USC Football Mailbag: Defensive Line Needs and Top Recruiting Prospects

Oct 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The Washington Huskies and the Southern California Trojans line up at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The Washington Huskies and the Southern California Trojans line up at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Who must keep the Trojan defensive line afloat? What’s the top recruiting target on the board? Our weekly USC football mailbag seeks the answers.

Welcome to the Reign of Troy mailbag. This mailbag is a weekly feature, where we will answer your questions related to USC football.

If you have a question for the mailbag, send it in to @ReignOfTroy on Twitter or via email to

Let’s get started:

If things get bleak at dline, who figures to step in? Any particular olb or olineman?— Mark Scott @tokyotrojan

The “If” part of this question implies that things are not already bleak on the defensive line, but in truth they are bleak.

No starters return from last years defensive line (which was rather unimpressive), and the loss of defensive end Kenny Bigelow to an ACL tear will affect leadership among the line.

The presumed starters defensive ends Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton and defensive tackle Noah Jefferson combine for no starts. Green did have a fumble recovery for a touchdown against UCLA, and Jefferson was an immovable force when allowed to play (he got one of the few third down stops against Stanford for example).

As far as the starters USC should look at to lead the way, keep an eye out for Green and Jefferson. Those two will see a majority of snaps because defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast uses a 2-4-5 look with two down linemen, four linebackers, and five defensive backs against spread teams (which includes most of USC’s of Pac-12 opposition).

Also, since Pendergast uses a 1-gap rather than a 2-gap system, the linemen will be put in more one-on-one situations, which players such as Dorton and outside linebacker Porter Gustin thrive in.

The person USC really needs to do well is not a player; it is first-time coach Kenechi Udeze.

No matter how talented players are, the coaches have to put them in positions to succeed and make adjustments during games.

The last time Pendergast was at USC, Ed Orgeron was the defensive line coach, and he is one of the greatest line coaches in history. Udeze has talent (a word head coach Clay Helton hates), but we will have to wait and see what happens with him.

What recruit for the 2017 class is the top priority and would hurt the team the most to miss on. D lineman or QB perhaps?— @Toptrojanfan

With so many offers out, it is hard to gauge who is the top priority, but at this point the “must haves” in 2017 would be defensive linemen Greg Rogers and quarterback Jack Sears.

Rogers has USC in his Top 6, and Sears has USC in his Top 3, so USC should be able to land both.

Missing on Sears could be bad, especially if Sam Darnold wins the QB job in the fall and Max Browne transfers in the spring. Losing out on Greg Rogers would be bad for two different reasons: 1. USC is in dire need of defensive linemen and 2. Quality defensive linemen on the west coast are hard to come by.

Hi ROT – huge fan of your podcasts! Thanks! My question – lots of offers out. Are you concerned?— Kiko 

Hi back Kiko. Hope you enjoy the mailbag as much as the podcasts.

In answer to your question, recruiting has changed a lot in the past 5-10 years. Back then an offer meant they would take your commitment then and there. Today, an offer simply means “I am interested.”

That is not to say some offers are not made where an instant commitment would be welcome, but they just don’t mean as much as they used to.

So while USC does have a number of offers out, they are just following the paradigm of college football recruiting, and there is nothing to worry about at this time.

What is your realistic view of this coming season? I’m seeing 6-6 or 7-5 despite all the talent on the roster.— Lee Walker 

This past week my editor Alicia de Artola and Michael Castillo on their weekly podcast commented that there were several ways USC could go 7-5 and it would still be a successful season.

Let me be very clear: Under no circumstance is 7-5 acceptable at USC, no matter how tough your schedule is. If Clay Helton goes 7-5 this year he will either be on a scorching hot seat when entering 2017, or he won’t make it to 2017 because USC will have a new coach.

The last time USC went 7-5, it was under Lane Kiffin. How did that end for Lane? Oh right, he was fired midway through the 2013 season. If I were Clay Helton, I would win a Pac-12 title, just to be safe.

However, I do understand where they are coming from.

USC is a talented (yes Clay, I said it) but inconsistent team, at least they were last year.

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Part of that was because USC had so much turmoil going on, and they have been drama free so far this year (hold your breath). The problem I have seen so far since spring is that while the Trojans seem more disciplined, they still lack an identity. Hopefully that changes come fall.

If Max Browne is named the starter, I predict a 10 win season and a place in the Pac-12 title game, where USC will emerge victorious. Browne’s skillset will bring USC to new heights and open up the offense, and Pendergast proved in 2013 he has no problem turning a defense around.

If Sam Darnold is named, an eight-win season and a potential South title should be in reach. Darnold has a great skillset as well, but he is not as poised as Browne and he hasn’t played the position as long, so he will likely make more mistakes than Browne will.

However, if he wins the job he will be a solid starter in 2016 and a dominant player in 2017.