Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 11 USC.
USC was just okay last year, finishing 9-4 despite having a truly great quarterback, but that’s how shit goes in the ultra-deep Pac-12 South. With the division loaded once again, this season presents itself as the one during which USC can re-establish itself as the top dog. Then again, that’s what UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State are all thinking, too.
The defense as a whole wasn’t terrible last year, ranking among the top third in points allowed per game. It had some poor moments, namely a 38-20 smackdown handed to them by crosstown rival UCLA. Put simply, the defense didn’t do enough to support an offense that scored 32.5 points per game, and that can’t be repeated if the Trojans to win their division, let alone conference.
USC returns seven starters on defense, with three of the four starting linebackers and two defensive linemen back for the season. Su’a Cravens is back on the strong side for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s squad, which is great for Wilcox considering he had 5.0 sacks and 17.0 tackles for loss from his spot last season. In the secondary, safety Leon McQuay III and corners Kevon Seymour and Adoree Jackson return to what will be the defense’s strongest unit.
Although the defense is not the strongest group in the nation, it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be better when games come down to the final five minutes. The Trojans were mediocre in close-game situations last year, finishing 3-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including one of the shittiest excuses for a Hail Mary defense in history.
Cody Kessler is a top-5 college quarterback, and even though he may not be receiving the same Heisman hype as Trevone Boykin, his 2014 numbers reflect that he probably should. Kessler completed 69.7 percent of his passes and threw 39 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2014, which is about as efficient as a college quarterback. Of course, having Nelson Agholor to throw to was a pretty nice advantage that Kessler no longer has.
Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will take over Agholor’s spot as the No. 1 option. He posted a respectable 724 yards and five touchdowns last year. Smith will be backed by Darreus Rogers and a pair of junior college transfers in De’Quan Hampton and Isaac Whitney, who, as a group, could actually improve Kessler’s 2014 numbers. It’s a deep crew, and it doesn’t even include two-way player Adoree Jackson. Jackson plays both sides of the ball for the Trojans, and though he’s no Myles Jack, he still managed to catch three touchdowns, average 29.7 yards per kickoff return, and compile 49 tackles in 2014. That’s a lot of work from one guy, and while his numbers may not be impressive individually, he is one of the most important playmakers on this team.
I’ve tried to avoid doing quarterbacks for every team in this section, but seeing as Cody Kessler is a Hesiman hopeful, my hands are tied here.
Kessler’s 2014 numbers really are impressive, even in a conference that doesn’t boast any defenses that could be described as “terrifying,” “scary,” or even “above average.” But when you’re completing 70 percent of your passes and spreading the ball around like he’s managed to, you’re doing something very right. Kessler’s 2015 could be a historic one at USC, and with a stocked receiving corps, you should watch him as much as you can.
The Trojans can make the playoff, but it won’t be easy.
Being in the loaded Pac-12 South, USC has six top-25 opponents on its schedule, meaning its road to the playoff will be among the toughest in college football. The Trojans have to play Stanford, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA, which is one hell of a ringer to go through. It’s hard to feel bad for USC, but that’s a tough schedule.
The Trojans are a tough read, but with Kessler at the helm of a loaded offense, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they win the Pac-12 South. That will likely come with the price of two to three losses for this team, though, thus keeping them out of the playoff.
Steve Sarkisian looks great on TV, is like the rest of America and easy to fool, and allegedly unleashed all kinds of “fuck words” on a former player who also accused him of being racist. I’m not sure I have enough to call him a dick, but he’s definitely something. Let’s settle on jerk.
It will be insanely hard, but the Trojans have a good shot to win the conference. That being said, I don’t see the defense holding off all those top-20 offenses for 12 games, so a division title might have to be enough this year.
Sept. 5: Arkansas State
Sept. 12: Idaho
Sept. 19: Stanford
Sept. 26: @ Arizona State
Oct. 8: Washington
Oct. 17: @ Notre Dame
Oct. 24: Utah
Oct. 31: @ Cal
Nov. 7: Arizona
Nov. 13: @ Colorado
Nov. 21: @ Oregon
Nov. 28: UCLA