Saturdays Are For The Trojans: USC Team Preview

WE. ARE. BACK.

Welcome back for another year of Sports by Scondi, the satirical USC football blog with so many editors you’d think I’m helping George RR Martin write the next installment of Game of Thrones.

After a brief attempt of previewing March Madness, which was interrupted by the fact that Word Press can’t handle the bandwidth of a hundred vines of buzzer beaters and crying MJ memes, I’ve decided to make the move over to Medium.

Since the average reader of this blog struggles to finish a Daily Mail article or Buzzfeed list (“Top 27 Reasons Why Harambe Was Bae”), I broke up this first blog into two parts; a preview of this year’s team and then next week, a breakdown of our opener versus Alabama.

2015 Recap

Let’s keep this brief and just move on.

There were some positives; the Victory Bell has returned to its beautiful Cardinal and Gold colors and we didn’t lose to either of the herpes riddled Arizona schools.

But other than that, it was pretty awful. We lost to Stanford (TWICE!), Notre Dame, and our season ended with Cody “Check Down” Kessler throwing a 5 yard out on 4th and 10 with 7 seconds left to lose the Holiday Bowl versus Wisconsin. Pretty bad season right?

Well, don’t forget that our head coach was fired half way through the season because he consistently showed up drunk on the job (allegedly). Remember when he was so hammered (not allegedly) at the Spirit of Troy, he had to be forced off stage and the majority of the fans’ reaction was “just boys being boys”. Yeah, not a lot of foresight on that one.

But don’t worry, we are USC. We reload, not rebuild. Every coach in the country’s dream job is USC, right? Nope.

The administration searched harder for Pokémon outside Leavy Library than a qualified head football coach and our new athletic director is a fellow Serra Padre with no prior experience. But if Lynn Swann can emulate the successful cheating techniques of his fellow high school alums, Tom Brady and Barry Bonds, USC will be on track to return to the days of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart (only to have all those victories and titles vacated ten years later).

The Offense

Quarterback

Starter: Max Browne

Quarterback is the only position not returning this year, which is a blessing in disguise. Statistics say replacing Kessler will be difficult. He is top four in virtually every career passing category in USC history and is “technically” the most efficient QB in USC history — his efficiency bolstered by a fear of throwing anything down the field. I call Kessler “Cody Best Buy”, because I’ve never seen a guy sling out more screens. A couple months ago, statistics also said Donald Trump had no chance of being the GOP nominee and now we have the people of Florida and Ohio deciding if we are months away from every person of color being kicked out of the United States by an enlarged Oompa Loompa with tiny hands. The lesson here is: stats are as deceiving as the pictures your latest match threw up on Bumble.

Do you need further proof that the bar for Kessler’s replacement should not be as high? Well, check out Cody’s debut for the Cleveland Browns:

So who is our next quarterback? Well for the past year it was a competition between Max Browne and Sam Darnold. Browne, the redshirt junior, is the only one of the two with actual playing experience despite it only being garbage time in the rare blow out victories USC had last year. Darnold is actually Darnyoung, the redshirt freshman, showed promise in fall camp with his quick, strong arm and ability to run. If you have two quarterbacks you have none, so eventually Browne was able to edge out Darnold for the starting job.

If Browne is like his offensive coordinator, Tee Martin, he will excel. Tee Martin succeeded Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Hopefully Martin didn’t follow all of Manning’s footsteps and TEE bag a female trainer as well. Martin did a great job distributing the ball to skill players like Peerless Price, Travis Henry and Jamal Lewis. I know these guys were mediocre players you drafted in franchise mode of Madden 2005, but back in their college days they were studs just like the ones currently on the Trojan roster.

Eight of the last ten teams to make the title game had a first-year starter at quarterback. That’s the statistic that has every delusional Trojan fan looking up flights, hotels, and strip clubs for Tampa in January.

