USC Football Mailbag: Facilities Draw NFL Talent and More Q&A


In today’s USC football mailbag, we take a look at the Trojans’ ability to host high-profile athletes at the McKay Center, the quartet of budding freshmen stars at linebacker, expectations and some recruiting. Buckle up and let’s dig in on Mailbag Monday.

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Alex M. on Twitter: Have you seen any improvements since Coach Ivan took over strength and conditioning? NFL players seem to flock to our great facilities.

Excellent question and point made about the NFLers that have come to the McKay Center the last couple of years, especially this offseason. Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt have been the most recent, both coming this month.

Is it Coach Ivan Lewis though? That’s hard to say and it’s too early to tell how much of an improvement he has been over Aaron Ausmus.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sarkisian spoke at length last year that USC would have the best conditioned players in the country with Lewis on staff, and how much of a factor it would be for the Trojans.

But last year, that benefit was negated by the low numbers, particularly on defense. Whether the Trojans were a bunch of Lance Armstrongs or a team full of Damien Mamas, there was no way that team wasn’t going to get worn down in 2014 with as few of bodies that they had.

This year will be a lot more telling, though the dramatic decrease in soft-body injuries from 2013 to 2014 is a big coup for Lewis and his regimen.

As for the NFL players? That’s likely a bigger tip of the cap to USC’s world class facilities like the McKay Center. Since opening in 2012, it’s really spiked the amount of elite-level athletes that have come to train in the offseson.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the amount of visitors once UCLA’s new facilities open, however. Right now, the only SoCal facility that can come close is the StubHub Center, the home for U.S. Soccer. That’ll change soon.

Alex G. on Twitter: Would you take Kaluka Maiava, Clay Matthews III, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga or eventually Osa Masina, Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr.?

Man, you might want to save this one for a few years for a better answer. Having said that, you’d like to think that the 2015 linebacker class can eventually get to that level.

Where this group has an advantage over the golden generation that graduated after the 2008 season, is that USC have moved away from the 4-3 and to a hybrid 3-4 that could get all of them on the field at the same time, each in a specialized role.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Carroll’s defenses in the middle of his tenured played around with moving Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews to a stand-up defensive end role, but the current setup seems to have a higher ceiling.

Sarkisian recruited players that fit the scheme, as opposed to Carroll having so much of a good thing that he had to find a way to get all of them on the field.

Porter Gustin is an ideal rush end. Cam Smith might be the best middle linebacker prospect to come to USC since Chris Galippo and both Osa Masina and John Houston can play inside and outside at WILL and SAM.

It just comes down to how well they mesh together and progress as a unit at the collegiate level.

The odds are one or two of them won’t pan out, a problem that Carroll’s defense defeated with depth. No one remembers Luther Brown and Josh Tatum were busts compared to the aforementioned.

So in short, take Carroll’s unit now but hope for the Sark/Wilcox crop to strike gold.

Steve U. on Twitter: Are the players ready to live up to the prognosticators predictions. Is there a “we can do it” belief?

Aside from how USC will fill the loss of Leonard Williams, this is without a doubt the biggest question of the ride up into the 2015 season. We just don’t know until the games start and even then, we might not.

The players are going to be saying the right things in fall camp and especially at Pac-12 Media Days next week in Burbank. So it’s hard to decipher what’s belief and what’s unwavering determination, and if either of those matter until game time.

USC wasn’t a hungry team in 2011 until after the loss to ASU and after an inspired win at Notre Dame in mid-October. Then they were apparently super motivated about finishing ‘unfinished business’ 2012 season, but finished 7-6.

And it took Lane Kiffin getting fired in 2013 before acted-on determination fostered under Ed Orgeron.

That doesn’t mean the players haven’t believed in their abilities when things haven’t gone right. It’s all about when they establish a killer instinct and winning mentality that fuels to win at all costs, as opposed to relying on whatever rallying cry is.

Perhaps the close losses last season has taught this team a lesson. You’d like to think so, especially after Cody Kessler said on Instagram over the weekend that the thought of the pain of losses fuel him.

We’ll see how the Trojans respond, especially with a pair of cupcakes to open the season before Stanford in Week 3.

GRod on Twitter: Which USC commit is the most likely to de-commit besides Mique Juarez?

It’s not an exact science, but you’d have to think Velus Jones. Not because he’s wavering or USC isn’t recruiting him hard, but because of the logistics of pulling an underrated wide receiver out of the state of Alabama.

Florida and Georgia are on him and it’s only a matter of time before Alabama and Auburn come calling. Once that happens, it’s anyone’s game and a mighty task to keep him committed for Tee Martin and the Trojans, especially with capable local receivers in the class.

He’s clearly committed now, but his senior season could be a big indicator of how his recruitment goes.

Got a question for next week’s mailbag? Tweet Michael at @MichaelCastFS or shoot him an email at

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