NCAA Football USC Trojans

10 Questions USC Football Must Answer This Offseason

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10 Questions for USC this Offseason

usc trojan
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans got off to a very rocky start in 2013 that saw them make a sudden change at head coach. Once Lane Kiffin was fired, the team seemed to find a new energy and finished the season strong, culminating in a dominant bow win in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. With a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian and a roster that is still loaded with future NFL talent, expectations will once again be high for the Trojans in 2014.

But this team has fallen short of expectations each of the last two seasons. Whether it has been coaching or injuries or plain old bad luck doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the results and USC has not had the results they would like. This is one of the most storied programs in college football that is accustomed to running the west coast when it comes to college football. They’ve seen their control of the Pac-12 slip away, however, and been relegated to lower-tier bowl games.

This isn’t a team that gets excited for the Las Vegas Bowl (no offense). USC wants to be playing in the Rose Bowl Game or earning a spot in the college football playoff to play for a national championship. Sarkisian has been around this program when they have been at their highest point and now he’s being challenged to get them back there and sooner rather than later.

That will be a challenge that Sark and the Trojans will tackle this offseason with all their effort. But to get back to the top they will have to find answers to tough questions in 2014. Here are 10 questions that USC must answer this offseason to get back to their winning ways next season.

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10. When will USC play for the Pac-12 title?

pac 12 trophy
Matt Kartozian - USA TODAY Sports

The USC Trojans were the face of the former Pac 10 as they dominated college football on the west coast. But since the conference expanded to 12 teams, USC has been stuck in the middle of the pack or ineligible for the postseason, resulting in the Trojans being absent from the first three Pac-12 Championship games. Sarkisian was around during the height of USC dominance so can he get the Trojans into their first Pac-12 title game in 2014?

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9. What role will Randall Telfer play in offense?

randall telfer
Russ Isabella - USA TODAY Sports

Randall Telfer is considered by many a very talented tight end with NFL-caliber skills. But in 2013, he was an afterthought, catching just six passes for 78 yards and one touchdown. With Telfer coming back and fellow tight end standout Xavier Grimble moving on to the NFL, can Sarkisian, fresh off coaching Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins, find a bigger role for Telfer in the USC offense next fall?

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8. Who will replace Dion Bailey?

dion bailey
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Dion Bailey was a jack-of-all-trades kind of defender for USC who could come up against the run, rush the passer, or drop back in coverage when needed. His early entry to the NFL will leave a huge hole on the defensive side of the ball next season that someone will have to fill. Su’a Cravens showed that he was a capable defender in 2013, finishing second on the team to Bailey with four interceptions, and could become a dynamic disruptive force for the Trojans in 2014. Is he ready to fill Bailey’s shoes?

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7. Who will replace Devon Kennard?

devon kennard
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The USC defense will miss the pass-rush of Devon Kennard greatly in 2014. He led the team in 2013 with nine sacks and pressured the quarterback another 10 times coming off the edge from his linebacker position. That disruptive ability was a huge boost to the USC defense as they ranked as the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 last season. Sophomore defensive lineman Leonard Williams finished second on the team in 2013 with five sacks and he will be the only player in the top four in sacks to return to USC next season. Can he pick up the slack of Kennard’s absence in 2014?

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6. How will the running back rotation work?

tre madden
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The one area that USC has no depth issues is at running back. Four running backs returning for 2014 carried the ball at least 40 times this season as sophomore or freshmen and helped to sustain the Trojan offense while the passing attack got itself figured out. Led by Javorious Allen and his 774 yards on 134 carries with 14 touchdowns, USC will have to find a way to properly rotate in the likes of Tre Madden (138 carries, 703 yards, 3 TD), Justin Davis (53 carries, 361 yards, 6 TD), and Ty Isaac (40 carries, 236 yards, 2 TD). Staying healthy was an issue for the running backs in 2013, but they should have more than enough bodies in 2014 to keep everyone fresh if they can work out the right rotation.

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5. What can Justin Wilcox do with this defense?

justin wilcox
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Justin Wilcox took over the defense of the Washington Huskies when they were ranked as one of the worst defense in the country. In just two seasons, Wilcox was able to completely turn the unit around and be one of the better groups in the Pac-12. He did all that with a roster that was still finding talent to plug in. What will he be able to do with the top-rated defense in the Pac-12 in 2013? Sure, he will lose a number of talented playmakers to the NFL, but there is still blue-chip talent all over the field. Can USC go from being the best defense in the conference to one of the best in the whole country?

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4. Can Nelson Agholor replace Marqise Lee?

nelson agholor
Robert Hanashiro - USA TODAY Sports

Marqise Lee is a phenomenal talent and it’s no surprise that he decided to take his talents to the NFL in 2014. The question for USC now becomes whether or not Nelson Agholor can ascend to the same level of Lee for this offense in 2014. Will Lee missing three games this season, Agholor stepped up his game and ended up leading the team in receiving with 56 receptions for 918 yards and six touchdowns. But if the Trojans are going to get back on top of the college football world, they need a receiver more like 2012 Lee who caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Is Agholor that kind of talent?

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3. How will USC overcome depth issues?

usc tunnel
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

While USC continues to toil away under the weight of NCAA scholarship restrictions, the Trojans’ depth remains a serious concern. While the top of their depth chart is filled with impact players, there just doesn’t seem to be enough scholarships to go around and fill out the roster with good backup impact players at most positions, most notably along the lines. The result is USC’s talent wearing down as the season goes along and costing them big games down the stretch. Will USC succumb to the depth issue once again in 2014?

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2. Is Cody Kessler the right QB for USC?

cody kessler
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback situation in 2013 was a pretty big mess until Cody Kessler took control of it. He put his stamp on the position with a career day in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl where he threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns. But with a new head coach in town, will Kessler get a chance to be the starter again in 2014? Kessler struggled to win the job away from Max Wittek last fall and will have to deal with redshirt freshman Max Browne this spring. Browne has the added edge of once being recruited by Sarkisian, so the new Trojans head coach already has an affinity for the younger QB. Will Kessler defend his starting job this offseason and lead the team again in 2014?

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1. Can Sarkisian return USC to their former glory?

steve sarkisian
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest reasons that Steve Sarkisian was hired away from Washington was his familiarity with the USC program from his time on the Pete Carroll staff during the height of the Trojans’ dominance. That familiarity got him in the door, but it will also be added pressure for Sark to get USC back to those glory days of the early 2000s and fast. The USC fanbase is not a patient group and they will not accept excuses. Will Sark’s connection to past success be the baggage that brings him down?