A lot to like about this USC team

The biggest surprise in a camp with a lot of them to like has been freshman wide receiver Ajene Harris, but he's hardly alone. There are a number of them we'll list for you here.

Just five days to go before we kick off 2014 and this is pretty much our last chance to talk about the Trojans in the abstract. Before we have games to decipher, analyze and dissect.

So here we go in this last pause before we're there. And Fresno State's Bulldogs are here.

We won't take a wait-and-see posture here. Here's how we'll do it. We won't get into the minutia or even the depth chart, which has played out exactly as you'd expect from the way they've been going for three weeks. No gigantic surprises there, unless you count the elevation of Damien Mama to a starter's role for the injured Khaliel Rodgers, giving USC two true freshman O-line starters for the first time in . . . well, forever.

*** We like this team. We like the way it's shaping up. We like the way it's doing things. We like the way it's being coached. And we like its chances.

*** We're liking the brand new guys, one through 11 who could see the field Saturday at the Coliseum. We knew this was a good class. We didn't know it would have the chance to make this kind of impact this quickly.

*** We're liking that two freshman O-linemen will start the way this has gone down. Because they earned it. And were needed. And seem as ready as freshmen can be with Mama and Toa Lobendahn, who with Rodgers, a redshirt freshman, do not seem all that much like rookies.

*** We like how Steve Sarkisian said Saturday, that if you want them to play well in November, better get them in and going from the get-go.

*** We like it that USC named six captains this season. Like the freshman linemen, these guys earned it. All of them. This is a team that has a lot of veteran leaders who learned how to do it helping hold things together last fall.

*** We like the way this team hangs together, no cliques that we've seen. It's one of the pluses of a roster of 64 available originally recruited scholarship players. Everybody matters, as do the four dozen or so walkons. And everybody knows it.

*** We like that you're not going to play here this year just because where or how you were recruited. Can you perform? That seems to be the only question. With so many full-speed reps in practice, you will get the chance to show it if you can.

*** Dare we say it: We like it that competition is back in style, Especially since it means getting the frosh deeply involved.

*** We like that the hurryup practices full of full-speed reps allow Sark to say in all seriousness that "there won't be a better-conditioned team in all of college football" this season and mean it. How long since we've heard that.

*** We like two-way players like Adoree Jackson, or is he a three-way guy, and another two-way possibility in Juju Smith. We like how that makes it much easier for USC to have a three-deep rotation at all three wide receiver spots. That's right, nine guys who can play there for a team that last fall at times didn't go one-deep.

>p>*** We like it that this looks like a team that can stop the run. No better place to start than that. Just ask Pete Carroll. Which as we'd imagine, Sark has done.

*** We like it that Pete always wanted Sark to succeed him. And now he has.

*** We like it that Sark is coming here with five years head coaching experience. It's way better this way. USC is not a starter job. The coach here has to know what he's doing and know when to listen to his players, when to make it go his way and when to let them have theirs.

*** We like the way there's a rotation on the D-line again and even without Leonard Williams and Antwaun Woods last week after already losing Kenny Bigelow, the trio of Claude Pelon, Delvon Smmons and a revitalized Greg Townsend Jr. looked like they could handle things. Again, that would not have been the case last fall.

*** We like the way they're starting with six-deep in the secondary, and then adding in freshmen like John Plattenburg and Jonathan Lockett on top of that. Again, eight-deep is a lot deeper than USC has been accustomed to.

*** We like the way Kris Albarado and Andre Heidari are kicking the football, not looking like last year, and they have credible backups.

*** We like having three first-team running backs, and two fullbacks who can step in or over, so that if one isn't ready, as Tre Madden probably won't be Saturday, you have Buck Allen and Justin Davis ready to roll. Most teams on USC's schedule would trade for that pair.

*** We like it that this is an athletic team that has guys all the way through the lineup who can run -- even Damien who we dare say is the fastest 377-pounder in the country.

*** We like it that this offensive line has guys 6-foot-9, 6-7, 6-6. 6-5 and a tiny Toa at 6-3. We also like it that next to Zach Banner, Damien looks like a near-normal guy. And we like that we're not nearly as nervous about the newbies as most around here.

*** We like it that the quarterbacks seem to have picked things up and put them together much more fully the past week to 10 days, just when you need them to.

*** We like how the defense gets to run to the football and perfect its pursuit angles day after day in a way that will benefit their tackling, whether they do it live or not. You get good athletes getting to the football fast and under control and they'll tackle somebody when they get there in games.

*** We like it that when asked by ESPN, as it did all 65 power conference coaches, what one word best describes this team, Sark said "tough." He was the only coach in the Pac-12 to go there.

*** We like that a lot. And we agree . . . they'll need to be.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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