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USC Football: 5 Spring Positional Battles to Watch

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USC Football: 5 Spring Positional Battles to Watch

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After a half-decade of disappointment, things are finally looking sunny again for USC Trojan football. Southern California’s descent into mediocrity began after the NCAA stringently punished the university for playing hardball in the Reggie Bush booster scandal, a seemingly routine violation of hypocritical and bureaucratic recruiting protocol. Of all the harsh penalties enacted against the Trojans, the scholarship cap most severely inhibited the university’s ability to form an elite football team. Top national recruits spurned the traditional powerhouse in favor of less storied universities free of restrictions and violations. The Lane Kiffin era, a black mark in recent USC football history, was doomed from the start.

The arrival of new head coach Steve Sarkisian and the end of the recruiting restrictions offer the Trojans an exciting new beginning. Sarkisian did exceedingly well on signing day, putting together the nation’s 11th best signing-class and inking some of the nation’s blue-chip prospects (Adoree’ Jackson, John “Juju” Smith, Damian Maia) despite the final year of cap inhibitions.

The solid late season play of the Trojans in 2013 also contributes to their optimistic outlook going into 2014. Quarterback Cody Kessler established himself as a quality starter in the latter half of the 2013 season, putting together his best career performance in the Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State. On the other side of the ball, the Trojan defensive unit ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense and No. 1 in red zone defense.

The departures of some key team components (wide receiver Marqise Lee, safety Dion Bailey, defensive end George Uko, linebacker Devon Kennard, offensive lineman Marcus Martin and tight end Xavier Grimble) leave question marks heading into the new season. If the Trojans expect to live up to their expectations and legacy, unrecognized faces will have to emerge and put their stamp on the new era. Here is a list of five hotly contested positional match-ups to watch closely heading into spring practice.

Luke Silver is a New York Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter at (@nyglukesilver), “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.
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5. LB: Quinton Powell vs. Scott Starr

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The departure of Devon Kennard leaves a hole at linebacker that Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will want to quickly plug. Wilcox has two athletically gifted talents in Quinton Powell and Scott Starr. In the past, Starr’s career was hindered by a myriad of injuries, and the depth at the position limited Powell’s production opportunities. The two linebackers come into this spring eager to prove themselves and earn a starting spot.

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4. QB: Max Browne vs. Jalen Greene

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The announced departure of Max Wittek leaves the Trojans vulnerable at reserve quarterback. Redshirt freshman Max Browne and freshman Jalen Greene are both inexperienced but will use spring practice to compete for the second-string job. Their performance is worth monitoring because an unforeseen injury to Cody Kessler would propel one of these two young quarterbacks into a starting role and the national spotlight.

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3. WR: Nelson Agholor vs. Himself

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nelson Agholor doesn’t have competition at wide receiver; he has already established himself as a premier talent at his position. However, the standout playmaker’s transition from 2013 to 2014 will be interesting to track. In 2013, Agholor had the luxury of teaming with Marqise Lee, a likely first-round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Lee often commanded double teams and lined up against opposing team’s best cornerbacks, creating favorable one on one matchups for Agholor.

In 2014, Agholor will inherit Lee’s role and face both double teams and opposing coordinators' schemes designed to specifically limit his production. With regards to talent, the ceiling is the limit for the USC wideout. If he puts in the effort and energy, it should be fun to watch him continue to dominate the position.

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2. DE: Delvon Simmons vs. Kenny Bigelow

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Delvon Simmons, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech, is finally eligible to contribute to the Trojan defense. After a year on the sidelines fulfilling his transfer obligations, the massive defensive end will be looking to come in and immediately replace George Uko.

Kenny Bigelow, the 2013 redshirt freshman, might have other plans in mind. Last year Bigelow failed to live up to the impressive hype that surrounded him. He has reportedly worked hard to improve his physical shape this offseason and will be looking to make amends for his underwhelming 2013 effort. A strong spring will go a long way in solidifying Bigelow’s placement in Sarkisian’s regular rotation.

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1. RB: Ty Isaac vs. Tre Madden

USC Football: Steve Sarkisian Era
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC has ample talent at the running back position. In the second-half of 2013, sophomore Javorius “Buck” Allen burst out of total obscurity with a slew of dynamic performances. While it is feasible that Allen could be supplanted from his starting spot with a very lackluster spring, the job is his to lose.

The more intriguing matchup is behind him between Ty Isaac and Tre Madden. At 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, Isaac is built more like a tight end than a running back, and his natural downhill running style complements his frame.

Madden began the 2013 campaign as a starter but was hampered by hamstring injuries throughout the year and lost his hold on the position. Watching Madden and Isaac battle for positioning and carries this spring will assuredly be entertaining.