Cody Kessler returns for his senior season in 2015 with a boatload of talent and budding experience around him at USC, which has prompted Heisman Trophy hype and playoff expectations for the Trojans.
It’s similar buzz to what John David Booty saw at USC after inheriting talent following the graduation of Matt Leinart. That led us to a debate in this week’s podcast as to whether Kessler has more talent around him than Booty did.
It’s a tough call, so let us walk through Kessler and Booty’s surrounding talent in their final two seasons, before you decide.
Juniors: J.D. Booty’s 2006 vs. Cody Kessler’s 2014
In Booty’s first season as USC’s starting quarterback, he was graced with a couple of receiving holdovers from the Matt Leinart days, in Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. The pair both earned All-American honors in 2006 and throughout their careers amassed 406 receptions and a whopping 63 touchdowns combined.
Then there’s tight end Fred Davis, who was a junior and had just taken over the starting job after Dominique Byrd’s graduation.
The Trojans’ 2006 running back stable featured a host of different options, though Chauncey Washington emerged as a featured back midway through the season, alongside freshman C.J. Gable.
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Emmanuel Moody showed flashes a true freshman, as did Stafon Johnson. Oh, and there was also someone by the name of Hershel Dennis.
Up front, Booty was protected by one of the best lines in USC history. All-American Sam Baker anchored the unit at left tackle, while another All-American, center Ryan Kalil, was in his senior season.
Mainstays Charles Brown, Chilo Rachal and Kyle Williams gave the Trojans a veteran-heavy offensive line.
As for Kessler, he had a hand in one of the best receiving years in USC history, as Nelson Agholor became the fourth Trojan to catch 100 passes in 2014, earning himself All-American honors.
Moreover, freshmen JuJu Smith and Adoree’ Jackson gave the receiving game some depth and pizazz, along with George Farmer and freshman tight end Bryce Dixon.
The 2014 backfield didn’t have the immense depth that the 2006 team had, but Buck Allen was without question the best running back the Trojans have had since Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
On the offensive line however, Kessler was under a new center in Max Tuerk and several true freshmen made their debuts like Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama.
Left tackle Chad Wheeler was the heart of the line, though he was injured for the last month of the season.
Seniors: Booty’s 2007 vs. Kessler’s 2015
Both quarterbacks lost a lot of talent at wide receiver after their junior seasons, with Steve Smith graduating and Dwayne Jarrett, Nelson Agholor and George Farmer going pro and forgoing their senior years.
That left a bare cupboard for Booty, who had to rely on Fred Davis as his No. 1 target in 2007. All of those looks allowed him to win the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end.
Why’d the passing game go through Davis? Because the receiving corps featured an underwhelming trio of Patrick Turner, Vidal Hazelton and David Ausberry, to go with true freshman Ronald Johnson.
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The backfield in 2007 was a carbon copy of the 2006 year, only with the addition of freshman Joe McKnight and the departure of Emmanuel Moody.
On the offensive line, Booty had Baker, Brown and Rachal once again, along with freshman center Kris O’Dowd.
That leads us to what Kessler has right now. The Trojans boast a receiving corps led by JuJu Smith, but lack a No. 2 receiver.
Adoree’ Jackson is a game-breaking playmaker, but his role in the offense is still undefined. And like Davis in 2007, Bryce Dixon looks to find himself with a much bigger role this year.
Behind Kessler, the Trojans have a pair of good tailbacks in Tre Madden and Justin Davis, but lack a true featured back. Freshmen running backs Ronald Jones II, Aca’Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis should give the Trojans some depth, making it a comparable backfield to 2007.
The offensive line should also be much improved in 2015, as USC brings everyone back and adds in five-star Chuma Edoga.
They won’t be as formidable as they will be in 2016 or 2017, but this looks to be a big stepping stone year for the hogs up front despite losing Tim Drevno to Michigan.
There you have it. Both Booty and Kessler find themselves with offenses that have had a mixture of returners and turnover, especially at receiver. So, what will it be?
Who has had more talent at USC?