#13 USC Football 2016 Preview

USC Trojans
Overall Rank: #13
#2 Pac-12
USC finished an uninspiring 8-6 last season, but the Trojans played for a Pac-12 title after winning the South Division. USC was no match for Stanford and they followed it up with a loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl, but it was a promising season for the Trojans. Coach Clay Helton takes over the program on a full-time basis and heads a team that is not lacking on talent.
2015 Record: 8-6, 6-3
2015 Bowl: Holiday Bowl vs. Wisconsin (L 21-23)
Coach: Clay Helton (6-4 at USC, 6-4 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tee Martin
Defensive Coordinator: Clancy Pendergast
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ronald Jones, RB, 987 yards
Passing: Jalen Greene, QB, 127 yards
Receiving: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, 1,454 yards
Tackles: Cameron Smith, LB, 78
Sacks: Porter Gustin, DE, 5.5
Interceptions: Cameron Smith, LB, 3; Iman Marshall, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Justin Davis, WR Steven Mitchell, WR/CB Adoree Jackson, WR Darreus Rogers, OL Zach Banner, OL Chad Wheeler, S Chris Hawkins, S Marvell Tell
Key Losses: QB Cody Kessler, RB Tre Madden, DT Antwaun Woods, DE Greg Townsend, LB Su’a Cravens
The most obvious place the Trojans have talent and experience is at the offensive skill positions. Ronald Jones and Justin Davis were one of the top running back duos in the country last season. Jones rushed for 987 yards and eight touchdowns, while Davis added 902 yards and seven scores. At wide receiver, Juju Smith-Schuster is back after catching 89 passes for 1,454 yards and ten touchdowns during his impressive sophomore season. Steve Mitchell and Darreus Rogers, the next top two receivers from last season, are also back, as is Adoree Jackson. Jackson is an explosive cornerback, but USC wants to use his athleticism on offense again in 2016. Last season he caught 27 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns. Paving the way for all of that talent is an offensive line that returns entirely intact. Tackle Zach Banner is one of the best in the conference and Chad Wheeler is another experienced senior tackle who will help pave the way for what should be a potent offense. But USC does need to replace quarterback Cody Kessler, who threw for 3,536 yards and 29 touchdowns during his senior season. Max Browne was the top recruit in the country a few years ago and has been biding his time to take over the Trojans. Now is his time. The 6-5 junior threw 12 passes as Kessler’s backup last season. Browne certainly has the talent, but it remains to be seen whether his inexperience will hinder the offense much in 2016.
The defense has talent too, but a complete lack of experience on the line is a huge concern. With Kenny Bigelow out for the year with an injury, the pressure will be on players like Noah Jefferson, Porter Gustin and Rasheem Green to go from rotation players as freshmen to leaders as sophomores. Cameron Smith is another sophomore, but the linebacker picked up plenty of experience during his freshman campaign. He is the team’s top returning tackler with 78. The secondary has much more experience, led by Adoree Jackson’s fellow cornerback Iman Marshall. Safeties Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell were also regular starters last season. Still, the unit ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in pass defense and that was with a very good pass rush that they may not have this season.
The Bottom Line:
The problem USC will run into is that they will have no time at all to break in their new quarterback and sort out their defensive issues. They start the year playing Alabama in Arlington, Texas. The following week they play a decent Utah State team and then they head to Stanford and Utah in back-to-back weeks to kick off Pac-12 play. Also on the schedule are road trips to Washington and UCLA. With that schedule, if the Trojans are going to get back to the Pac-12 title game, they are going to have to earn it.
Projected Bowl: Alamo Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 168.2 (70th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 269.7 (31, 6)
Total Offense: 437.9 (38, 7)
Scoring Offense: 33.9 (37, 6)
Rushing Defense: 149.3 (41, 5)
Pass Defense: 251.5 (93, 7)
Total Defense: 400.8 (65, 4)
Scoring Defense: 25.7 (50, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.79 (11, 2)
Sacks: 2.71 (21, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 2.71 (105, 8)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#9 Adoree Jackson
#12 JuJu Smith-Schuster
#22 Zach Banner
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#25 Wole Betiku
#26 Jack Jones
#39 Tyler Vaughns
#42 Michael Pittman
#75 Jamel Cook
#124 Matt Fink
#142 E.J. Price
#161 Josh Imatorbhebhe
#227 Trevon Sidney
#229 Vavae Malepeai
#243 Nathan Smith