Pac-12: USC Trojans

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 27, 2015
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It was a busy weekend in the conference, as 14 prospects made commitments between Friday and Monday night and several others backed out of Pac-12 recruiting classes. It looks as though this could be a sign of things to come, as the conference recruiting race is heating up with little more than a week until signing day.

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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
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Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.

Arizona

Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.



To read the rest of our Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns, click here Insider.

Pac-12 tipping point classes 

January, 26, 2015
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It's a fairly unusual year for recruiting when it comes to the two Los Angeles programs. While this is usually a zero sum war with a clear winner and loser -- as was the case with the 2014 class, when the Trojans finished 3-for-3 on the final three huge uncommitted prospects in Southern California -- this signing day provides the opportunity for both programs to either finish strong or fizzle out, without one much affecting the other.


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Pac-12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
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And in the morning, I'm making' waffles.

Leading off:

The 2015 Senior Bowl has come and gone, and there were plenty of great showings from Pac-12 players. Here's a brief compilation of some of the content you can find regarding the event:
  • CBSSports' Senior Bowl stock report of 10 players who looked good -- one Beaver shows up on this list and it's not the one you're thinking of ...
  • FOX Sports made a list of guys who helped their NFL draft stock the most. On this listing you've got a Husky and a Ute (these are probably the ones you're thinking of).
  • Sports Illustrated had some similar praise to that of FOX Sports. SI's Chris Burke writes that "[Danny] Shelton's showing for the North team solidified his status as a likely first-round pick."
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution put together a photo gallery of the weekend.
  • Former Wazzu receiver Vince Mayle does a video interview for the Senior Bowl.
  • Former UCLA defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa also did a video interview at the Senior Bowl.
  • Catching up with Sean Mannion following the Senior Bowl.
  • Henry Anderson wrote six "diary" entries from AL.com during Senior Bowl week. You can check all of them out right here.
  • Nate Orchard picked up some MOP honors at the Senior Bowl.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

There was some #Pac12Trolling happening Sunday as former Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton decided to comment on Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong's autograph session. Always nice to see a few (fun) shots taken between teammates when it comes to this kind of stuff.

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Also, if anyone has a chance, check out Sutton's photo at the top of his Twitter page. It's pretty fantastic. Especially if you're a fan of The Lion King ...

Scout's Take: OLB Osa Masina to USC 

January, 23, 2015
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video Osa Masina has become USC's top-rated defensive pledge. Continue reading to see what this means for the Trojans:


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Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.


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Pac-12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
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You've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Call it, Friendo.

Two quotes today... because Happy Friday.

Leading off

In case you suffer from football withdrawals at any point this weekend, take solace in the fact that plenty of elite college talent will be suiting up for the Reese's Senior Bowl this Saturday. The Pac-12 is sending an entire gaggle of representatives to this game. Most will be representing the North team, but UCLA's Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will play for the South.

There'll be a nasty collection of defensive line talent on the North team: Think Danny Shelton, Henry Anderson, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Nate Orchard -- all on the same unit. Seeing that group play together should create a fun dynamic for avid Pac-12 fans who have watched those players terrorize quarterbacks over the past few seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion may have a chance to throw to receivers from Stanford (Ty Montgomery) and Washington State (Vince Mayle).

Other Pac-12 representatives: Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw (USC), Eric Rowe (Utah), Damarious Randle and Jamil Douglas (ASU)

This one will feature plenty of hustle, as it's the final live game opportunity for these seniors to raise their NFL Draft stock.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun
Did you know Ronnie Lott played basketball at USC? That guy needs to be on the football team. Sign him up!

The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


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Earlier today, we took an early peek at the 2015 Pac-12 North nonconference slate. There's some intrigue in the agenda for the Pac-12 South, too. Here's the breakdown:

September 3-5
UTSA at Arizona
Michigan at Utah
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (NRG Stadium, Houston)
Arkansas State at USC
Virginia at UCLA
Colorado at Hawaii

Weekend take: There's some early action to salivate over here. Jim Harbaugh will make his Michigan coaching debut on a Thursday night at Utah. It's hard not to love that: The Utes have developed into the same type of physical team that Harbaugh molded at Stanford and likely intends to create in Ann Arbor. Plus, that Rice-Eccles Stadium atmosphere is electric. Now just imagine it at night in front of a football-starved crowd against a traditional college football power. Yum.