Running Back

Starter(s): Justin Davis and Ronald Jones

USC returns eight of the top nine ball carriers from last year, with Tre Madden leaving for the NFL’s injured reserve list.

The group is led by a pair of near 1,000 yard runners; Ronald Jones aka “RoJo” aka “The Texas Tesla” aka “Whataburger Jones” and Justin Davis aka “Was That RoJo?”

Jones, is the most productive freshman running back in USC history with a 6.5-yard average per carry. He will look to improve on last year stats as he’s gained both speed and weight but sadly has cut his luscious locks. Hopefully losing his hair doesn’t render him powerless like it did with Samson.

Justin Davis, the veteran leader who averaged 5.3 yards per carry, will provide the Trojans with a 1–2 punch in the back field. And lookout for backup Aca-Cedric Ware, who may be the fastest player on the team (that’s saying something).

RBU Back?

Wide Receiver

Starters: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rodgers, Steven Mitchell Jr.

Let’s take a look at our wide receivers this year:

It may be a hunch but this kind of athleticism might be the reason USC receiving corps is ranked seventh in the nation. Or maybe it’s our depth; USC has 15 receivers this year all talented enough to see the field this year. But let’s focus on the starters or more specifically THE starter; JuJu Smith-Schuster.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is on track to become the greatest receiver in USC history. Last year he caught 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 TDs, with 67 of those catches for first downs or scores. He also led the nation in ruthless stiff arms.

Let’s see that one more time from a different angle.

And let’s not forget he did all this WITH A BROKEN HAND.

JuJu will need a threat on the other side of the field to prevent him from being double, triple, and quadruple covered the whole season and Darreus Rodgers and Steve Mitchell look to fill that role. Rodgers, was recently named the nation’s top blocking receiver, the college football equivalent of dreaming to win a Super Bowl like your brother but instead winning the Bachelorette; a great accomplishment, but not really what you were going for. Steven Mitchell showed flashes with 37 catches, but struggled to stay on the field as he and the 84 other Trojans battled through injuries last year. Rodgers and Mitchell have made strides to help complement JuJu in the passing game, but look for De’Quan Hamilton, Deontay Burnett, Issac Whitney, and Ajene Harris to be thrown into the mix. No, I did not make up these names. Half of our roster is giving my spellcheck a heart attack.

Tight Ends

Starter: Taylor McNamara

Something Trojan fans haven’t heard in a while: Tight End depth. With the change in offensive philosophy this position will go from rarely used to most utilized.

Taylor McNamara, will provide an all-around threat for the Trojan’s offense. Behind him will be sure-handed Tyler Petite, and Florida transfer Daniel Imatorbhebhe. His name is quite the mouth full. Hopefully on the field he will be a handful.

Offensive Line

Starter(s): Zach Banner, Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobendahn, Chris Brown OR Damien Mama, Chad Wheeler

Last year, USC’s offensive line was responsible for blocking a freshman running back and protecting a QB who held onto the ball too long. A tough task for any starting five, especially one that went through as many injuries as USC did. At one-point last year, the Trojans were down to three true freshmen and a third string center. Luckily, last year’s trash can be this season’s treasure. USC now has the second most experienced offensive line in the country with a combined 131 starts.

This year’s offensive line is anchored by the tackles: Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. Both players went through opposite transformations this offseason. Wheeler ballooned from 290-pounds to 317-pounds. Banner, who was listed at 6’9 (Nice) 380-pounds last year, has lost over 35 pounds and is doing pulls easier than an incoming freshman trying to rush Sigma Chi.

But just because Banner is the biggest player in the NCAA doesn’t make him different from anyone else.

Let’s hope when the season starts there will be less tea time and more Coach Tee time.

Our offensive line is big, experienced and healthy. Expect holes bigger than Camp Green Lake.

