Noteworthy for USC Spring 2015

The Trojan program is feeling pretty upbeat about spring . . . and fall. Here are some notes to know.

Out today in the Spring Media Guide and on the field tomorrow in the first of 15 permitted spring sessions, USC football is feeling pretty good about itself.

And we quote from the cover of the spring guide: "The Coliseum, voted nation's No. 3 college football experience" and a USC program with, again quoting from the guide cover here: "11 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS . . . 33 BOWL VICTORIES . . . 163 ALL-AMERICANS . . . 6 HEISMAN TROPHY WINNERS . . . 471 NFL PLAYERS . . . 22 ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICANS . . . 15 PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMERS . . . 40 COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAMERS."

*** Practice schedule: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, March 3-5-7-10 (Coliseum)-12-14 (Coliseum)-24-26-28-31 (Coliseum), April 2-4-7-9-11 . . . Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3:30 p.m., Saturdays at 11 a.m. . . . All practices on campus on Cromwell Field are open to public viewing from the Loker Stadium stands . . . three practices at the Coliseum are not open to the public.

*** Spring game: April 11, Coliseum, 3 p.m. on the PAC-12 Network . . . Tickets available at the gate for $10.

*** About the offense: “We’re not going to stray very far from our offensive approach of a year ago,” the guide quotes Steve Sarkisian, adding this little nugget, "who will continue to call the plays in USC’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense with help from offensive coordinator Clay Helton." We'll take last year's Notre Dame game as the example of how that works going forward, if you don't mind.

*** Mostly multiple: Just as they were last season, USC lists itself as "Offensive Formation—Multiple . . . Defensive Formation—3-4 Multiple." We're thinking maybe more "multiple," though, so if they have to throw it 60 times to win a game, they will, or if they have to blitz 40 times to win one, they will as well. No failures of the will this time around.

*** 1st half/2nd half: But the guide doesn't look past the well-documented issue and the Trojans' tendency to fade at the end of football games: "Last year, USC outscored opponents by nearly double (284-149) in the first half, including 167-53 in the first quarter, and did not let any foe put up points on an opening drive. But the Trojans faded in the second half, holding just a 182-178 scoring edge, and Troy was outscored in the final quarter, 86-72."

*** Top 25: USC returns eight starters on an offense ranked in the national Top 25 in scoring, passing, passing efficiency and third-down conversions last fall. Not a bad place to start.

*** Top 20: USC returns seven starters on a defense that was in the nation’s Top 20 in turnover margin, red zone defense and third-down conversion defense. Again, that would be a good place to finish.

*** Pluses, minuses on D: Back are USC's team leaders in tackles for loss, interceptions, fumble recoveries and deflections from last fall but gone are the top two tacklers (and four of the top six) and the Trojans' co-leaders in sacks and forced fumbles. Someone, or several someones, will have to step up here.

*** Special, not so special: First the good news: USC returned two kickoffs and two punts for TDs, had a punt return average of 9.7 yards good for the top fourth in the nation, which is where the kickoff return average of 22.1 yards finished while USC missed just two field goals, blocked two field goals and improved its punting average. But there were these downsides: USC had two kicks of its own blocked, allowed one kickoff return TD, finished in the bottom five in punt return defense allowing a horrendous 16.3 yards a return and was in the bottom 25 in net punting with a 35.0 average and in the bottom 30 in kickoff return defense, allowing 22.5 yards per. "We really value special teams play," Sark is quoted in the spring guide. At least for certain parts of it, they did.

*** Looking ahead to the fall: With seven home games at the Coliseum, where USC has won more than 75 percent of its games and five of six last season, USC plays nine opponents who played in bowl games last season. One of those home games, a Thursday night visit from Sark's former Washington team, will be only the third non-Thanksgiving, non-bowl Thursday game USC has ever played in the Coliseum. Leave home early.

