Can Sam Darnold continue his impressive play and possibly win a Heisman in 2017 or is it possible he withers in the spotlight?
I believe Sam Darnold was thrust in the spotlight to begin his career, named starter on a losing team with high expectations for the season. His production allowed this team to make their historical run to end the season and on the biggest game (Rose Bowl) of his young career (which seems bound to change) he delivered to the tune of over 450 yards and five touchdowns. Clearly no player is perfect, thus making it possible for him to wither under pressure his second time around. Teams will also have had whole offseasons to prepare for Darnold and adjust to his play. However, given his body of work and the poise he’s shown under pressure, expect him to elevate his game. He’s an offseason heisman favorite for a reason just read this if you need more proof. An early test against an always impressive Cardinal defense should exemplify just how much his game has grown.
How does USC replace a guy like Adoree’ Jackson who did so much at every phase of the game?
Adoree Jackson will go down as one of the most versatile, electrifying, talented players in Trojan history. His production on offense, defense, and special teams probably won’t be duplicated, however there are eager names looking to fill his shoes. Defensively, look for Iman Marshall to fill the role as #1 corner. After three interceptions last season, the former five-star recruit is expected to do big things in his junior campaign and become the dynamic playmaker they need in the secondary. While it is technically undecided who will take over Jackson’s role on the offense as well as special teams, watch for sophomore wide receiver Velus Jones to fill in. Jones impressed coaches throughout spring on his speed and agility of ST returns all spring, even earning comparisons to Percy Harvin. He also displayed his burst of offensive production on a 30 yard end around and a couple of 15+ yard catches in the spring game.
USC lost 3 starters on the Offensive line and are also dealing with injuries to that unit, can the offense keep producing with troubles on the O-line?
One of the biggest question marks headed into the 2017 campaign for USC was how the offensive line would fare. They lost a lot of talent and experience upfront in Chad Wheeler, Zach Banner and Damien Mama, and their presence was vital to the offense’s success last season. While Viane Talamaivao had bicep surgery earlier this spring, except the starting right guard to be healthy to start the year. USC also returns solid center Nico Falah, and now gains former starter Toa Lobendahn back, who missed last season with a torn ACL. Chuma Edoga is a really talented player who can fill in at either tackle position, expect him and Talamaivao to lead the way for this group. There will be growing pains and although they may not be as productive as last season, expect for the unit to still be efficient. Their week two performance could be very telling for how the rest of the season plays out.
Other than Darnold, who is the leader on this team?
On the defensive side of the ball, look for junior linebackers Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith to lead the way. While they are not seniors, they have started for multiple years and been atop the list for defensive production (rank #1-2 in total tackles, combined 20 tackles for loss last season). While Darnold might command the pocket, look for starting center Nico Falah to lead the trenches. The fifth year senior brings experience and a certain poise, something younger lineman can look up to and strive for.
What is one bold prediction you have for the upcoming USC football season?
Hmmm this is a good one. I have a lot of bold predictions in mind, some more likely than others (Trojans go undefeated, beat Alabama 52-6 in championship game to avenge season opener in 2016). I highly doubt that one will happen so here’s plan B: the national emergence of Ronald Jones II. Why this prediction is bold: as discussed above, this Trojan offensive line could be shaky, and if they are, no holes=no yards. However, I believe this unit will give Jones just enough wiggle room to break free, and Darnold will keep defense’s focus on the passing game instead. Jones after rushing for over 1,000 yards last season on 6.1 YPC with 12 touchdowns, will look to flourish his junior year. While he may not be in the discussion of top tier backs at the end of the season, the college football nation will know his name.