With a maturing defense and plenty of experienced, explosive pieces returning on the offensive end, there's a feeling that ASU can do some more damage in 2015. They'll have an early chance to prove that on the massive stage that is Houston's Reliant Stadium against Texas A&M. A Pac-12-SEC matchup is a relative rarity. Think of the last one we had at a gigantic "neutral" site: Oregon-LSU in 2011. This game won't generate the same massive level of hype as that one did, but it's sure to drum up its share of buzz.

The UTSA-Arizona and Virginia-UCLA matchups have a key connecting thread: Those two opponents made the Wildcats and the Bruins sweat last year. There's not a single gimme on this opening weekend slate for the Pac-12 South.

September 12
Arizona at Nevada
Cal Poly at Arizona State
Idaho at USC
UCLA at UNLV
UMass at Colorado
Utah State at Utah

Weekend take: Nevada pushed Arizona deep into their meeting this past season, and that was in Tucson. The Wildcats must be wary entering Reno -- elevation can make for an unpleasant playing experience. Otherwise, the most notable Week 2 nonconference game for the Pac-12 South is the battle of the Beehive State: Utah State has seen plenty of success over the past few seasons, and they'll take their shot at the Utes very seriously. In-state rivalries are fun.

Outside of that, there's not much intrigue here. UCLA fans will get to make the weekend trip up I-15 through the desert to Las Vegas, though. There's some fun in the schedule for the Bruins there.

September 19
Northern Arizona at Arizona
New Mexico at Arizona State
BYU at UCLA
Colorado vs. Colorado State (Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Denver)
Utah at Fresno State

Weekend take: They might have tried to purge this from their memory, but there are certainly some UCLA fans who remember the last time the Bruins played BYU. The year was 2008, and the Cougars walloped UCLA 59-0. Any player connections from that shellacking are long gone by now, but BYU's visit to the Rose Bowl will be a key early-season game for both programs. Taysom Hill should be back under center for the Cougars while the Bruins will be adapting to life after Brett Hundley.

Following a winless Pac-12 campaign, Mike MacIntyre faces a massive season in Boulder, and it would behoove the Buffs to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown this time around. The game against Colorado State is played at a neutral site in Denver and promises to be an important early tone-setter for both programs.

Meanwhile, Utah has assembled quite the satisfying nonconference slate. The Utes follow those aforementioned exciting match-ups against Michigan and Utah State with a road trip to Fresno State that shouldn't be taken likely. The Bulldogs are known to circle the wagons and put up vicious fights against Power 5 opponents in their home fortress, so Kyle Whittingham's team will be tested.

September 26
Nicholls State at Colorado

Weekend take: It would be disingenuous to pretend that this game is intriguing. Colorado finished winless in Pac-12 play last season while Nicholls State ended 0-12.

October 17
USC at Notre Dame

Weekend take: Now we're talking. The Trojans embarrassed Notre Dame 49-14 to close the 2014 regular season. That sets up a revenge factor here -- though motivation should never be an issue in this storied rivalry. Both teams harbor high hopes for 2015, so this mid-October tilt is showing plenty of promise.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 22, 2015
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Leading off:

The NCAA is investigating 20 colleges, according to Brad Wolverton of the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wolverton reports that 18 of the cases are with Division I programs, so Pac-12 fans should certainly pay attention. Even if it's not affecting one of your programs it might be affecting a program that you're playing in 2015.
The cases are at various stages, from preliminary inquiry to awaiting a hearing with the Division I Committee on Infractions, and they involve a variety of missteps, including allegations that players received impermissible assistance from professors, academic advisers, or people outside of an athletic department.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

Pac-12.com did a fun #ExplainThe90s theme today on Twitter and the results are quite entertaining. Anytime there's a 90's throwback, the Pac-12 Blog is there, so we're all about this.

