past few years under Lane Kiffin or approach getting back to the glory days of Pete Carroll? The next few weeks of practice should be a major indicator of what is to come for Trojan fans.

Players, coaches and fans got a feel for what Sarkisian's practices would be like back in the spring and even over the summer through the player-run practices. But in the spring everyone was still getting used to the tempo, many players were unable to participate and there were major holes in the roster limiting what could be accomplished. And in the summer, while those workouts were well organized and well attended, not having coaches on the field, especially to work with the incoming freshmen, isn't the same as a fall camp practice.

When the players and coaches enter Howard Jones Field on Monday, the Trojans will be at full strength and in full swing from the very first whistle. Expect two hour efficient practices run at breakneck speed with about as full of a roster as a team coming off NCAA scholarship sanctions could expect.


Instead of a drawn-out quarterback controversy, this fall camp will feature a clear leader under center. Redshirt junior Cody Kessler turned it on late last year and has shown tremendous leadership since Sark arrived on campus. Watch for Kessler to have an efficient season throwing the football and to make a significant amount of plays with his legs either on designed runs or when the play breaks down.

The trio of tailbacks at Sarksian's disposal is as good as it gets in the Pac-12. In each of his five years at Washington, Sarkisian always had a 1000-yard rusher. Buck Allen, Justin Davis and Tre Madden all have that 1000-yard potential. The only question is how he will distribute the carries between those three.

USC will continue its tradition of having a dominant wide receiver on the field, only this year that player won't be from Serra High School. Or will he? Nelson Agholor will be out from under Marqise Lee's shadow this season and should be Kessler's go-to guy. But there are a lot of potential threats vying for the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, including former five-star athlete and Serra grad George Farmer. Both Farmer and Steven Mitchell are coming off major knee injuries that caused them to miss all of last season.

With 14 scholarship offensive lineman, the Trojans main goal during fall camp will be to identify the best five and get them playing in sync. Left tackle Chad Wheeler and center Max Tuerk are set, but all other positions are up in the air. Sarkisian needs to find those other three guys and make sure the shotgun snaps are clean. It doesn't matter how talented your running backs and wide receivers are if the ball is snapped over the quarterback's head.


True junior Leonard Williams is destined to be a top-5 pick in the NFL Draft. He is arguably the best player on the team, best player in the conference and with a big year could be touted as the best player in the country. He leads a talented but thin defensive line that should closely resemble the success they enjoyed last season after switching from Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme to Clancy Pendergast's 3-4/5-2.

Redshirt senior linebacker Hayes Pullard is a difference maker on and off the field. His leadership skills are as important as his tackling skills and the Trojans will rely heavily on both this season. The two-deep sets up nicely for USC at linebacker, with Pullard and Michael Hutchings in the middle, Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson on the weak side and Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin on the strong side.

In the secondary the versatile Josh Shaw leads the way teamed up with USC's most gifted defensive back Su'a Cravens. New secondary coach Keith Heyward has a lot of talented pieces to play with after that, including two newcomers who could sneak their way into the two-deep, JuJu Smith at safety and Jonathan Lockett at corner.

Special Teams

From the incoming recruiting class alone the Trojans have plenty of options to choose from for speedy return men and gunners. But expect veteran Agholor to have a major role here and potentially Darreus Rogers as well.

The Trojans also return kicker Andrei Heidari punter Kris Albarado and snapper Peter McBride. As a unit the special teams underperformed last season so the pressure will be on new USC special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen to turn these veterans around and give the Trojans a field position advantage.


By week three we will know a lot more about this Trojan football team including if they have what it takes to make a run at the Pac-12 South. Fresno State will be much improved on defense, but replacing Derek Carr and their talented receivers will be no easy task. A struggle in week one against the Bulldogs doesn't give this team much time to bounce back for a road trip to powerhouse Stanford.

But if USC looks good in a couple of wins to start the season, there is no reason the Trojans shouldn't be undefeated on October 4 when the Sun Devils come to town. ASU hosts UCLA the week before playing USC, so if the Trojans can get by that game, the dream of being 10-0 heading into UCLA and Notre Dame gets one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Trojans report to fall camp on Sunday, August 3 and kick the season off hosting Fresno State at the Coliseum on August 30.

Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for all the latest news and notes on the USC Trojan football team.

Ryan Abraham has been the publisher of USCFootball.com since 1996. You can follow him on Twitter at @InsideTroy.




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