USC Offensive Line Issues Can Block Trojans' Pac-12 Revival in 2014
USC is now officially off probation, effective this past June 10. The Trojans are back with a full set of 25 scholarships to offer. Next season. The expiration of the sanctions did not take effect in time for this year's recruiting class.
The Trojans still have a roster with some elite players, plus plenty of really good players too. Cody Kessler exceeded expectations at quarterback last season, and has looked great in Steve Sarkisian's system so far. Team MVP Javorius "Buck" Allen returns at tailback. On defense, standouts Su'a Cranvens and Josh Shaw welcome highly-touted Adoree Jackson to the secondary, while lineman Leonard Williams practically has an "S" on his chest.
But you do not see many standouts on the offensive line. What stands out is they gave up 34 sacks last season, and lost four starters to boot. The line has only eight scholarship players healthy, and freshmen will start. USC did well at attracting some skill players during the probation years, but they're left short of depth at offensive line.
Tackle Aundrey Walker and guard Jordan Simmons are both iffy for the beginning of the season with leg injuries. Freshmen Toa Lobendahn and Khaleil Rogers started at the guard positions in spring football. New center Max Tuerk moves to center, away from his natural position at left tackle.
Factor into this that the team has a new position coach Tim Drevno, and are switching to a Sarkisian-style shotgun attack. The transition may be bumpy, though guys will return from injury and the players will gel with the Sarkisian system later in the season.
But "later in the season" may not be a luxury USC can afford. It has the most difficult non-conference schedule of any team in the Pac-12 South.
Of course, the biggest challenge USC faces is just being in the Pac-12. While it doesn't have Oregon on its regular season schedule this year, it does have Stanford and UCLA. Both will be likely be preseason Top 10 teams. USC will not.
And if Sarkisian can't work some piecemeal magic with a new offensive line, the Trojans won't be in the Top 10 at any point this season.