Defense

Before I preview this year’s defense, let appreciate just how awful last year’s was. Here are some alarming stats:

• Gave up 400.8 yards a game, second most ever in USC history

• Allowed 149.3 rushing yards a game, highest since 2002

• Allowed 25.7 points a game, second highest since 2001

This abysmal performance lead to the dismissal of Justin Wilcox. I really hope he was hired by Wisconsin to coach their offense. If not, the Badgers’ defense is going to be as flimsy as Manitowoc County’s case against Brendan Dassey. Good riddance, you inept weirdo!

The 5–2 Defense

This year, USC will be using the 5–2 defense. This defense is so easy to pick up, I’ll be able to explain it in a paragraph. Basically, it involves three down linemen and four linebackers. The outside linebackers are basically defensive ends that stand up. Yes, the determining factor between a linebacker and defensive end is literally if your hand is on the ground. Now, when the opposing offense spreads out, the 5–2 will switch to a nickel package. Simply put, the nose guard will come out in exchange for an additional cornerback to assist with the extra receivers on the field. That is the 5–2 defense. You could play middle linebacker right now. Well, maybe if you had Ashley Manning’s HGH dealer.

Defensive Line

Starter(s): Noah Jefferson OR Rasheem Green, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, Malik Dorton OR Rasheem Green

This year’s inexperienced line hasn’t gone through a lot of Trojan Wars and could be the Achilles’ Heel of the defense and team as a whole. Five players were lost to graduation and projected starter Kenny Bigelow tore his ACL in spring practices, which is a BIGeBLOW. The only players with significant starting experience left are either are out for the year or currently injured.

The projected starters are Rasheem Green, Malik Dorton, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and Noah Jefferson if he is able to get back from the flood of injuries he’s suffered. Look for Green to fill the defensive end role if Noah is unable to make an Ark to take him from the trainers’ table to the field for the opener against Alabama. Also keep an eye on Josh Fatu, freshman Connor Murphy, as well as Khaliel Rodgers who switched from offense to provide more depth for the team.

Linebackers

Starter(s): Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith, Michael Hutchings, Uchenna Nwosu

The linebacker corps returns one starter and looks to fill a huge gap left by one of the greatest defensive players in USC history, Su’a Cravens.

That returning starter is Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Cameron Smith. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played in over seven months after tearing his ACL half way thru the season. If USC wants to be able to handle the high powered offenses like Alabama, Stanford, and Oregon, Smith has to come back fully recovered.

Smith will be flanked by weak inside linebacker Michael Hutchings. The outside linebackers will be led by Porter Gustin, who looks like Brian Bosworth if he was sent to Russia to train like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.

Gustin was rarely used last year due to lack of aggressive play also known as a “Justin Wilcox Defense”. Despite that, he was still able to rack up 5.5 sacks and several tackles for losses. For Gustin and his counterpart, Uchenna Nwuoso, production will be ramped up with a new defensive scheme, which has a very high ceiling for the all the linebackers. It’s simplicity gives players a peace of mind.

“There’s not a lot of thinking” — Smith on 5–2 Defense
“Not having to think too much, just going at it” — Gustin on 5–2 Defense

A lot of Rhodes Scholars on this squad.

Secondary

Starter(s): Adoree’ Jackson, Iman Marshall, Chris Hawkins OR Leon McQuay, Marvell Tell

Finally, something good on our defense. Last year, the secondary was screwed over by our inconsistent defensive line and incompetent defensive coordinator. The lack of pressure by the front seven lead to mistakes and breakdowns in pass coverage. Any mediocre quarterback will eventually find an open receiver when he has 30 seconds in the pocket.

USC returns four returning starters led by cornerback Adoree Jackson. After a phenomenal freshman year, many believe that Jackson suffered a “sophomore slump” despite being named All-Pac-12 first team defensive back by the conference and the Associated Press. If that is a sophomore slump, they obviously didn’t see me at any fraternity parties in 2010.

Alongside him at corner is Freshman All-American Iman Marshall who was THE MAN his first year with three interceptions and ten deflections. The new defensive system will rely on a lot of man to man coverage, which both Jackson and Marshall are extremely qualified to excel at.

