The 2014 USC Football season kicks off at the Coliseum on Saturday, with Gus Johnson and Charles Davis on the call for FOX. But perhaps the most interesting thing going into Week 1, is who all are getting the call for the Trojans from new head coach Steve Sarkisian.
USC released the depth chart for the season opener on Sunday night, with a few surprises after injuries were the big story in fall camp.For the first time in the modern era, the Trojans are expected to start two true freshmen on the offensive line, as Toa Lobenhan and Damien Mama are listed atop the depth chart at left and right guard, respectively.
Only three true freshmen linemen have started an opener before for USC, with Kris O’Down being the last to do it in 2007 against Idaho.
Also projected to start as a true freshman is wide receiver Ajene Harris out of Crenshaw. Harris has top billing as the Trojans’ third receiver, which is expected to be a slot receiver role.
True freshmen and two-way phenoms Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith aren’t listed as starters on offense or defense, but are co-starters as kick returners along with sophomore running back Justin Davis.
For the first time, USC is noting down injured players on depth chart, and Tre Madden(right) is surely one of note. Last year’s starting running back sits as the fifth running back on the depth chart this, which could be a sign that he’ll miss the opener against Fresno State. Word came out Friday that Madden would be a game-time decision due to turf toe. Buck Allen is listed as the starter, with Justin Davis being second. Walk-ons James Toland IV and Stefan Smith follow Davis, but look for fullbacks Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner to get carries in various packages as tailbacks.
- On the offensive line, left tackle Chad Wheeler is the only Trojan lineman projected to start at the position he finished at last season. Zach Banner will be a new starter at right tackle, while veteran Max Tuerk moves inside to center, which will give him at least one start at all three basic line positions. Aundrey Walker was originally considered to be guy that Mama was competing with for the right guard position, but he’s listed as the third right guard on the depth chart behind Nathan Guertler, who was a modified tight end for parts of last season.
- As expected, Randall Telfer is starting at tight end. But surprisingly, the only other scholarship player at the position –Bryce Dixon– is listed as the third shallow behind walk-on Chris Willson. This could be a product of packaging, as Willson will likely get a big share of blocking tight end reps, whereas Telfer and Dixon can line up at receiver more adequately.
- Moreover on receivers, George Farmer is listed as a starter for the first time at USC, and will play his biggest role as a Trojan since being a experimented as a running back way back in 2011. Behind Farmer as the second receiver is JuJu Smith, who impressed during camp. Nelson Agholor holds down the fort as the top billing receiver –presumably playing the flanker role– while Darreus Rogers sits behind him on the second line. Sitting third at all three positions are Victor Blackwell, Rahshead Johnson and Steven Mitchell as flanker, split-end and slot, respectively.
Flipping to defense, there’s not many surprises. Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons are highlighted as co-starters at defensive tackle, while Antwaun Woods(right) re-asserts himself as the starting nose tackle. Leonard Williams is right where you ensivsioned him, at defensive end in the hybrid 3-4.
- SAM linebacker might have been the most intriguing position during camp after Jabari Ruffin was lost for the season with a torn ligament in his knee. Ruffin’s best friend Scott Felix gets the nod at strongside linebacker, with freshman Uchenna Nwosu out of Narbonne sitting second. Su’a Cravens, the starting strong safety, is expected to play a “dollar” defensive back position that will mimic the SAM linebacker spot against spread teams. Fresno State will show limited spread looks.
- Inside linebackers and the secondary is status quo for the most part. Hayes Pullard and Anthony Sarao start at MIKE and WILL, with Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw at cornerback. Deep in center field at free safety are Gerald Bowman and Leon McQuay III, who are listed as co-starters. The rotation between the two should be much more proactive than last season, when McQuay was sidelined routinely with the Trojans curiously opting to play just 12 players on defense on multiple occasions.
- Fall camp started with the kicking competition and it ends with it, as Andre Heidari is listed as the starting placekicker ahead. Matt Boermeester, his challenger, sits fourth on the depth chart behind Alex Wood and Wyatt Schmid. Presumably the plan is now for Boermeester to redshirt and retain three years of eligibility going into 2015 after Heidari has graduated.