The Pac-12 media days put a new spotlight on the Trojans and a bullseye on their back as the media’s pick to win the toughest division in college football, the Pac-12 South, and then turn that into a Pac-12 championship with a win over projected Pac-12 North champion Oregon. If the media is correct, we would likely see USC earn a trip to the four-team College Football Playoff, but that’s a long way away.
There are still lots of games to be played before even considering that and to win those games, USC has to have players step up. So which players does USC need the most to be successful? Which players’ success is key for the Trojans’ season to be a success?
We are counting down the 30 USC players most important to the Trojans’ success this season. This list is not the 30 most talented players or the 30 players that will put up the best stats, but instead the guys that could propel USC to a successful season.
17. Jabari Ruffin - Redshirt Junior
Coming into the 2014 season, Jabari Ruffin looked primed for a huge season. He had worked hard during the spring and summer to learn the Trojans’ new defensive system. He was listed as the starter on the USC preseason depth chart. He was up to 240 pounds and was ready to play the edge as USC’s strongside SAM linebacker.
But on a pass where he showed his ability to drop into coverage, all the hopes and expectations for his 2014 season came screeching to a halt. Ruffin snuck into the passing lane and intercepted a throw from backup quarterback Max Browne. Instinctively, he took off down the sideline, but when running back Justin Davis came over to attempt a tackle, Ruffin tried to brace himself for the hit by loading up his weight on his outside leg. When he did, his knee gave way, bending the wrong way.
Ruffin had to be carted away and though trainers initially thought it was only a sprain, an MRI revealed the full extent of the injury. His season was over on the first day of full pad practice during fall camp. Ruffin missed the 2014 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and USC struggled to get consistent play at the SAM position throughout camp.
With Ruffin gone, the Trojans eventually moved Su’a Cravens down from safety to the SAM position and let him be an playmaker. Scott Felix and J.R. Tavai combined for the other outside linebacker position.
Now with Tavai gone and Cravens established as a stud at the SAM position, Ruffin is returning to battle with Felix for the rush end role. There is also the possibility of incoming freshmen Porter Gustin and Osa Masina getting into the competition as well, but Masina has practiced more inside during the summer workouts we’ve been able to watch.
Ruffin does have some experience, having played in 13 games his redshirt freshman year, earning a start in the season opener against Hawai’i with Morgan Breslin injured. He made 22 tackles on the season, including a game-high eight in backup duty against Cal and collected a sack against Utah. But Felix returns with a season of experience in the current defensive system at the rush end position. He also holds the starter role heading into fall camp.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ruffin is going to have to come in and show that he can be physical at the point of attack and help set the edge as USC sometimes struggled with last season. He has the ability to be an explosive playmaker. While he played linebacker and defensive end in high school, he was also an offensive stud in high school, catching 42 passes for 549 yards (13.1 avg.) with five touchdowns and rushing for 196 yards and two scores.
More importantly, the former Downey (Calif.) four-star outside linebacker has to show that he has complete confidence in his knee and that he isn’t going to be hampered by a nagging concern for it when he puts the pads on and takes off around the edge trying to hunt down quarterbacks.
“Jabari is one of the bigger question marks coming out of the summer. He hasn't been able to work all that much. He looks bigger, stronger, more mature and seems like a leader out there. But how does he move in and play in space?
"We just don't know. Rush end seems a good spot for him and he'll have plenty of help there. He could be a big bonus if he can step in and step up. The jury is still out. August practice will be very big for Jabari.." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com
|17||Jabari Ruffin||79 pts||12 (Dan Weber)||25 (Ryan Abraham)|
|18||Anthony Sarao||77 pts||13 (Keely Eure)||26 (Austin Geller)|
|19||Zach Banner||72 pts||12 (Shotgun Sprating)||Not listed (Austin Geller)|
|20||John Plattenburg||68 pts||15 (Keely Eure)||29 (Austin Geller)|
|21||Damien Mama||49 pts||18 (Gerard Martinez)||27 (DanWeber)|
|22||Connor Spears||44 pts||13 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|
|23||Max Browne||43 pts||19 (Twice)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|24||Leon McQuay III||40 pts||17 (Ryan Abraham)||Not listed (Twice)|
|25||Osa Masina||39 pts||15 (Gerard Martinez)||Not listed (Keely Eure)|
|26||Darreus Rogers||36 pts||19 (Shotgun Spratling)||Not listed (Dan Weber)|
|27||Matt Boermeester||35 pts||18 (Dan Weber)||Not listed (Twice)|
|28||Chris Hawkins||34 pts||21 (Twice)||Not listed (Twice)|
|29||Viane Talamaivao||23 pts||22 (Keely Eure)||Not listed (Three times)|
|30||Ykili Ross||21 pts||22 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|