Confidence is running high around Heritage Hall. USC returns eight starters on both offense and defense and there's talk amongst the fans of USC being 8-0 headed into Pullman.
There's just one little problem.
The 2014 season marks the final stage of NCAA sanctions against Southern Cal. USC's roster this upcoming season will feature just 70 players who came to the school on scholie.
Meanwhile, other schools figure to be closer to the 85-man limit.
Down 15 scholie players figures to play a more meaningful role as the season goes along, and the Cougs tackle the Trojans in the season's final month.
Injuries happen. And teams need to rely on their depth in the most healthy of times. USC will not have that luxury.
USC also had five early departures to the NFL from last year's squad – WR Marqise Lee, C Marcus Martin, DT George Uko, TE Xavier Grimble and S-LB Dion Bailey.
New USC coach Steve Sarkisian is altering the Trojan offense -- it will still be a pro-style attack but it will operate out of a no-huddle shotgun. Sarkisian wants to run plays as fast as he can, figuring his offense will be better the less teams can substitute.
The spring session for USC was mixed. There were a good number of injuries and a lot of players saw time and roles they might not necessarily duplicate in the fall.
but the biggest issue was on the offensive line, where USC is replacing three of five starters.
USC will thrive or dive there in 2014 based on the play of second-year freshmen and heretofore career backups, particularly at the guard spots.
Quarterback Cody Kessler, who was benched last year in the Cougs' win, is the starter with Skyline's Max Browne the backup.
Some thought Browne would be ready to challenge or take over the top spot this year but it apparently wasn't much of a competition. Browne reportedly had a tough spring and was slower to pick up the new Trojan offense.
One of USC's biggest problems was in the red zone this spring and the tailback pecking order remains as clear as mud post-spring.
That said, Javorius Allen, who rushed for 785 yards on 135 touches last year, might have a toe up.
Junior fullback Jahleel Pinner may have carved himself out a bigger role, he filled in nicely at tailback this spring with others in the group sidelined with injury.
There's talent at wideout, just not a lot of it.
A good number of the receivers were also banged up this spring, (something not entirely unexpected across the board when you have 70 scholarship players.)
Nelson Agholor figures to be the top target after a season where he caught 56 passes and also was the second-best punt return man nationally. But who the Trojans' No. 2 receiver will be is a mystery right now, it could be Darreus Rogers, George Farmer, Steven Mitchell or someone else.
The USC defense is in better shape.
The scholie limitations are felt here too but up front, if healthy, the Trojans look to have one of the better lines in the conference.
All-America defensive lineman Leonard Williams (13.5 tackles for loss with six sacks in '13) leads the way but he has plenty of help, including the underrated Antwaun Woods.
(Note: DL Kenny Bigelow was reported by USC Tuesday afternoon to be out for the season after tearing his right ACL during non-contact voluntary drills. The redshirt freshman was expected to compete for a starting spot.)
USC is employing a new 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox but count on plenty of 4-3 looks. USC employed a 5-2 base last season.
USC will basically add a linebacker or a defensive linemen depending on the situation and the opponent's offensive style. Jabari Ruffin, who played defensive end last year, could be the biggest beneficiary and is now an outside linebacker.
The secondary is young but there aren't a lot of questions as long as everyone can stay healthy. Safeties Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay, both sophomores, are the starters and freshman corner Chris Hawkins has a chance to start. Josh Shaw was injured this spring but he's almost certain to start at the other corner position.
Last year's WSU-USC game turned on two big interceptions. With the Trojans' defense looking stout again, a big play here and there might also be the difference in this one.
WSU in Week 9: Southern Cal
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