After a chaotic 2013 season that featured coaching drama and wild inconstancy at quarterback, the USC Trojans are looking to make this a calmer, more collected campaign in 2014. Under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans are finally going to get the chance to reestablish themselves as a powerhouse in the Pac 12 and fix a few gaping flaws from last season.
Former head coach Lane Kiffin surprised many people in 2013 by naming Kessler the starting quarterback over Max Wittek, who has since moved on from the program. Kessler was held back by Kiffin’s play-calling, however, and was kept in check for the first five games of the season.
After that period, under interim coach Ed Orgeron, USC went 6-2 and Kessler became a very efficient, progressive passer. That trend should continue into this season. Now a redshirt junior, Kessler doesn’t really have competition at quarterback and has proven what he’s capable of doing, especially in a tough Pac 12 conference.
Things are looking bright for the Trojans at RB this season. Juniors Tre Madden and Javorius Allen combined for 1,477 while almost perfectly splitting carries. This two-headed monster in USC’s backfield offer one of the best ground attacks in the Pac 12 in 2014.
The offensive line was a concern last season for the Trojans, and that trend will continue in 2014. Of the six linemen who started at least five games in 2013, only three return. Junior center Max Tuerk is the most experienced lineman and will need to anchor the front for the offense to excel. New OC Tim Drevno will hopefully be able to sculpt a strong recruiting class to fill the gaps.
Out wide, USC is looking very strong, despite losing standout receiver Marqise Lee to the NFL. Nelson Agholor returns as the Trojans’ top producer with 918 yards on his resume. The production drops off from there, but these are guys who will have many opportunities to step up and play a supporting role to Agholor, which would tremendously help Kessler.
Defense certainly wasn’t a problem last season for USC. Sarkisian brought DC Justin Wilcox with him, and he’s going to have a good amount of talent to work with his first season. The depth up front is questionable with only three returning players who have game experience, but the talent on that first line is going to be tough to match.
It’s all led by DE Leonard Williams, who will be attempting to back up a phenomenal performance, which included 12.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The linebackers lose Devon Kennard, but the returning talent there is incredible. MLB Hayes Pullard steps into his senior season as the leading tackler for USC. He’ll be joined on either side by any combination of proven players from last season. The Trojans are going to be strong and deep in the middle of the defense.
Safeties Dion Bailey and Demetrius Wright aren’t options for USC in the secondary, but that doesn’t automatically spell trouble. The Trojans were relatively deep at the position a year ago, and it should just be a matter of moving up one spot. The same applies with the cornerbacks; all but one option from last season are back to do it again in 2014. The losses will be felt, but the players stepping up are already on solid ground.
USC played Fresno State in the final game last season, and will get the Bulldogs to open this season. There should be little trouble in that one. A second non-conference game against Boston College looks like a snoozer too. The standout on the schedule is a home game against Notre Dame, a team that will be fielding a much better unit in 2014.
A Week 2 matchup against Stanford looks very intriguing, especially after the Trojans shocked the Cardinal last season in a low-scoring affair. Games against Arizona State and UCLA will also be fun ones to watch this year. USC lucked out in not having to play Oregon from the Pac 12 North. Within a consistently tough schedule like this, avoiding a powerhouse in cross-over play could make a huge difference.
The cap for USC wins this season is probably nine, and eight looks more realistic. Sarkisian and his staff have a lot of talent to work with, and it’s certainly possible everything could catch fire at the same time; but for the time being, it’s more important for USC to get back on the right path.