The new defense uses safeties differently. The strong safety is the defender of the strong side of the field rather than providing run support while the free safety on the weak side is not necessarily responsible for deep coverage. Returning starters Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell will likely get the majority of playing time at safety but look for Ykili Ross to breakout this year. He is most known for committing to spending three years with the Trojans on National Signing Day so if he wants to get drafted in his junior year, he better step up now.

Special Teams

We lost both our kicker, Alex Wood, and punter, Kris Albarado. I’m sure we found two capable replacements. Expect our kicking game to be as mediocre as ever.

Anyone else hoping long snapper Jake Olson is pulling a Stevie Wonder and pretending to be blind? It would be great if he was able to have eyesight this whole time, but you have to think of the trick plays you could use with him when the game is on the line. The opponent would never see it coming!

The X Factor: Adoree’ Jackson

I touched on Adoree’ Jackson in the secondary section, but he deserves a couple paragraphs of his own to emphasize his importance for the team this year. He is №4 on a list of “Freaks” in college football, and it really undersells how ridiculous of a human being he is. Unless they were talking about how he goes to McDonald’s every day and orders three McChicken’s, a fish filet, large fry and a large sweet “diabetes in a cup” tea. Thankfully his athletic prowess allows him to burn all the calories he consumes instead of losing a foot and missing practice for dialysis.

He is a two-time Pac-12 long jump champion. He wants to play USC basketball in the winter and has compared himself to a defensive stopper like Matthew Dellavedova, the grittiest of NBA players. He has told writers he could have turn pro in soccer when he was 16. Luckily for Trojan fans, he chooses the career path that is the least lucrative and most damaging to his body: football.

Adoree’ has missed the last seven months as he chased his Olympic dreams in the long jump. Unfortunately for him, he did not qualify and was forced to avoid any Zika viruses, contaminated water, or being “held up at gun point” with Ryan Lotche. During those months of training, he was not given a playbook so he will need to pick up the new defense fast. Judging from what players have to say about the new scheme, the playbook for Jackson is probably just a single page that says “Cover the best receiver”.

“Something is going to happen it’s 98 percent change good. You have to give the 2 percent because he’s human” — Zach Banner on Adoree’ Jackson

Jackson is probably the Trojans’ most eligible Heisman candidate this year. A lockdown corner, a threat to take every kick and punt return to the house, and a deadly offensive weapon. It’s been told that he will be focusing on defense but with someone of his talent, there’s no way he doesn’t see some time on offense. Hell, with his leg, he may even be used as a place kicker.

If he wants to win he will need to improve on the flashy stats like turnovers and TDs. He will also need to perform in the spotlight which he will have plenty of chances to do so as the Trojans play against Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, UCLA, and Notre Dame. If he has a strong performance in half these games he has a chance to join the ranks of USC Heisman greats like O.J. Simpson and REDACTED.

The Coaches

Head Coach: Clay Helton

After righting the ship after the mutiny of our former (allegedly) drunken captain, Helton was promoted to head coach. Despite winning four games straight and beating UCLA for the Pac-12 South, the statistics actually showed the on-field quality regressed significantly. The yards per play differential went from +2.5 to -1.6 when Helton took over. Now the strength of schedule could be a huge factor, but it’s something to keep an eye on this season. Or ignore it completely. We are already speculating on who will be the next coach. Someone say Mike Tomlin?

Since being promoted, Helton has drastically changed the culture within the program. USC looks to become a physical, run-first team that will hit people and it’s shown with increases in practices per week and conditioning. Apparently, the linemen are running an “unquantifiable amount” more than last year which makes me think half of our team would take as long to pass a conditional test as Albert Haynesworth in 2010.

University of Spoiled Children? Not anymore as the team no longer receives maid service as Helton has moved them from the “luxurious” Radisson Hotel to Fluor Tower. That insulting moniker now only applies to the non-football playing students. And alumni. And fans. And probably a couple of the walk-ons.

