Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

USC Embraces Pac-12 South Underdog Role to UCLA as Sanctions Fade Out

Many have pegged the UCLA Bruins as the team to beat in the Pac-12 South division, while leaders of the USC Trojans fully embraced the underdog role during Pac-12 Media Day.

Although ranked by many as No. 15 in preseason polls, USC received only one measly vote by experts to win the Pac-12 South despite returning 18 starters from last season. Head coach Steve Sarkisian, however, is totally un-phased by preseason votes and polls.  He, as well as star players Cody Kessler and Leonard Williams, addressed their current status in rankings at Pac 12 media day.

“I have a lot higher expectations, with the new coaching staff and how close our players are, we don’t have any of the adversity of last year.” -Leonard Williams

“One aspect of it for me is how many times have they gotten it right?” Sarkisian said. “It really doesn’t matter, quite honestly. It has no bearing on our approach and our preparation and our ability to perform on game day.”

The Arizona State loss from last year, USC’s ultimate low some can say, was catalyst to a 7-2 run in the Trojans final nine games.  Thus, Sark is well within logic to feel confident about his USC team in 2014-15.

Much of Sarkisian’s starters at high profile positions are back from that very same team that rallied around Ed Oregeron. Leading rushers Javarious Allen and Tre Madden return a duo who accounted for 1,557 rushing yards.  With Justin Davis rounding out the depth chart of running backs, The Trojans have arguably the most powerful running game west of the Mississippi.  This likely will ease pressure off of receivers such as Victor Blackwell and George Farmer, making them more comfortable to step up to the plate to aid top receiver Nelson Agholor.

Add Sarkisians offensively gifted mind, there are lots of reasons to simply play the “wait and see” game when looking at this year’s Trojans.  Sarkisian has a vast amount of play makers that can undoubtedly light up scoreboards.

The current situation at USC is much more stable. Leonard Williams, a potential top-five pick in the 2015 NFL draft, is confident the Trojans will exceed their 10-4 record from a year ago. “I have a lot higher expectations,” Williams said. “With the new coaching staff and how close our players are, we don’t have any of the adversity of last year.”
“I think it’s cool to kind of be the underdog. A lot of people didn’t expect us to do what we did last year in the way we shocked the country.  We can care less if we are the number 1 ranking or last in the country.”- Cody Kessler

Coach Sarkisian corroborated Williams’ observation and cites a unique brotherhood he has noticed in his team since he’s been at the helm.  “This is one of the closest teams I’ve been around,” Sarkisian said. “They hold each other accountable. Some of it has to do with what they went through last year. I’ve been impressed with how tight the guys are.”

Despite question marks on the offensive line and only having 67 of 85 healthy scholarship players entering training camp, the Trojans will be fully capable of competing at a high level among the likes of Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA, to name a few.

The optimism is equally acknowledged by the team due to the immense talent that the Trojans have at the skill positions.  Antwan Woods, Leonard Williams, and Greg Townsend, Jr. lead a run stopping force to be reckoned with on the Trojans front line. Hayes Pullard & Anthony Sararo will be called upon to create plays in the linebacker core.  With Su’a Cravens and Josh Shaw’s ball hawking skills in the secondary, the Trojans by no means are a team to take lightly on the defensive nor offensive side of the ball.

The Trojans message at Pac-12 Media Day was quite simple:  You may be worried, but we aren’t.


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Tags: Cody Kessler Leonard Williams NCAA Pac-12 Steve Sarkisian USC

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