USC Football: 7 Freshmen the Trojans Can Build Around
Now that the national signing day madness is over for another year, it is time for USC and its fans to take stock of who will don the cardinal and gold next season.
While this class was short on numbers, it is very long on quality, and certainly some of these precocious freshmen-to-be will contribute for the Trojans in 2013.
Although each and every player in this class is a player USC expects to build around, some will be featured sooner rather than later.
To that end, this slideshow will look at those players the Trojans will be expecting to perform this season.
On a team that will be operating with 10 fewer scholarships—thanks to the NCAA's sanctions—the Trojans need some of these freshmen to step up now.
Here are the ones they will be counting on...
Quinton Powell (Linebacker)
In a "normal" year—you know, one in which USC is playing with a full roster—Quinton Powell would likely be a candidate for a redshirt year.
But thanks to the NCAA and its sanctions, this is not a normal year.
And with new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast installing a 3-4 defense, there will be a greater need for linebackers, especially those with the skill set of Quinton Powell.
Powell is an ultra-quick outside 'backer whose ability to close off the edge makes him perfect for shutting down the spread offenses that USC will see in the Pac-12.
The only knock on Powell is that he is light for a linebacker at 190 pounds, but at 6'2", he has the frame to pack on more bulk soon.
Michael Hutchings (Linebacker)
Unlike Quinton Powell, former De La Salle High School (Concord, Calif.) linebacker Michael Hutchings already has the size to step right in for the Trojans in 2013.
Though not quite as quick as Powell, the 6'1", 210-pound Hutchings is an extremely cerebral player who seems to always be at the right place at exactly the right time.
And Hutchings brings a winning attitude, as well, as his De La Salle team has known nothing but success over the last few decades.
Look for Hutchings to avoid a redshirt year and see time both at linebacker and on special teams.
Chris Hawkins (Cornerback)
Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School cornerback Chris Hawkins has a variety of things going for him in his effort to see playing time as a true freshman.
First, the kid is good. Smooth and with excellent "swivel hips," Hawkins is comfortable both in press coverage and in zone.
Also, combined with the last-minute defection of cornerback Jalen Ramsey in this year's recruiting class and the fact that USC will be breaking in an almost completely new defensive secondary, Hawkins stands a good chance of making the rotation in some capacity.
However, it should be noted that at around 160 pounds, Hawkins is very light and could use at least another 10 pounds of weight to help him absorb the punishment at the next level.
On the plus side, Hawkins is an early enrollee, so with dedication, he could very well add that bulk before the season starts.
Leon McQuay III (Safety)
Like the previously profiled Quinton Powell, Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) High School's Leon McQuay III is a talented and athletic player who will excel against spread offenses due to his speed and ability to pursue the ball.
But also like Powell, McQuay needs to add some weight to the roughly 185 pounds he now carries entering school as an early enrollee.
Still, the heady safety has a lot going for him by being part of the program in the spring, and extra time lifting and conditioning will allow him to fill out his 6'1" frame sooner rather than later.
He will also have the eye of the coaching staff with the added visibility of the spring session—a luxury that the fall freshmen won't have.
Couple that with the turnover in the secondary, and it would be a surprise if McQuay doesn't see some serious field time in 2013.
Max Browne (Quarterback)
Whether or not all-everything quarterback Max Browne (Sammamish, Wash.) starts for USC this year probably has less to do with his ability than it does with the progress his competition displays in camp prior to the start of the season.
With two years in the system, redshirt sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler will have a head start on Browne, and unless one or both stumble, the true freshman might be looking at a redshirt year.
Still, there are few quarterbacks who have come into the program with better talent and credentials.
A proven winner, Browne has everything one looks for in a signal-caller, including prototypical size (6'5", 215 pounds) and all of the tangibles.
Throw in his uncanny ability to read defenses and react to what they give him, and it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.
And as an early enrollee, Browne will have positioned himself the best he can for competing for playing time.
Kenny Bigelow (Defensive Tackle)
With the Trojans missing out on several prep defensive-line targets this year, the onus to be great soon falls on the broad shoulders of big defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow.
Bigelow certainly has the physical tools at 6'3" and 303 pounds, and he comes to the Trojans with a reputation that portends future greatness.
Equally adept at stopping the run and rushing the passer, Bigelow is one of those rare combinations of big and powerful, and he will have opportunities to make the rotation on a line that is already very, very good but might find itself short on depth at some point.
Like several others in this list, Bigelow will benefit from being an early entrant to the program, and with his talent, don't be shocked if he is making a name for himself in 2013.
Su'a Cravens (Safety)
Vista Murietta (Murietta, Calif.) High School's Su'a Cravens has two things going him in his effort to see serious playing time for the Trojans this year.
First, he is a fabulously talented athlete who could probably play two or three positions for USC and play them damn well.
Second, at safety, the Trojans have a real need for an impact player, and certainly Cravens fits that bill.
With USC in need of an almost completely new defensive secondary, Cravens stands a real chance of not only playing significant minutes but maybe even challenging for a starting spot.
The bottom line is that he is one of those rare athletes who can make a difference immediately, and because of this, look for Cravens to be a player that USC builds its defense around whether it is as a safety or later as a linebacker.
To be clear about this 2013 USC football recruiting class, each and every one of this year's players will be featured at some point and is worthy of the team building around them.
While the players profiled in this slideshow are likely to see the field of play sooner, studs such as offensive linemen Khaliel Rodgers and Nico Falah, running backs Ty Isaac and Justin Davis, and receivers Steven Mitchell and Darreus Rogers (a 2012-class player who will count against the 2013 number) all will be major contributors to the program, perhaps as soon as this year.
What is certain is that the 2013 class will be an integral part of the program's efforts as it begins the arduous task of returning the Trojans to college-football prominence.
Though USC has a lot to overcome—there is still the matter of those pesky sanctions to deal with—it is with these players that the Trojans will cast their lot.
And while there are not a lot of players in this class to return the Trojans to the promised land, the ones that are there have what it takes to do just that.