USC Football, Freshmen Watch: New Trojans Face Early Tests


As the Trojans steered their way through NCAA sanctions, all signs pointed to the 2015 recruiting class being a key step to USC football’s potential return to national prominence.

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As it turned out, Steve Sarkisian and his crew hit a gold mine in the first post-sanction batch of recruits, and it’s a good thing that he did. Media expectations are as high as ever for the Trojans entering 2015, as they are expected to contend for the Pac-12 title and a playoff spot.

But those expectations have been chased with skepticism. The dumpster fire that was the 2012 season remains fresh on the minds of many, and that team looked better on paper than this year’s.

With the First Pick

  • USC’s defense struggled through all of 2014 to put games away, and now this year’s unit is expected to perform better without their fifth-year-senior linebacker captain and their top-10 draft pick defensive tackle.

    While the veterans on the team are as talented as they have ever been, the Trojans’ depth, while better than before, still can’t afford to lose them to injury.

    That means that if the Trojans are going to fulfill the high bar set for them as they try to conquer a division and conference that is tougher than it has ever been, the freshmen will be required to develop and produce at a level far above that which will be demanded of their Pac-12 peers.

    READ ALSO: Sarkisian Expects Freshmen to Play vs. Arkansas State

    Coach Sark revealed Wednesday that multiple new Trojans will face baptism by fire in the opening game against Arkansas State, and with the Cardinal and Sun Devils swiftly approaching, don’t be surprised if the freshmen are called upon to use that early game experience in critical conference matchups.

    With so many new faces expected to make a big impact this season, RoT will be highlighting the most notable freshmen performances each week. With three days to go until the Red Wolves arrive at the Coliseum, here are the athletes you should keep an eye out for.

    Mar 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Cameron Smith (35) at spring practice at Cromwell Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Cameron Smith, MLB

    While Su’a Cravens and Anthony Sarao can be relied on to be a strong anchor for the Trojan linebacker corps, there’s a massive hole left behind by the graduation of 2014 captain Hayes Pullard.

    The player who would have been the next man up, Lamar Dawson, broke his ribs during training camp. Enter Smith, a four-star early enrollee who caught the coaches’ attention early with several scrimmage interceptions. His strong zone coverage could lead to him becoming a turnover machine reminiscent of Dion Bailey.

    Iman Marshall, CB

    The cornerback spots were always an issue for SC during the sanctions. The lack of depth meant that opposing QBs could always find a weak side of the field to throw to.

    While Cravens could make the move back to CB in a pinch, his main duties are at linebacker now, which means that Iman “Biggie” Marshall could be the X factor for the Trojan secondary.

    If he and first-string senior Kevon Seymour can perform consistently against Kevin Hogan and the Stanford receivers, It can provide a lot of stability for the rest of the roster. Cravens can focus on fortifying the front seven, and Adoree Jackson’s myriad talents can be used primarily for the offense.

    Tyler Petite, TE

    The tight end spot has been the biggest question mark on the Trojan offense. Randall Telfer graduated, Xavier Grimble went to the draft early, Bryce Dixon was kicked off the team, and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is academically ineligible.

    This has led Sark to designate three co-starters to face Arkansas State at TE: Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara, walk-on Connor Spears, and late commit Tyler Petite.

    Petite initially committed to Duke, but switched to USC in December, and that change of heart is proving to be a godsend for the Trojans. He caught 20 TDs in his career at Campolindo HS, and racked up 102 receiving yards in the CIF Division III title game last year.

    With Clay Helton back in charge of calling plays, we can expect the passing game to be spread around to multiple receivers. Petite has a good opportunity to lock down a starting role for the foreseeable future.

    Aca’Cedric Ware, Dominic Davis, and Ronald Jones II, RB

    In 2013, the Trojans had five tailbacks who each registered at least one 100+ yard rushing performance that season.

    Sark and Helton would love to have that again in 2015, so while Tre Madden and Justin Davis will get the lion’s share of handoffs, don’t be surprised to see these three freshmen get a chance to shine early on.

    Of those three, look for Ronald Jones to be the standout man, as he has demonstrated the ability to explode into a Reggie Bush-esque sprint if he can reach the open field.

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