Who will be USC football’s defensive MVP in 2019?

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

The 2019 USC football team has a wealth of talent on defense. But who will step up to be the MVP with multiple four-year starters now in the NFL?

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The USC football team has a wealth of pressure going into the 2019 season. On defense, that means replacing key talents in the secondary, improving in run defense and finding more consistency under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Who will lead the way among a slew of talented yet young defensive stars?

The Reign of Troy staff is ready to weigh in with preseason predictions for the Trojans’ defensive MVP…

Alicia de Artola: Christian Rector

Talk about an impossible task to predict. Maybe it’ll be Talanoa Hufanga, the playmaking safety whose instincts are next level. Maybe it’ll be Palaie Gaoteote, the undeniably talented linebacker whose aggressive style could prove the difference. Maybe it’ll be Jay Tufele, the explosive defensive tackle who looks ready for a breakout campaign.

When it comes down to it, the best choice is a senior leader on the defense looking to finish his career by living up to his early potential. That’s defensive end Christian Rector, USC’s almost-man from 2018. His focus in 2019 has been turning near-sacks into takedowns. The success of USC’s defense will start with the pass rush, and Rector holds the key to it all.

Michael Castillo: Talanoa Hufanga

The best case scenario for the Trojans is Palaie Gaoteote asserts himself as the next great USC linebacker, taking a huge step forward in his first season as an outright starter. That’s surely a possibility and what the Trojans will be hoping for.

But having seen more of him at his current position, plus his positional value, safety Talanoa Hufanga just might be the guy. For all intents and purposes, he’s the lone returning starter in the secondary and is back after a promising freshman campaign. Given those around him, Hufanga is poised to be the anchor amidst a swatch of talented yet unproven defensive backs. That means more responsibility and more of an opportunity to take a leading role in allowing the inexperienced playmakers around to take hold.

The key? Health. Both his 2018 season and spring camp were cut short due to injuries. Can he avoid the label of being injury prone?

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Trent Goodrich: Talanoa Hufanga

The defensive MVP for the Trojans in 2019 will come down to a competition between two sophomores: Palaie Gaoteote and Talanoa Hufanga.

Hufanga is a physical strong safety that has a nose for the football. He does an excellent job cleaning up mistakes by the front seven and reads balls in the air quite well. Meanwhile, Gaoteote is a missile in the center of USC’s defense. He is undoubtedly an upgrade in athleticism over Cameron Smith and is a season’s worth of experience away from dominating any offense he lines up against. The duo tallied 88 tackles in 15 combined games last season, and that number will skyrocket given that both remain healthy.

This season Hufanga will edge out Gaoteote for defensive MVP because he will make an impact in the rushing and passing game. But that will change in 2020, when Gaoteote moves to the Mike linebacker spot following John Houston’s graduation.

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Alex Polk: Palaie Gaoteote

It’s a toss-up between two people. Palaie Gaoteote is the first, because I believe he is the absolute truth at inside linebacker. With a pretty big and talented defensive line in front of him to keep things clean, Gaoteote should be able to fly around in the box and make plays.

Then there’s Marlon Tuipulotu. He might not have as flashy numbers as the rest of the defensive linemen. But he is going to be a force playing inside and stuffing the run. His ability to rush the passer at his size, from the interior, is what makes him special.

If I had to choose between the two, I would go with Gaoteote. Only because I’m sure teams will spend practices making sure Tuipulotu gets blocked up.

Offensive MVPs. Next