Analyzing the Pac position by position

Taking ESPN's takes with ours and seeing what you think about who should be where.

We referenced Tuesday the rankings of Pac-12 position groups by ESPN that had USC in the top group for every one of the seven positions, the only team to do so.

Here we'll go into detail and talk about each of those with ESPN's thoughts and our thoughts on ESPN's thoughts. See if you agree. Or who you agree with.

Quarterback


No surprise here that USC is No 1 for the No. 1 position. If Cody Kessler weren't coming off one of the best seasons in USC and Pac-12 history, Max Browne might well be ranked in the top half of the league on his own. The two together make this the easiest call of all even if ESPN can't quite go there. In fact, ESPN goes this way in ranking Cal's talented Jared Goff No. 2.

"A tough decision," ESPN says. "A slight edge goes to Kessler, for now," based on his 2014 numbers (39 TD passes, 5 INT, nearly 70 percent completions), however . . . "with a good crop of skill position guys around him, we wouldn't be surprised if Goff is on top of this list by season's end."

We would. And so should ESPN. Not to put Goff down here but 62.1 percent completions is pretty far from from 70.

Running back


This is USC's lowest ranking at No. 4 behind Oregon, UCLA and Utah. No way to argue these 1 through 4 positions. Just the way they should be -- for now.

Oregon has three 1,000-yard rushers returning in Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. UCLA has the leading Pac-12 rusher back in Paul Perkins, who gained a bunch of his 1,575 yards against the Trojans. And Utah is clearly going to feature Devontae Booker as a Heisman-quality ball-carrier capable of a 2,000-yard season.

So USC, with the loss of Buck Allen and the coming-off-surgery of Tre Madden to combine with Justin Davis and a trio of freshman talents is right where it should be, especially until the offense proves it can run the ball when it has to in tough situations. But the Trojans don't have to stay there. This position probably has the highest upward mobility possibilities of any of the seven for USC.

Wide receivers


UCLA has the jump on USC here, as well, with all three top receivers returning while USC loses three of its top four pass catchers. And yet, ESPN still has USC right on UCLA's heels at No. 2 in the Pac-12 even though Bruins Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte "had good springs," ESPN notes. The one negative here is a new quarterback, probably a freshman. Wide receivers can't throw the ball to themselves.

Which is where Juju Smith, Steven Mitchell and Darreus Rogers have the edge with Cody, although we're inclined to think the name that will change the way you look at the USC receiving corps is one Adoree Jackson, who will be getting the ball in space and we'll all be watching what happens. The same could also happen with a couple of the freshman speedsters out of the backfield -- Ronald Jones and Dominic Davis. Add it up and the USC group could move up although Arizona, right behind them, has a big, athletic talented cast that goes eight deep.

Offensive line


Another UCLA-USC 1-2 race here with the Bruins, despite allowing a bottom 10 41 sacks last fall, finishing first here thanks in large part to the way they manhandled the Trojans again. And all five starters return.

Which, of course, is what you can say about a USC line that returns all five starters and a couple more with a freshman and a talented junior yet to find the field backing them up. Can this bunch grow up together anchored by senior center Max Tuerk, getting all sorts of preseason pub? Will the freshmen from last fall arrive as sophomores? Will the inexplicable whiffs that had USC second or third and long way too often be diminished? Will the benefits of a 50-pound weight loss for Damien Mama pay off? Will Chad Wheeler make it back?

Answer that and they could move up in a year when longtime bullyboy Stanford, struggling a bit, is at best No. 3.

Defensive backs


Another position where USC is in the top group but behind UCLA and two others tying its lowest ranking at No. 4. Only this time, Arizona State is No. 1. "Scary good," ESPN calls the Sun Devils secondary with both corners and safety Jordan Simone leading the way. Oregon is next with three of four starters -- two safeties and a corner -- back, although that's it. Not a lot of depth here. UCLA has been hit by transfers here but the Bruins still have at least seven talented guys so on the numbers, they have the edge.

But USC has the potential, even if it's young and not all that proven save for senior Kevon Seymour. But with Adoree, John Plattenburg, a late-blooming Leon McQuay and a hybrid Chris Hawkins pushed by freshmen Iman Marshall and Ykili Ross, this Trojan group will have all eyes on it as it answers the questions: Can they move up? Can they be coached up? We say sure, they can. Will they be? We'll see.

Linebackers


All by himself, Arizona's Scooby Wright (163 tackles, 14 sacks, 29 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles) has the Wildcats on top ahead of a USC group that has a different, much deeper look despite the loss of Hayes Pullard and JR Tavai.

This Trojans team has numbers, experience, talented youth, rehabbing veterans and the star power of Su'a Cravens backed up by Anthony Sarao, Lamar Dawson, Scott Felix, Uchenna Nwosu, Olajuwon Tucker, Michael Hutchings, Jabari Ruffin, Quinton Powell and early-arriving Cameron Smith who won't be the only freshman in the mix with Osa Masina, Porter Gustin and John Houston on board in the fall. And for this position, we'd be remiss not to mention walkons Joel Foy and Nick Schlossberg.

But if you think USC has the numbers, that's nothing, ESPN says, to the 24 linebackers No. 3 Arizona State has on its roster. And as they showed last fall, the Sun Devils will be coming on almost every play.

Defensive line


Despite the loss of Arik Armstead, Oregon is No. 1 here behind DE DeForest Buckner, who should succeed BLW as the Pac-12's top D-lineman, ESPN says. At UCLA, Owa Odighisuwa and Ellis McCarthy are gone but ESPN tabs Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes as the "top 1-2 punch in the conference." We'll see about both No. 1 and Nos. 1-2.

But it's No. 3 USC fans care about, which is where ESPN has the Trojans, despite what many Peristyle posters seem to think. With the "irreplaceable" BLW gone, ESPN focuses on the fact that USC has "five fifth-year seniors" in Delvon Simmons, Antwaun Woods, Claude Pelon, Cody Temple and Greg Townsend -- and one non-senior -- Kenny Bigelow, who really could, if used properly and rotated right, easily move on up from the third spot in the league.

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


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