A number of folks writing about college football right now are making the point that there really are a lot of questions about a USC team that some think will be one of the final four playoff teams (at least many of the NCAA betting lines feel that USC has a great chance to be in the top-4).
But others -- yours truly included -- say so what if there are questions. If there aren't questions about your team in early July, it may be because no one cares.
Name a team for 2015 that doesn't have questions. There aren't any. But as interesting as the questions can be, it's the answers that matter.
But first the questions. We have lots of them but we'll stop at 15 for this USC team. Everybody likes summer countdowns.
Although we're not talking about the summer questions here. We've hit those hard with the workout schedule coverage as we see each of the guys, especially the newcomers, at the player-run practices.
These questions are for the fall, looking at this team's ability to make this work and put it together when they put on the pads and start playing someone else.
So here we go, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in reverse order of their importance as we see them.
No. 15: How many freshmen can and will step up? And how far can they go? Is there another Adoree Jackson or Juju Smith in the mix here? Must there be? Will Iman Marshall, Ykili Ross, Osa Masina, Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith, John Houston and Porter Gustin break into the two-deep on defense? Does one of the D-line crew break through? Will Tyler Petite, Chuma Edoga, Roy Hemsley, Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones, Aca'cedric Ware, Deontay Burnett or Caleb Wilson get on to the field -- or into the rotation -- on offense?
No. 14: Can junior college wide receivers Isaac Whitney and Dequan Hampton step up right away and be a serious part of the wide receiver mix? JC ball is a long way away from facing a schedule with eight or nine ranked teams. Can they do it?
No. 13: Can the live-legged Matt Boermeester step up right away and replace Andre Heidari as the game-winning field goal kicker? USC's first-ever blueshirt could get his chance. After all, Stanford is Game 3.
No. 12: Can this all-veteran, big, strong, deep, experienced O-line group dominate the Pac-12? If not, why not? Who has this much talent, this many prospects?
No. 11: How good can JuJu Smith be? Our early thinking was that the explosive Steven Mitchell, fully healthy, maybe could overtake him as USC's go-to guy. Now we're wondering if it's possible for anyone to catch up with the uber-competitive JuJu?
No. 10: For the wide receiver group as a whole, how do they go together? How does the possibility of Adoree on offense for as many as 20 plays a game affect this chemistry?
No. 9: Is Connor Spears as good as the 6-foot-6, 252-pound walkon tight end transfer from Columbia looks? And if he is and any one of Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara or Chris Wilson's son Caleb come through, does the position become a strength despite the apparent loss of Bryce Dixon? Is that possible?
No. 8: Will Claude Pelon be the man to step up and play to the potential of the player who was the nation's top JuCo D-lineman two years ago? And will the rest of the five-senior group be allowed, encouraged and able to make plays and just go for it with the kind of depth we haven't seen in years with Kenny Bigelow and Jordan Simmons also in the mix? As a group, can they improve on last year despite losing Leonard Williams? Could that happen?
No. 7:What about the linebackers? Do they really have everything a team could hope for except a proven track record save for Su'a Cravens -- inside and out? There's experience, size, speed, depth and talent. Can they make enough plays, create enough havoc, cover enough ground to lead this team from the second level?
No. 6: Is there a way for the secondary to get up to shutdown speed, young and talented as it may be, with a senior, a junior, a trio -- at least -- of sophomores and a pair of freshmen? Will Kevon Seymour step up to be the veteran leader? How much will AJ play here? Is Leon McQuay a corner? How solid can John Plattenburg be in the middle? Where does Chris Hawkins end up?
No. 5: Can Cody Kessler be a Heisman-eligible quarterback? If he is, USC -- with its history -- may be home free. And will Max Browne be the insurance policy great teams sometimes need -- remember Ohio State. But how for Cody to get over the hump that so many reference -- the dichotomy between the way he's managed to devastate lesser teams and struggled against the big boys? Is this a Cody problem? Or a gameplan/coaching issue? Is this team, as a team, along with their leader, ready to answer the bell the bigger the game gets? It's done so a couple of times under Cody -- against Stanford the last two seasons? USC will have plenty of chances to put that behind them this year? Can they? Will they?
No. 4:Can USC block the run? There's a new sheriff in town, O-line coach Bob Connelly, with a new attitude as the run game coordinator. He'll have, as we noted above, lots of talent to work with. Now can they get it all together unlike last season when the Trojans averaged just 169.8 yards a game (just 4.0 yards a carry) -- down more than a dozen from the year before despite Buck Allen's big season? Will they cut down on those busted plays that had USC at second- or third-and-long after whiffing on blocks at the line of scrimmage? Think of the times in second halves -- especially in the Utah and Arizona State losses -- when one first down on the ground at the end wins both for USC. That has to change. But can it? WIll it?
No. 3: Can this team attack? On offense and defense? For 60 minutes a game? Will it? Isn't that what really good USC teams do?
No. 2: From the Boston College debacle against the option when the Trojans couldn't stop the run by a team that couldn't pass to the final moments of the Arizona State and Utah games when they couldn't stop game-winning drives either in the air or on the ground, to a UCLA gameplan that looked like the Trojans coaches hadn't viewed much Bruin game film, to the unwillingness to blitz and sell out to make a play, a sanctions-limited USC played timidly on defense most of the season. Can this team get it together in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's second season at the helm? Can the defensive coaches get their act together and all get on the same page this time around? The Notre Dame game said "maybe." The Nebraska game said "maybe not."
No.1:It's all about Steve Sarkisian at the top here. Is he ready to make this happen -- to put it all together the way Howard Jones, John McKay and Pete Carroll were able to? Was last season the kind of learning opportunity everybody must work their way through, as Pete liked to refer to setbacks -- personal and teamwise? Coaching college football at the very top level is a hard business. Winning national championships is even harder. USC recruits players -- and with Sark has recruited them well -- who must have those same aspirations. Now can the coach keep it moving in that direction and take the big step up in Year 2?
We'll have our answers this weekend in Part 2.
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