Changing class at USC

These freshmen could make all the difference in the way this Trojans team approaches the game -- and plays it.

I'm with Sark on this one.

I want to see these USC freshmen when the lights go on Saturday at the Coliseum against Arkansas State (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) just the way Steve Sarkisian has been saying he does.

And I'll say it now. This freshman class has turned me around. The best thing about the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, as deep and talented and diverse as it might be, I said back in the early summer, was that they weren't absolutely needed.

They could develop at their own pace. When they were ready. A big part of that was the fact that eight potential starters would be coming off season-ending injuries in 2014.

Put those rehabbers with the 16 returning starters and those freshmen, good as they are, can take their time, I said.

I was wrong.

The 14 freshmen who could see the field in the first half will be there for one reason: They deserve to be there. They earned their way. And they're changing the chemstry of this team.

No more trying to cobble together gameplans that were forced to junk the much ballyhooed uptempo style into a slowdown after halftime. Or on the practice field.

No more worrying that USC can't go fast on offense, certainly not after halftime, because the defense would be required to play that way.

This defense is going to play that way. And much of that is because of these freshmen.

The Trojans on offense may be the ones under the gun trying to keep pace with the numbers you're going to see rotating from this defense -- numbers you're not accustomed to seeing.

The addition of those freshmen, Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson and Jacob Daniel up front, linebackers Cameron Smith, Porter Gustin, Osa Masina and maybe John Houston, with Marvell Tell and Iman Marshall in the secondary, are game-changers.

Add those freshmen to the 22 upperclassmen you can expect to see on defense and that's 31 in the defensive rotation. And this on a team that just 14 games ago could manage to play a mere 44 originally recruited players on offense, defense and special teams, in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Play fast, go hard, get after 'em, and get off the field. Even for those of us who have seen every preseason practice, we're not exactly sure what this will look like.

Just that it will be different.

A refreshing change of pace -- literally. Instead of reading and reacting, hanging in there and holding on, the Trojans will be in the business of speeding opponent offenses up, making them play faster than they can -- or want to.

And setting things up for playmakers like Su'a Cravens and Adoree' Jackson to make plays on the football. The old Pete Carroll formula. It's all about the ball.

The emphasis on turning it over and taking it away has been a preseason constant. It will be interesting to see that play out at full speed.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out at full speed -- including the substitutions. Especially cool here is with all the numbers in and out of the game and all of them playing fast, you not only get the chance to wear out your opponent. You get something else.

And the USC coaches say they're going there. They'll get a chance to see which of the players they're going to finish the game up with. Not only do the freshmen change the competitive dynamics of the practice field, they'll change them in the games.

That's big. And it will allow the offense to go fast and not worry about the impact on the defense. Think Notre Dame or Fresno. Or a whole bunch of first quarters from a year ago.

Now imagine playing fast into the fourth quarter. Again, thanks to the freshmen, this team can. Tight end Tyler Petite, with those soft hands in a three-man rotation, is a good place to start.

Right tackle Chuma Edoga can step in there for Zach Banner. Nothing like last year when the need was there for three true freshman O-line starters. This makes much more sense.

But Chuma is just one of a 10-man O-line rotation.

Then there are the three running backs -- mixing power and speed -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'cedric Ware. They'll all play. So even without Justin Davis, with that slow-healing ribcage, the Trojans can have the numbers behind Tre Madden.

Last year, they had to play -- JuJu, Adoree', Toa, Viane, Damien, Jonathan, Platt. There was no choice.

This year there is. The choice is USC's. And they're choosing to go with the young guys again -- even though they don't have to.

Unless of course, the plan is to play fast. And turn this game over to your players to make the plays that win football games. And let them do it again and again and again.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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