Opposition Outlook: Meet the Trojans

Leonard Williams / AP
Leonard Williams / AP

For the second straight season, the University of Hawai’i football team will open up the season against a nationally ranked Trojan squad from (24) USC. This time around, it’s a 23 spot drop for the Trojans, and a 20 point change in the point spread. What a difference a year can make.

Back in 2012, USC entered the season-opener riding a Jaws-sized wave of momentum: AP preseason number 1, with a four-year starter in Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley leading the offense; which was billed as potentially being one of the best ever.

After a mid-season collapse of historical proportions, the Trojans finished 7-6, one of only two teams to ever be named AP preseason number 1 and finish the season outside of the top 25.

Despite rebounding from a campaign that has head coach Lane Kiffin possibly coaching for his job in 2013, many college football insiders have USC markedly improving this season.

As proved by last season’s projections, all of these preseason predictions mean little. Here’s a look at what the Men of Troy, who are limited to 75 scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, will be bringing to their Thursday match-up with the Rainbow Warriors:

Quarterback: With the graduation of Barkley, USC finds itself in it’s first real QB competition in nearly a decade. Redshirt Sophomore Max Wittek started the final two games of SC’s season last year after Barkley went down with an injury. In his two relief starts, Wittek was mostly ineffective, completing only 35% of his passes while averaging 147 yards with 2 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Wittek, who checks-in at 6’4″ 235 lbs, is known for his big arm.

Fellow RsSo. point-man Cody Kessler was considered by many to be the leader to land the starting job coming out of camp. The 6’1″ 215 lb. Bakersfield, CA. native is known for his play-making ability, moxie, and leadership. His only game action for the Trojans has been in mop-up duty, completing 2 passes on 2 attempts for 9 yards.

Runningback: Returning starter Silas Redd has missed most of camp recovering from spring meniscus surgery. His status for Thursday’s game is questionable. Redd rushed for 940 yards with 9 touchdowns on 5.4 yards-per-carry in 2012. If Redd can’t go, true freshman Justin Davis should get a heavy dose of carries. Davis (6’1″ 200), a 5-star all-purpose back in 2013 according to Scout.com, was an early-enrollee that impressed during spring and fall workouts. RsSo. Tre Madden is a 6’1″ 220 lb. power back and converted linebacker that pushed for the lead tailback role in 2012 before a season-ending ACL injury.

Wide Receiver: Obviously, returning junior Biletnikoff award winner Marqise Lee (6’0″ 195) needs no introduction. Number 9 is one of the most explosive and dynamic players in college football, and a projected high first round pick in next year’s NFL draft. His 2012 campaign saw 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 TD’s, excluding a kickoff return for a touchdown against Hawai’i last season. Opposite Lee will be sophomore Nelson Agholor (6’0″ 185). A former 5 star recruit, Agholor recorded 19 grabs for 340 yards and two scores as a freshman. True freshman Darreus Rogers (6’2″ 210) should also see plenty of action.

Tight End: For the last two seasons, USC has used a rotation of two tight ends in redshirt juniors Xavier Grimble (6’5″ 250) and Randall Telfer (6’4″ 250). The two NFL prospects combined for 41 catches for 416 yards and 9 touchdowns, but both have been banged-up in camp. Athletic sophomore Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (6’4 255) will also see time.

Offensive Line: The lone recruit that the Trojans have brought into their program the last two seasons ranked lower than 4 stars, Chad Wheeler, will start for the USC at left tackle. Wheeler (6’7″ 295) gained 50 pounds since coming out of high school in 2012. Returning starters LG Max Tuerk (6’6″ 285), C Marcus Martin (6’3 310), RG John Martinez (6’2″ 310) and RT Kevin Graf (6’6″ 295) will look to rebound from a disappointing 2012 in which the line struggled to run the ball and protect Matt Barkley.

Defensive Line: With new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 base defense, the Trojans will play a 3 man defensive front. Sophomore DE Leonard Williams (6’5″ 290) was 2012 Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year and a freshman All-American. Williams is projected by some early mock drafts as a top-5 pick in the 2015 NFL draft. RsJr DE George Uko (6’3″ 275) had 31 tackles last season, 9 for a loss with 5 sacks. Nose guard Antwaun Woods (6’0″ 310) could be the key to the Trojans defense, as he tries to transition to the 5-2 one shade DT.

Linebackers: In this new scheme, the “SAM” and “Predator” outside linebackers are basically stand-up rush defensive ends. Senior Morgan Breslin (6’2″ 250) piled on an eye-popping 19.5 TFL last season, including 13.5 sacks. Fellow Sr. OLB Devon Kennard (6’3″ 255) missed 2012 with a torn pectoral muscle, after starting his first three seasons with the Trojans at middle linebacker and defensive end.

At MLB, USC returns RsJr Hayes Pullard (6’1″ 230). The Crenshaw native had 107 tackles last season, with 8 for a loss. As a freshman All-American and All-Pac 12 honoree, he is the anchor of the linebacking corps. Junior Lamar Dawson (6’2″ 230) struggled against the run and pass in 2012. As UH fans saw with Kealoha Pilares’ success in the 2010 game against USC, ex-defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense left the middle linebacker to cover passes deep down the middle of the field.  Dawson was noted to have improved this spring in the new scheme. RsSo Anhony Sarao (6’0″ 215), freshman Michael Hutchings (6’2″ 215) and Quinton Powell (6’2″ 220)  will rotate at the “WILL” spot.

Safety: At perhaps the deepest position on the team, returning starter at cornerback last season RsJr Josh Shaw (6’1″ 195) will move to his more natural safety spot. There, he will be joined by RsJr Dion Bailey (6’0″ 200) who moves to safety after starting two seasons at OLB. Bailey earned Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year as well as All-American honors in 2011, and had 8 TFL with 4 interceptions in 2012. True freshman and 5 star recruit Su’a Cravens (6’1″ 215) will rotate in at nickle back. Cravens was one of the most highly regarded recruits in the 2013 class.

Cornerback: Even with extensive starting experience amongst multiple players, corner looks to be the weakest and thinnest position for the Trojans. Sophomore Kevon Seymour (6’0″ 175) seems to have locked down one starting spot. As a freshman in 2012, Seymour had injuries that derailed a promising amount of playing time. RsJr Anthony Brown (5’9″ 180) and RsSr Torin Harris (6’0″ 190) bring two seasons worth of starting experience each, with maligned results. This could be an area where the Rainbow Warrior’s height at wide receiver (Vasquez Haynes, Keith Kirkwood, and Marcus Kemp all above 6’2″) could cause headaches for the Trojans.

Stay tuned next week for an outlook of the Oregon State Beavers

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