Southern California Trojans
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
2014 record: 9-4 overall, 6-3 Pac 12 South
2014 Bowl result: Beat Nebraska 45-42 in the Holiday Bowl
2015 returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 16/1
Odds to win 2015 Pac 12 Championship Game: 9/4
Odds to Win 2015 Pac 12 South Division: 13/10
Regular season wins: over 9 -140 / under 9 +110
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After several lackluster seasons, including a couple of years on probation, the Southern California Trojans appear primed and ready to compete for a national championship or at the very least a Pac 12 title. USC is the #4 choice to win the national title according to 5Dimes Sportsbooks behind Ohio State, Alabama and TCU.
Last year, former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian took over the program after several seasons as the head coach at Washington. While most programs would love to have a nine win season, it was disappointing by the lofty standards of USC. The Trojans did end the season with a wild 45-42 win against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Fourteen starters are back and with Oregon in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, the Trojans are favored to win the Pac 12 Championship Game. Let’s take a look at USC on offense, defense, special teams, plus the schedule and outlook.
Last season, the offense averaged 458 yards and 36 points per game. The Trojans were #31 or better in those categories as well as passing. Coordinator Clay Helton is in his third season in the position.
Senior quarterback Cody Kessler is back to run the offense. He completed 69.7% of his passes for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Kessler could be a Heisman contender if he stays healthy. Sophomore Max Browne is the back-up and quarterback of the future.
Leading rusher Buck Allen is now with the Baltimore Ravens after rushing for almost 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns and making 41 catches for 458 yards. Justin Davis is back after rushing for 595 yards on 129 carries with 4 touchdowns. Look for Tre’ Madden to also get a lot of carries as well. True freshman Ronald Jones was one of the top recruits at running back nationally. Fullback Soma Vainuku will get some carries on short yardage situations.
The Trojans must replace leading receiver Nelson Agholor now with the Philadelphia Eagles. Agholor had 104 carries for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns. JuJu Smith looks to be the go-to receiver in 2015 after making 54 catches for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Steven Mitchell will start in the slot and had an impressive spring. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson will also see a lot of time of receiver after a huge Holiday Bowl.
The offensive line might be the best in the Pac 12 and returns four starters from last year. Center Max Tuerk was All-Pac 12 last year. Guard Viane Talamaivo and tackle Toa Lobendahn were both freshmen All-Americans last year.
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The Trojans do return seven starters on defense but the talent that left was elite. Leonard Williams was the #6 overall pick by the New York Jets at defensive end. Linebacker Hayes Pullard is now with the Cleveland Browns. Still, coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defense should be better in 2015. The Trojans were in the top 50 nationally in rush defense and points allowed, but #119 ot of 128 FBS teams in pass defense.
The defensive line will be anchored by senior nose tackle Antwaun Woods. Claude Pelon will start at the other tackle. The ends will be Delvon Simmons and Scott Felix. Felix can also play outside linebacker. All in all, this unit should be relatively strong.
Su’a Cravens is an outside linebacker/safety hybrid who had 3 interceptions last year and 17 tackles for loss to lead USC in both categories. He is back and could be an All-American after making the All-Pac 12 team last year. Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao will join Cravens in the linebacking corps.
Three starters are back in the secondary led by cornerback Jackson. The other corner will be Kevon Seymour who looked good in spring practice. Leon McQuay III and John Plattenberg will be the safeties. True freshman Iman Marshall was a highly touted recruit at safety.
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Matt Boermeester and Alex Wood will compete for the kicker job in fall camp. Senior Kris Albarado is in his third year as the punter and is very solid. Jackson averaged almost 30 yards per kick return with two touchdowns and will return kicks again. Look for Steven Mitchell to take over for Agholor as the punt returner.
USC opens with home games against Arkansas State and Idaho before conference games at home against Stanford and at Arizona State. In October, the Trojans host Washington and Utah and travel to Notre Dame and California. November brings a home game against Arizona, then road trips to Colorado and Oregon, before closing the season at home against rival UCLA.
The offense will be explosive again but the defense needs to improve if this team wants to take the next step towards being an elite team. The schedule is difficult with road games at Arizona State, Notre Dame, and Oregon. I think the Trojans win 10 games in the regular season but they don’t qualify for the playoffs. Still I can see a major bowl perhaps the Rose or Fiesta.
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