USC football Spring Game: Five things to watch for at the Coliseum

USC football players at the Coliseum.
USC football players at the Coliseum. / Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

USC football will hold their first Spring Game since 2019 at the Coliseum on Saturday, giving fans their first look at new players, returning stars and more.

Are you excited for the USC football Spring Game? You should be.

Whether you're watching from home or you managed to snag one of the 5,000 tickets available, it'll be a big day for the Trojans.

Up-and-coming players like Gary Bryant Jr., Michael Jackson III, Josh Jackson and more have provided highlights already this spring. Saturday will be the biggest stage yet for those and more to impress fans and coaches.

Here five things you should keep a watch out for...

1. Isaiah Pola-Mao at nickelback

Isaiah Pola-Mao, USC football
USC football safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. / Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When Max Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was short on options at nickelback. Greg Johnson is recovering from his own season-ender from 2020. Kaulana Makaula was moved to inside linebacker.

Briton Allen figured to move up with the ones, but other possibilities existed to fill the gap. Safety Chase Williams played nickelback early in his career. Transfer Xavion Alford could have been shifted. One of the early enrollees at safety might have been worth a try.

Instead, Orlando went out of the box: He dropped Isaiah Pola-Mao into the slot.

Pola-Mao has been USC's starting free safety for multiple seasons. As a deep-lying safety, he's not an obvious choice to play nickelback. However, as the most veteran defender in the secondary, moving him will allow others to thrive while giving him a new perspective.

Seeing Pola-Mao at nickeback will be fascinating as Spring Camp continues to roll on. Maybe he'll give Orlando reason to deploy him there even when Johnson returns.

The big winners are the other safeties, who will have access to first-team reps that didn't exist before. Williams is expected to hold down his spot with Alford, Calen Bullock, Xamarion Gordon and Anthony Beavers competing beside him. Those are players to look out for too.

2. Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss

Jaxson Dart, USC Football
USC football quarterback Jaxson Dart. / (Alex Verdugo/USC Football)

Trojan fans will get their first look at the early enrollees from the class of 2021 on Friday. The most fascinating of them all are the two highly-rated quarterbacks: Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss.

Miller Moss committed to the Trojans first, but Dart captured imaginations with an outstanding 2020 season in Utah.

Both are Top 100 prospects. Both will expect to vie for Kedon Slovis' job once he leaves the Trojans. Before that, both will have an eye on the backup spot in 2021.

The Spring Game is their best opportunity to show coaches and fans what they can do when the heat is on.

What should fans expect? Moss is the more traditional pocket passer, compared by 247Sports to Drew Brees for his feel for the game. What he might lack in arm strength, he'll look to make up in accuracy and touch.

Dart has some of that Sam Darnold flair to his game. While not a full-blown dual-threat, he's mobile with a big arm. If any quarterback is primed to "wow" fans, it's Dart. The question is whether he'll live up to the moment.

The two QBs bring plenty to the table, but they are only freshmen. Growing pains could also be expected.

3. Kedon Slovis's arm

Kedon Slovis, USC Football
USC football quarterback Kedon Slovis. / (Derek Marckel/USC Football)

The freshmen quarterbacks will bring some fresh intrigue to the Coliseum, but all eyes will be trained on returning starter Kedon Slovis.

Last fall, Slovis turned it on in the fourth quarter, pulling off stunning comebacks and looking exactly like the elite quarterback USC fans hoped to see. Before the fourth quarter? Things were often disturbingly shaky. While Trojan coaches excused his velocity troubles, everyone could see his passes were too often wobbly and lacking crispness.

Slovis admitted to the LA Times he lacked confidence in his arm after his 2019 elbow injury. The unsettled offseason caused by the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help.

The quarterback turned up to Spring Camp this year with renewed confidence after working on his mechanics with a renowned QB training facility. Early practices showed no signs of his 2020 issues.

Will that be the case on Saturday in front of a crowd at the Coliseum? Only Slovis can answer that question.

He'll also have to show a few weeks rebuilding chemistry with his receiving corps have paid off as well.

4. Courtland Ford and the offensive line

Courtland Ford, USC football
USC football lineman Courtland Ford. / Christian Petersen/Getty Images

USC football's success in 2021 hinges on the offensive line accomplishing two things: Identifying a reliable replacement for Alijah Vera-Tucker at left tackle and taking a step forward across the lineup.

New offensive line coach Clay McGuire is overseeing that process.

Over the opening weeks of camp, Courtland Ford commanded first-team reps at left tackle. The redshirt freshman is a former three-star prospect who was pursued as a more valuable recruiting target before being slowed by injury in high school. Now he's out to prove his relatively low ranking was an oversight.

Head coach Clay Helton indicated the Trojans would try out different combinations on the offensive line, including giving Casey Collier, Jonah Monheim and Jalen McKenzie a chance to compete for the starting left tackle job. However, those opportunities haven't arisen up to this point.

That means Trojan fans can expect to see Ford lineup with the first-team offense. His performance will be noteworthy, whether positive or negative.

The entire line will be worth watching, even with four returning starters, including Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons and McKenzie. The offensive line struggled to win the battle with the defensive line in previous practices. Whoever gets the upper hand on Saturday, fans will have to decide for themselves if that's a reflection of one side's strengths or the other side's weakness.

5. The transfers

Keaontay Ingram, USC football
USC football running back Keaontay Ingram. / (John McGillen/USC Football)

New faces are always fun to glimpse ahead of a new season and USC has more than freshmen to welcome this spring. Transfers include No. 28 Keaontay Ingram and No. 29 Xavion Alford, the running back and safety from Texas. The new No. 21 on offense is wide receiver K.D. Nixon from Colorado.

Ingram was a solid rusher for the Longhorns. His size and power should be an asset for the Trojans in the three-man rotation with Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai. Don't be surprised if Ingram ends up at the head of that group.

Nixon brings some proven production to the wide receiver group. The veteran will try to prove worthy of a starting job with USC, but so far, he has been taken reps with the second team.

Alford isn't much older than the true freshmen also competing for playing time at the safety position this season. Still, his familiarity with Todd Orlando should give him a nice leg up. He'll get some first-team reps alongside Chase Williams so long as Isaiah Pola-Mao is at nickelback.

Unfortunately, fans will have to wait to get a look at No. 42 Ishmael Sopsher, who transferred in from Alabama. The defensive tackle is out for spring with an injury.

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