Looking at Troy with another lens

So how do others, ESPN especially, look at USC football? Here are our takes on their takes for last season, next season.

The season has been over for a couple of weeks -- over for everyone -- and we're not quite in the recruiting home stretch yet but almost. As for basketball, it's that blah time of year when USC is out of it and playing to get ready for Season III in the Andy Enfield Era. And even for Major League Baseball, we're still "waiting for next year." Fan Fest time, anyone?

So what to do? How about doing what the big media guys with the big bucks in college sports do? How about starting with checking out what ESPN's Pac-12 bloggers are opining. Hey, they have to do college football 12 months a year so if they're doing some looking back -- and forward here -- so can we.

And unlike the national guys at ESPN who have USC in their top three or four preseason picks and see Cody Kessler likewise one of the Heisman leaders, the folks who cover the Pac-12 every day have their own takes here. Which allows us to have ours.

So here we go. Backwards first. How about the grades Ted Miller gave USC's season. We think he hits it exactly right here:

Grading out the Trojans team


OFFENSE: B minus: Kessler's 39 TD passes to five INTs were the positive headline as were USC's red zone and third-down efficiency. Down note was a rushing offense that at 4.0 yards a try was 10th in the Pac-12. And then there's this: An offense among the nation's best in the first period got outscored 86-72 in the fourth.

DEFENSE: C plus: Not as bad as perceived, Miller says, noting USC was fifth in the Pac-12 against scoring, third in yards given up per play (5.3) and second in pass-effieicncy defense and tops in the red zone and on third downs. So what's the C-plus for. For the Boston College game and looking like they'd never seen the option plus the inability to make a play at the end against Arizona State, Utah and Arizona and then getting pushed around by UCLA -- again. Good line by Ted: after listing the impact of depth issues and scholarship sanctions, he concludes: "USC doesn't get graded on the curve."

SPECIAL TEAMS: B minus: 10th in punting bad, Miller says, but just under 90 percent on field goals (nine of 11) good. TDs from punt return and kickoff teams balanced against yardage averages that were very, well, average. Hard to be bad with Nelson Agholor and Adoree Jackson. But ESPN's Stats & Info group has USC 36th nationally and fourth in the Pac-12 on special teams efficiency. Hence the B-minus grade.

OVERALL: C plus: What's a good year at 9-4 for 110 teams in the nation doesn't work for USC, Miller says. Nor does giving up 452 yards rushing to BC nor leading ASU by nine with 3:00 left and losing or turning a win into a loss on the last drive at Utah and then there's that third straight loss to UCLA. Not a full-scale flop like 2012, but not one, Miller writes, "that earned Sarkisian a warm embrace from USC fans eager for a return to national relevance."

Grading out the top Trojans


ESPN just finished rolling out their Pac-12 Top 25 players and there are five Trojans -- Leonard Williams at No. 4, Kessler at No. 11, Agholor at No. 13, Buck Allen at No. 16 and Su'a Cravens at No. 19. That equals UCLA's five and surpasses the three of Oregon and Washington. Not bad when you consider that puts Kessler ahead of All-American and No. 12 Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon and Agholor ahead of Stanford's Andrus Peat (No. 14) and Arizona State's Jaelen Strong (No. 15). Stanford, Utah and ASU had two each with one from Arizona, Cal and Colorado.

One other way ESPN ranked the players was by asking their 32 college football writers to rank players nationally on a 1-10 scale and four Trojans made the Top 100. Williams was No. 7 with an 8.66; Agholor No. 29 at 7.78; Kessler No. 51 at 7.22 (and ahead of QBs Blake Sims of Alabama, Nick Marshall of Auburn and Brett Hundley of UCLA (No. 81 at 6.72) with Cravens No. 89 at 6.76. No Buck seems the one oversight here. He's a Top 100 guy easily. Would certainly have him above No. 15 Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska after seeing them head to head.

And now for the lookaheads:

Pac-12 South to USC?


As we noted in the War Room, USC has the most favorable road schedule in the Pac-12 South and "is the early Vegas favorite -- it's impossible to discount that stockpile of talent," the ESPN bloggers note. We agree. As Pat Haden and everyone else have noted, make one play at the end against ASU and USC wins the South last year. So despite the probability of another five ranked teams, you have to go through USC and Kessler to get there. Although as Arizona proved, the one team that didn't beat USC among the top four, with ASU, UCLA and Utah, managed somehow to win the wild South. So you never know.

Here's the basic ESPN take: "2015 will be the first season of Pac-12 play in which USC isn't yoked with any sort of NCAA sanctions. You might recall the Trojans won the South in 2011 and beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium in the regular season but didn't get a rematch in the title game because they were ineligible for the postseason. While USC won't be at a full 85 scholarships next fall, it has the potential to be as deep as it has been since expansion. It's difficult to believe the Trojans at full strength won't be a factor in the South, Pac-12 and nationally going forward."

But we think we like especially the take of one Pac-12 contrarian who said that after three straight resounding losses to Jim Mora's UCLA team, it won't be until the Trojans prove they can beat the Bruins that they get the pick. Indeed.

Dominance defining South


Even without winning the Pac-12 title, the five-ranked-team-deep South clearly demonstrated the power was moving in the direction most thought it would from the get-go. And nothing will change that in 2015. All but Colorado will again be a factor here. While in the North, Oregon loses its best-ever player and Stanford loses most of its defense. So the one change here will be the emergence of a first-ever league titlist from the South. It should happen. Everyone agrees. Although in 2011, as noted, had USC been eligible for another shot at Oregon, Trojan fans have to think they'd have won that first Pac-12 championship game.

We think USC -- or whoever wins the South -- will this time around finally. ESPN agrees.

Way too early All-Pac-12 picks


Here it is, our first non-ESPN take -- from the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner, who makes his All-Pac-12 picks for 2015. Trojans fans won't be unhappy here. With six All-Pac-12 projected picks, USC has more than the next most -- UCLA with five.

*** OFFENSE

QB: USC’s CODY KESSLER

RB: Arizona’s Nick Wilson

RB: Utah’s Devontae Booker

WR: Arizona’s Cayleb Jones

WR: Colorado’s Nelson Spruce

WR: USC’s JUJU SMITH

TE: Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown

OL: USC’s MAX TUERK

OL: Stanford’s Kyle Murphy

OL: Oregon’s Tyler Johnstone

OL: UCLA’s Jake Brendel

OL: USC’s TOA LOBENDAHN

*** DEFENSE

DL: Oregon’s DeForest Buckner

DL: UCLA’s Kenny Clark

DL: UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes

DL: Utah’s Hunter Dimick

LB: Arizona’s Scooby Wright

LB: Utah’s Jared Norris

LB: UCLA’s Myles Jack

LB: Oregon’s Joe Walker

DB: UCLA’s Ishmael Adams

DB: USC’s SU'A CRAVENS

DB: Washington’s Budda Baker

DB: ASU’s Lloyd Carrington

*** SPECIALISTS

K: Utah’s Andy Phillips

P: Utah’s Tom Hackett

RS: Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey

AP/ST: USC’s ADOREE JACKSON

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


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