Four schools remain in the mix for ESPN 300 defensive tackle Rasheem Green. Arizona State, Miami, Oregon and USC will battle all the way until signing day for the nation's No. 41 prospect. With two weeks to go and one visit left, things are heating up for the big lineman.


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Earlier today, we offered up our thoughts on who truly had a chance to grab that Pac-12 North crown in 2015. Now, we're moving on to the South.

David Lombardi (@LombardiESPN): I'm changing gears here. My take on 2015 Pac-12 South is similar to the one you had on the North, Chantel: I think this division will again feature a wide-open race. It was a minefield in 2014, and nothing suggests that'll change next season. Arizona, the defending champion, was young, and they retain integral pieces on both sides of the ball. USC is the early Vegas favorite -- it's impossible to discount that stockpile of talent. We can expect more of the same rugged play from Utah, and Devontae Booker's return makes them truly dangerous again. Meanwhile, Todd Graham's young defense will have matured at ASU, and UCLA has recruited well enough to ensure they won't be an easy out in the post-Brett Hundley era. The only true outsider in the South is Colorado, and even they're supposed to be better. Let the reign of chaos continue.

[+] EnlargeDevontae Booker
George Frey/Getty ImagesUtah's Devontae Booker should keep the Pac-12 South from turning into a two-horse race.
Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings): I think it's a two-dog race between Arizona and USC. Both return a lot of talent, but if I must choose between the two I think I'm going to go with USC because you've got a more experienced quarterback running the show. I think Anu Solomon is going to make big strides between Year 1 and Year 2, but I think Cody Kessler is going to have a fire lit under him by all the young QB talent and show up. Plus, I think running back Justin Davis and wide receiver JuJu Smith will have breakout years. Defensively, there's a lot to replace as well, but I think it'll be more reloading than rebuilding and in Steve Sarkisian's second year, I think big things will happen.

Lombardi: No argument on the Arizona and USC fronts here, but I don't see the Pac-12 South turning into a simple two-team race. ASU, in particular, has developed a track record of consistent success, and I think there's every reason to believe that Todd Graham will again have them in the thick of the action. The boom-or-bust cycle of the Sun Devils' defense added up to an unremarkable 2014 on that side of the ball, but I think Graham will develop that aggressive defense into a much more stable unit next season. Plus, ASU isn't sinking at quarterback post-Taylor Kelly: Mike Bercovici is more than capable, and he'll have firepower named DJ Foster and Demario Richard at his side. The Devils aren't dead.

It doesn't end there, either: It may turn out that Utah and UCLA are both a quarterback short of being championship material, but as long as Booker and Paul Perkins (the Pac-12's two leading running backs in 2014) are along to complement talented defenses in Salt Lake City and Westwood, those two teams can do plenty of damage in the South. That'll leave us with another mess on our hands.

Jennings: I agree, ASU is going to be a player. But you've got to look at these schedules, specifically the road schedules, of the first two teams I mentioned ... USC has a relatively soft road schedule which would certainly aid them in getting to the Pac-12 title game. They have ASU early on the road. And I agree with you on the Graham front that he'll be able to develop that defense into something more consistent, but developing takes time. Could they be consistent by Sept. 26? Eh. I'll hedge my bets the other way. Their other road trips are at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Colorado and at Oregon. Playing at Autzen will probably be the toughest one of that group but again, I'll take a Cody Kessler on the road over whatever first-year starter the Ducks have. Arizona's road schedule is far tougher -- at Nevada, at Stanford, at Washington, at USC, at Arizona State. USC definitely has the easier path.

Lombardi: As the nuttiness of 2014 showed us, home-field advantage may no longer pack the punch it once did in the Pac-12. Visiting teams actually finished the season with a 33-21 record in league games, and I think that jarring stat just adds another reason to expect anything but smooth sailing in the Pac-12 South. Yes, some teams may be slightly better equipped than others to navigate the treacherous landscape and some teams may have easier roads through the maze. But at the end of the day, it looks like an overwhelming amount of thorns and land mines remain on the path to glory in that division. I certainly wouldn't bet on a winner based on what we know now in terms of talent or schedule.