*** Featured players: There are five of them to start and we'll list what USC has to say about them:

*** Wide receiver Juju Smith: the 2014 first-team Freshman All-American, and now team leader, caught 54 passes for five TDs and should be in line, USC says, for the Biletnikoff Award and All-American consideration his sophomore season.

*** Center Max Tuerk: The Rimington Award candidate is simply "the best center in the nation," Sark says, so it looks like the senior who's played every position in the O-line may not be moving out of the middle despite rumblings although his 6-foot-6 frame and long arms aren't exactly ideal there even if his leadership is.

*** Outside linebacker Su’a Cravens: USC's All-American candidate is up for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards after team-best totals of 17 tackles for loss and three interceptions, one for a touchdown, with five sacks and nine deflections as a hybrid strong safety/outside linebacker who describes himself now as all outside linebacker. A two-year starter, Su'a, an All-Pac-12 first-teamer and Sophomore All-American first-teamer in 2014, was in the national Top 25 in tackles for a loss (1.3 a game) and his 17 TFLs were not only the most of any defensive back in the country last year they were the most by a non-defensive lineman at USC since 2000.

*** Cornerback/wide receiver/return man Adoree' Jackson: USC calls the sophomore-to-be "electric" after a Freshman All-American first-team season as USC's first 3-way player since 1997. He had 49 tackles, three receiving TDs and two kickoff return TDs last year not to mention a 100-yard fumble return TD at Utah negated by an incompetent Pac-12 whistle-blower. USC is touting Adoree', the Pac-12's Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, as "the most exciting player in college football" after his 10 catches for 138 yards in 34 offensive snaps, his three TDs including that 71-yard catch and run against Nebraska, his 23 kickoff returns for 684 yards (a 29.7 average), his two punt returns (a 6.0 average), his one carry for five yards, his four tackles for losses, his 10 deflections, his one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. With his start on both offense and defense against Notre Dame, he became USC's first player to start on both sides of the ball since the late 1960s. A long jumper on USC’s track team, "He could be in line for All-American notice and major national awards in 2015 (his statistics last year were comparable to those of Michigan’s 3-way star Charles Woodson when he won the Heisman in 1997)," USC's spring guide notes.

*** One multi footnote: Adoree's winter/spring long jumping isn't the only multiple sport guy going here until the arrival of signee Porter Gustin, a fireballing 93-miles-per-hour closer/linebacker from Utah who gets to campus this summer. Two walk-on quarterbacks fill that bill also. Holder Connor Sullivan has also participated in baseball and track and freshman Larry Tuileta is a volleyball player.

*** Quarterback Cody Kessler: No question who is getting the most notice in the spring guide. "A leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and All-American honors as a finalist for the Manning and Unitas Golden Arm Awards," USC describes the senior two-year starter after "USC's most efficient passing season ever." The numbers (315-of-452 passing, 69.7 percent, 3,826 yds, 39 TD, five INT in 2014, plus two rushing TDs and 33.0 avg on seven punts) back up USC's claim that Cody is "the nation’s most accomplished returning quarterback of 2015 . . . No quarterback in the nation last fall threw as many passes as Kessler and had only five interceptions, and only one besides Kessler (Oregon’s Heisman winner Marcus Mariota) threw at least 35 TDs with just 5 or fewer interceptions." The Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP was third nationally in completion percentage, fourth in both passing efficiency (167.1) and passing TDs, eighth in completions (24.3), 12th in passing yards (294.3) and 24th in total offense (282.6). He set or tied school season records for completions (315), completion percentage, passing efficiency, interception rate (1.11), TD passes and 300-yard passing games (seven). His seven scoring throws against Colorado set a USC game record and his six TD passes against Notre Dame was an Irish opponent record. Kessler enters 2015 in the Top Six of a number of USC career lists: fourth in TD passes (59) and sixth in completions (553), passing yardage (6,803) and total offense (6,527 yards). His current career completion percentage of 67.9 percent and interception rate of 1.47 are better than 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart’s USC records (64.8 percent and 1.85 percent).

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