USC football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Trojans, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About USC’s Offense
There’s a new head coach at USC, but since that guy was also the offensive coordinator in 2015 don’t expect many philosophical shifts. Under Clay Helton, and new play-caller Tee Martin, the Trojans want to dictate the tempo with a power running game. It’s not only a philosophy but also a smart play toward this year’s talent base.
The backs, Justin Davis and rising star Ronald Jones II, form a dynamic duo, and the Zach Banner-led offensive line returns seven blockers that started multiple games in 2015.
Against most opponents, USC should be able to control the clock between the tackles. Plus, there’s the issue at quarterback. Cody Kessler’s three-year reign as the starter has ended, setting the stage for Max Browne and Sam Darnold to battle for the crucial opening. Both have the tools and access to a superstar receiver—JuJu Smith-Schuster—but no one will know the limits of their ability until games begin. The receiving corps is still waiting on someone other than Smith-Schuster to deliver big plays in the passing game.
Key To The USC Offense
Just how tight is the race to replace Cody Kessler? Junior Max Browne seemed like the obvious choice to succeed Kessler, a three-year starter under center. And he still very well might be. But Browne, an understudy the past two seasons, was unable to earn the job at the end of spring. Sure, he’ll enjoy a slight lead when practice resumes, but redshirt freshman Sam Darnold has mounted a challenge that made the staff think twice about anointing Browne just yet.
What You Need To Know About USC’s Defense
Clay Helton’s best move this offseason was hiring Clancy Pendergast to coordinate the defense. No stranger to the program—and even some of the current upperclassmen—Pendergast piloted the defense in 2013. The Trojans already love his approach of thinking less and attacking more.
USC should be set in the back seven. Porter Gustin and a rehabbing Cameron Smith are on the verge of stardom at linebacker. And the secondary is a borderline embarrassment of riches, with corners Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall and a very deep collection of safeties led by Chris Hawkins.
But Pendergast won’t meet expectations in his return to the program unless a retooled defensive line overcomes obstacles. All three of last season’s starters are gone, and projected starter Kenny Bigelow was lost for the year to an ACL tear suffered in March. A young front is holding out hope that sophomores Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson and Jacob Daniel, among others, can emerge early in their careers.
Key To The USC Defense
The state of the defensive line. Troy started spring worried about a line missing last year’s three starters. Those fears erupted after budding defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow suffered a season-ending ACL tear in March. The Trojans are stacked everywhere … except up front on defense, where an overhaul raises concerns about mounting pressure, holding the line and halting the run. True, there’s potential, but the unit will be young and unproven. Defensive end Rasheem Green and defensive tackle Noah Jefferson, among others, are being asked to shine very early in their careers.
USC Will Be Far Better If …
It starts—and finishes—games stronger than it did in 2015. The Trojans were a disappointing 1-5 versus ranked opponents a year ago, in part because of the way they began and ended games. In the middle two quarters, USC blew past opponents by an aggregate of 295-174. However, in the first and final quarters combined, Troy was actually outscored on the year, 186-180.
Best Offensive Player
Junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Presented with a starring role for the first time in his brief career, Smith-Schuster did not disappoint in 2015. Despite minimal support from the team’s other receivers, he was unstoppable on the outside for the Trojans. Expect much more of the same now that he’ll be playing in front of NFL scouts. Smith-Schuster possesses all of the tools to make a quarterback look better, and that’s encouraging when USC is breaking the seal on a first-time starter under center.
Best Defensive player
Junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Jackson is the ultimate playmaker from the defensive side of the ball. And as such, he discourages opposing quarterbacks from even testing his side of the field. The combination of Jackson and sophomore Iman Marshall, a pair of elite all-around athletes, could give the Trojans one of the best cornerback tandems in college football this fall. Jackson, with his experience as a wide receiver and a punt returner, is lethal whenever he gets the ball in his hands.
Key Player To A Successful Season
Sophomore defensive end Rasheem Green. Yeah, the quarterbacks are priorities, but with a support staff that includes wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back Ronald Jones and a terrific line, Max Browne and Sam Darnold will be okay. However, if the defensive line is routinely handled, a promising back seven will be somewhat marginalized. Green is the Trojan lineman who appears most likely to bloom into a force. At 6-5 and 285 pounds, he’s built to play inside or outside, and he’s coming off a table-setting spring off the edge.
The Season Will Be A Success If …
USC repeats as Pac-12 South champ, but also improves on last season’s 8-6 mark. The Trojans figure to be a more stable outfit now that a midseason coaching change doesn’t figure to be a part of the plan. And a lack of talent is never going to be a worry. However, taking the next step and winning the league title is a tall order in a year that the quarterback and so many staff members are new. Plus, the schedule will be among the nastiest in the country, including crossover conference games with Stanford and Oregon.
Nov. 19 at UCLA. Agreed, the opener with Alabama and the finale versus Notre Dame will generate more national buzz. However, for a program that so desperately wants to return to the Pac-12 pinnacle, the annual showdown with crosstown rival UCLA actually carries more significance. Troy is looking for its first championship since 2008, a dark period dominated by Stanford and Oregon. For the Trojans, it’ll be a two-step process that could first require defeating the Bruins to get a leg up in the always tight South Division race.
Fun Stats From 2015
– Points off turnovers: USC 92 – Opponents 38
– Sacks: USC 38 – Opponents 38
– Red-zone conversions : USC 70% – Opponents 60%
Prediction For 2016
What’s going to happen to USC football this season? Check out what the final record is going to be …