USC has reason to remain optimistic

first_imgUSC football is entering into a state of flux for the second straight offseason — to give you an idea of what exactly that means, look no further than San Jose Mercury News sports writer Jon Wilner. Last week, Wilner released his projection for the preseason top 25 ranking, which had the Trojans as the eighth best team in the nation.It’s clearly far too early to be making pre-season projections, but the early departure of juniors safety Dion Bailey, defensive end George Uko, tight end Xavier Grimble, offensive lineman Marcus Martin and wide receiver Marqise Lee might give the Trojan faithful reason for pause about next season’s prospects. This should not be the case.Though the Trojans are still reeling from unprecedented NCAA sanctions and the departures do hurt their depth, the big names departing were unlikely to fit into the Trojans’ ground-and-pound system from last season.Grimble, who was one of former quarterback Matt Barkley’s favorite end zone options in the Trojans’ ill-fated 2012 run, suffered from a statistical drop-off in every category with junior quarterback Cody Kessler at the helm. Grimble’s reception numbers feel from 29 to 25, and he had 271 yards the entire 2013 season as opposed to the 316 he had as a sophomore. He also had a mere two touchdowns on the entire season as the Trojan offense came to favor running the ball in the end zone. This is not to take away from Grimble’s draft prospects: the 6-foot-5, 250 pound tight end still has excellent hands and would be an asset in the NFL — it’s just a shame the Trojans did not incorporate tight ends into the playcalling last season to showcase his talents and increase his draft stock, especially when considering Kessler’s reliance on intermediate routes and checkdowns.Grimble’s decision to leave for the draft was to the chagrin of head coach Steve Sarkisian, who in his opening press conference stated his desire to incorporate tight ends into the offense in the upcoming season. Regardless, senior Randall Telfer will be returning to play for the Trojans for one more year to give Kessler some more sure-handed offensive firepower.The biggest name to leave is undoubtedly Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award Winner. Lee suffered from a far more dramatic statistical drop off amid injury woes and trouble adjusting to Kessler at quarterback. The 2012 First Team All-American had a comparatively pedestrian 791 yards and four touchdowns on 57 receptions this season, as opposed to the 1721 yards and 14 touchdowns he amassed in 2012.2013, however, was undoubtedly the year of junior wide receiver Nelson Agholor: The receiver developed a rapport with Kessler, whereas Lee never seemed fully comfortable working with the new quarterback. Lee’s season was characterized by costly drops, underthrown passes and errant back shoulder throws that missed their mark. Lee’s ineffectual chemistry with Kessler cost him dearly this season: the former consensus top 10 draft pick now enters the NFL Draft with a significant contingent of doubters to disprove. There’s no doubt that Lee could make a serious impact in the NFL, and should Lee fall out of the top 15, it’s almost certain that any team picking him up will be getting a considerable bargain.How this is beginning to read is that the players leaving for the draft are doing so at a time that would be most advantageous to them. USC is undergoing yet another transition. The Trojans are in for another quarterback battle this spring where there may be yet another quarterback change depending on the performance of junior quarterback Max Wittek and sophomore quarterback Max Browne.The primary reason the Trojans will be competitive in the coming season is the same reason they were so effective in 2013: defense. Junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams, senior defensive back Josh Shaw and senior linebacker Hayes Pullard are all slated to return next season under Sarkisian. Bailey’s position will likely be filled by former Rivals.com five star recruit and sophomore defensive back Leon McQuay III. Stellar sophomore safety Su’a Cravens will likely reprise his starting role. All things considered, the Trojans look poised to dominate on the defensive side of the ball next season.Despite the departure of Martin, Lee and Grimble, the offense also leaves more upside next season. Junior wide receiver George Farmer is likely to return from his season-ending knee surgery in time for fall camp, and Agholor will have another offseason to get adjusted with Sarkisian’s playbook. The Trojans also honed their running options with redshirt junior running backs Javorius Allen and Tre Madden coming off a strong season. The incorporation of former Scout.com five star running backs and sophomores Ty Isaac and Justin Davis is sure to give the running attack a shot in the arm come fall.Though any preseason predictions are premature at this point, it’s hard to argue with Wilner’s assessment of the Trojans next season. With such a strong showing of younger talent only developing further experience, the steady improvement of Kessler and the return of key defensive players, it’s entirely plausible the Trojans could be a serious contender for a playoff berth next season. Euno Lee is a senior majoring in English. His column “Euno What Time It Is” runs Wednesdays.last_img

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