Season review: USC

January, 21, 2015
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

USC Trojans

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
AP Images/Kevin ReeceCody Kessler moved into the top tier of college QBs in 2014 with 39 TD passes and just five interceptions.
Offense: The Trojans ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 35.8 points per game and fifth with 6.0 yards per play. QB Cody Kessler has an impressive second year as a starter -- his first under head coach and play-caller Steve Sarkisian -- ranking second in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. The Trojans were efficient in the red zone and ranked third in the conference with a 46.6 percent conversion rate on third down. On a down note, the rushing offense averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, which ranked 10th in the Pac-12, and the line gave up too many sacks. Of course, both of those could be written off to starting three freshmen on the O-line. While the numbers were certainly above average, there also is no doubt the Trojans' offense stagnated at times, often at critical times. It's notable USC was outscored 86-72 in the fourth quarter -- only Colorado scored fewer in the final frame this season. Grade: B-

Defense: While there seems to be a perception that the USC defense was bad in 2014, that perception isn't supported statistically for the most part. The Trojans ranked fifth in the conference in scoring defense (25.2 points per game, which is 0.4 points more than No. 3 Washington) and tied for third in yards per play yielded (5.3). They were second in pass efficiency defense and third in yards per rush (3.8). They were No. 1 in third down conversions, No. 1 in the red zone and No. 1 in interceptions. The defense did give up too many rushing touchdowns (20) and record too few sacks (33). The substantive issue is when things went bad they were awful. The defense seemed completely unprepared for Boston College's spread-option, which was baffling, and it seemed helpless yielding late leads to Arizona State -- cover a freaking Hail Mary, would ya! -- and Utah. It simply got pushed around against rival UCLA. The easy and not unreasonable explanation is the Trojans were hurt by depth issues due to scholarship reductions. Still, USC doesn't get graded on the curve. Grade: C+

Special teams: USC ranked 10th in punting but connected on 9 of 11 field goals. While its overall return numbers were middling, it got two TDs from both its punt return and kick return teams, courtesy of Nelson Agholor and Adoree' Jackson. According to ESPN.com's Stats & Information, USC ranked 36th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 in special teams efficiency. Grade: B-.

Overall: USC went 9-4, beat Nebraska in its bowl game and finished ranked 20th. That is a good year for, oh, about 110 programs in the nation. But this is USC, and that means Sarkisian's first year received poor reviews from more than a few folks. It wasn't as much about the losses as how they came about. In terms of physical talent, Boston College isn't even in USC's class. Yet the Eagles humiliated the Trojans with 452 yards rushing. The Trojans led Arizona State by nine with three minutes left but collapsed. After dominating the Utah offense, the defense yielded a 73-yard game-winning touchdown drive. And the limp effort while losing a third consecutive game to UCLA was simply embarrassing. While it wasn't a bad year -- like, say, the 2012 flop -- it wasn't a year that earned Sarkisian a warm embrace from USC fans eager to return to national relevance. Grade: C+.

Other Pac-12 reviews

Washington State

Washington

Stanford

Utah

Pac-12 morning links

January, 21, 2015
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People should know when they're conquered.

Would you, Quintus? Would I?

Leading off

Ah, late January is here. The college campaign is over, and the final, disheartening end to the American extravaganza that is football season looms. It's a time that evokes nostalgia, but it's certainly not a time to break from gridiron thoughts. The annual chance to flip the page and start reading the next chapter in advance has arrived. Jon Wilner comes through with one of the early looks, offering his prediction of the 2015 Pac-12 all-conference team in The Mercury News. Meanwhile, our friends at Pacific Takes have surveyed the field and taken the team-wide approach, releasing their way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings for 2015.

As your read, coaches are feverishly blazing the recruiting trail, paying some final visits before National Signing Day on February 4. Spring ball comes after that, and that'll be followed summer conditioning, a little time off, and then training camp. We may just now be winding down, but don't blink -- college football season will be back in a flash. Here's the latest news from the 365-day cycle that keeps churning on:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This has already made rounds on social media, but former Arizona star Rob Gronkowski deserves acknowledgment on the Pac-12 blog for this, too. Seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation for the current scandal surrounding the Patriots.

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