1. Leonard Williams, Junior, Defensive Line
No. 1 in our list and maybe No. 1 overall in next spring's NFL Draft. Just don't talk like that to the junior from Daytona Beach, who will tell you that's getting way too far ahead of things. He's still getting used to playing with two arms again after an All-American sophomore season playing with one. Now with a surgically repaired labrum and up to 305 pounds, the agile, flexible and football-strong Williams can't wait to get going. As everyone around him in the USC program will tell you, no one loves to play football more. And no one will be featured more in this attacking Trojans defense.
2. Cody Kessler, Junior, Quarterback
There will be other Trojans with all sorts of size and speed and physical talent, but none who will matter more for this team's success. Which is why Cody is our No. 2 pick here. Steve Sarkisian's uptempo offense will go through Kessler's quick hands and head and follow his lead, something he prides himself on as much as his stronger passing arm. Bigger and faster, Kessler will surprise people who weren't watching his final six games last season (11 passing TDs, just 2 INT) that finished up with a record-setting four-TD, 345 yards passing in a Las Vegas Bowl MVP performance. He won't be the first Pac-12 QB you'll think of but for USC to have the season it hopes for, he'll have to be in the leagues' top group.
3. Nelson Agholor, Junior Wide Receiver
No Trojan is set for a national breakout season more than our No. 3 selection, the tough, speedy junior from Florida who has worked so hard -- on his routes, on his connection with his roommate Kessler, on his hands and on his leadership -- although that seems to come naturally. Since a near-breakout season as a sophomore kick returner and lead receiver with Marqise Lee's injured much of the year, Agholor has been on a path to stardom with a number of preseason first-team All-American selections...
4. Buck Allen, Junior Running Back
Another Floridian, the 6-foot, 215-pound speedster with the best hands on the team could easily be higher on this list -- way higher. It's just that we're so sure what kind of year 2013 MVP is preparing himself for, there's no mystery in this for us. Get Buck to the edge and remember what happened whenever USC did that a year ago. This offense with more plays and wider splits allowing the quarterback to read the defense and either throw it or give it to the running back should really benefit the multi-talented back who can catch and convert upfield as well as anyone. He should get the chance here this year.
5. Su'a Cravens, Sophomore Safety
At 231 pounds now on a rangy 6-foot-1-plus frame, Cravens says he's "100 percent" ready to go after rehabbing a minor spring knee issue. Our No. 5 pick also says that even though he might look like a linebacker now, he's a safety all the way and is looking forward to making more big plays with that instinctive ability of his to close on the football now that he has a year of experience allowing him to play up to his sense of where the game is going. He's no longer a freshman and wants to make that clear. One other thing: He's very aware of the tradition of USC safeties preceding him and knows the responsibility to carry that on, he says.
6. Hayes Pullard, Senior Inside Linebacker
If this Trojan team had a Scoutmaster, Hayes would be it. He's the veteran, the emotional leader, the soft-spoken example, the seasoned voice of reason, the big hitter, the guy who can run and cover and stop the power right at him. Our No. 6 selection is the rallying point, the leading tackler and a player starting to get All-American recognition after deciding to come back and finish up when he didn't have to -- but wanted to for a team that he thinks has a chance. As important as any player on this team this year.
7. Josh Shaw, Senior Cornerback
Been there, done that, the Florida transfer from Palmdale could easily say. The 200-pounder with outstanding ball instincts projects an air of confidence as you might expect from a player who has succeeded in two spots at two programs while managing to pitch in to help his family's landscaping business in the meantime. Another Trojan who made the decision to come back and gives this young team one more leader by example -- as well as by leading by just plain leading. With so many freshmen in the secondary, this is a big deal for this team, especially over the summer.
8. Kevon Seymour, Junior Cornerback
Bothered apparently in recent days by an illness that shouldn't set him back, the talented but at times up-and-down third-year player stepped up to the challenge at the end of his second season in the Las Vegas Bowl for a shutdown game against a talented Fresno State pass offense. It's that sort of steady step-up USC needs from Seymour this season playing behind a talented front seven that should encourage teams to try and throw the ball on this Trojans team. Having a second corner ready to play every play. Playing at a faster tempo every day in practice has to help here.
9. Max Tuerk, Junior Offensive Lineman
A long-limbed scrapper, our No. 9 pick and first O-lineman is listed as a center for now but the 6-6, 290-pounder has played guard, tackle and tight end already in his career so we'll see where he ends up. No doubt he'll be in the middle of things no matter where he is after a summer of showing the younger guys how to do it. As Kessler's roommate, he has a bond with the QB and is working hard to get the shotgun snapping down. But there's not a position Tuerk couldn't play if called on, which might depend more on how the other O-line pieces fall into place.
10. Zach Banner, Sophomore Offensive Lineman
We list Zach here for his comeback from hip surgery this spring, his leadership skills and as a representative for all the O-linemen on this team who could step and must step up for this team to get to where it hopes to get. The 6-9, 345-pound right tackle has come farther faster than anyone could have hoped to win a starting spot in the spring. But we're looking at him as also a stand-in in for the rehabbing Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons and the freshman trio of Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao, two of whom must make the move up quickly.<
Bonus Pick: Adoree Jackson, Freshman Utility Player
No matter whether the world class long jumper is ranked in our Top 10 or not, the exciting freshman skill player from Serra High School (where have we heard that description before?) will be one player everyone will be watching to see where he is, what he's doing and how soon he'll be doing it in games. We think sooner rather than later, we just don't know where either.