The USC Trojans, shown here walking out onto the field in last year's Stanford game, have some roster issues to figure out. At the top of the list: Who will be the starting quarterback? (Harry How/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 14 USC

Posted July 17th, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 14 USC (Related coverage: Adoree’ Jackson, USC’s jack-of-all-trades, begins to specialize)

The Trojans will contend if … they find a suitable replacement for quarterback Cody Kessler, who was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns. The Trojans will turn to a pair of contenders — Max Browne or Sam Darnold — when preseason practice convenes in August.

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INSIDE THE TROJANS

Coach: Clay Helton (second year, 6-4)

2015: 8-6, 6-3 in the Pac-12; lost to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl 23-21

Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense

The key game: Nov. 19 at UCLA

Hello: Two freshmen who were five-star recruits should see immediate playing time — DE Oluwole Betiku of Gardena (Calif.) and CB Jack Jones of Long Beach.

Goodbye: CB Su’a Craven (Washington Redskins), center Max Tuerk (San Diego Chargers), CB Kevon Seymour (Buffalo Bills) and QB Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns).

Spring cleaning: Clay Helton hired a few veteran coaches to complete his staff. The new defensive coordinator is Clancy Pendergast, who returns to the Trojans after coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers the past two years. Former Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson was hired to coach the same position at USC. And the new QBs coach is Tyson Helton, Clay’s younger brother, who spent last season at Western Kentucky.

USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (left) is coming off a season in which he had nearly 1,500 receiving yards. He also caught 10 touchdowns in 2015. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (left) is coming off a season in which he had nearly 1,500 receiving yards. He also caught 10 touchdowns in 2015. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Max Browne, 8-12-113 yards, 0/0 (2nd)

Rushing: Ronald Jones II, 153-987-8 (1st); Justin Davis, 169-902-7 (2nd)

Receiving: JuJu Smith-Schuster, 89-1,454-10

Tackles: ILB Cameron Smith, 78 (2nd); DB Chris Hawkins, 70 (3rd)

Sacks: DE Porter Gustin, 5.5 (T-1st)

RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (4)

Offense: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (1st team), OT Zach Banner (1st), OT Chad Wheeler (2nd)

Defense: DB Adoree’ Jackson (1st DB, 2nd RET)

FYI …

  • Among the newcomers to watch is former Utah defensive lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a graduate transfer. The 6-1, 320-pound senior had 28 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and four fumble recoveries for the Utes last fall. He also considered Alabama and Nebraska.
  • USC’s youth movement the past two years could pay off in 2016. During that span, 26 true freshmen have played, including 15 who have started and six who have won freshman All-America first-team honors.
  • The Trojans can boast about having one of the best — and most experienced — secondaries in the nation. Jackson was a finalist for the Thorpe and Hornung awards. CB Iman Marshall (67 tackles, 3 INTs) was a freshman All-American. USC also has both of its safeties back — Chris Hawkins and John Plattenburg.

USC's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3Alabama (Arlington)
Sept. 10Utah State
Sept. 17at Stanford*(L, 41-31; L, 41-22)
Sept. 23at Utah*W, 42-24
Oct. 1Arizona State*W, 42-14
Oct. 8Colorado*W, 27-24
Oct. 15at Arizona*W, 38-30
Oct. 27Cal*W, 27-21
Nov. 5Oregon*L, 48-28
Nov. 12at Washington*L, 17-12
Nov. 19at UCLA*W, 40-21
Nov. 26Notre Dame*L, 41-31
* Pac-12 game

USC: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
20158-6 / 6-38th / —Holiday Bowl, L
20149-4 / 6-315th / 24thHoliday Bowl, W
201310-4 / 6-324th / 19thLas Vegas Bowl, W
20127-6 / 5-4— / —Sun Bowl, L
201110-2 / 7-225th / 6thNo bowl
Total44-22, 30-154 bowl games (2-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 37th (33.9 ppg)

Scoring defense: 50th (25.7 ppg)

Passing yards: 31st (269.7 ypg)

Rushing yards: 70th (168.2 ypg)

TOP 25 SO FAR …

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Washington

No. 16: Georgia

No. 15: Michigan State

No. 14: USC

No. 13: Coming Monday. Want a hint? This Big 12 school was ranked No. 2 on our Top 25 preseason list last year.

BY CONFERENCE

4 schools: Pac-12 (14-USC, 17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)

2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big Ten (15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); Big 12 (19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)

1 school: SEC (16-Georgia); Mountain West (24-Boise State)

 

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