FAITH. FAMILY. FOOTBALL. Coach Helton looks like he was the right choice after all *begins to sharpen pitchforks for riot after first loss*.

Defensive Coordinator: Clancy Pendergast

Clancy returns as defensive coordinator after his brief one-year stint with the Trojans in 2013. You’d think someone who lead USC to have the best defense in the Pac-12 (#13 nationally) would be retained, but apparently Justin Wilcox had some sort of dirt on Steve Sarkisian. Wonder what it could have been? After Wilcox took over, the defense unsurprisingly regressed to 78th nationally in 2014, and 65th in 2015.

Pendergast is known for getting results and getting them quick. With the Arizona Cardinals he improved their defense from 26th to 12th, including a Super Bowl appearance. With perennial Pac-12 doormat Cal, the defense went from fourth worst to best two years in a row.

I like to call him Clancy Postmates, because he delivers!

Offensive Coordinator: Tee Martin

Promoted from Wide Receivers Coach, this will be his first time calling plays. Good thing we start the season against Alabama and Stanford. Just a couple easy games to warm up to.

Passing Coordinator: Tyson Helton

The Oscar Bluth of the Helton brothers; while Clay might have the money and the power, Tyson has the hair.

Tyson is coming from Western Kentucky where his high scoring offense lead the team to a Conference USA championship. He will be bringing some innovative stuff with him but will have to leave the Hilltoppers secret weapon behind:

Offensive Line Coach: Neil Callaway

This will be USC’s fifth offensive line coach in five years. Who said consistency is key?

Secondary Coach: Ronnie Bradford

Handpicked by Coach Pendergast, Bradford will be replacing the former coach who had rumored tension with the players. Apparently half of our coaching staff was a giant drama filled dumpster fire (other half to be determined).

Defensive Line Coach: Kenechi Udeze

Cancer survivor and Trojan great. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to toughen up this defensive line.

Linebacker Coach: Johnny Nansen

Nansen was USC’s Running Back Coach for the last two years. I’m not sure how coaching running backs translates to defense. Apparently Nansen was a linebacker in college?

Running Back Coach Tommie Robinson and Special Teams Coach John Baxter

Both coaches make their return from USC, with Robinson leaving Texas (before the boosters clean house after another 6–6 season) and Baxter leaving Michigan (refused to sleepover at recruits’ houses with Harbaugh).

Don’t mind the Trojans; just getting the band back together.

New Uniforms

This years’ uniforms were slightly updated. Let’s take a look.

Whoops. Wrong photo. Here are the new uniforms:

A Greek pattern was added to the collar and the material was changed to improve ventilation. With a new font for the numbers and the away jersey featuring a cardinal collar and sleeve cuffs, these slight changes embody Nikes’ slogan for the uniforms; “Respect the past, represent the future”. Really hope it didn’t take a whole marketing team to come up with that incredibly clichéd tagline.

Conclusion

Last year’s season ended with an 8–6 record, a bowl loss, and questions concerning the decision making and makers on all levels. It has become apparent that USC has become a program that should no longer be taken seriously.

College Gameday passed on the opener versus Alabama and the game isn’t being taken seriously by the Crimson Tide’s fan base. To them, it’s just another out of conference match to start off their championship season. If USC wants to return to relevance they are going to have to live up to their expectations. They have the talent, but will it translate to the field? We will have to see. Either way, nothing is going to stop you from getting too drunk and emotionally invested in this season. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

LET’S GO TROJANS!

You can follow me on twitter at Sports By Scondi

Special thanks to my numerous “editors”; Sam, James, Christina, and Tim

Sources: USC Athletics, SBNation, Conquest Chronicles, ESPN, Reign of Troy, Rivals, Scout, Deadspin, Wikipedia, Google, ESPN, and a lot of other places