Pending USC's 2013 bowl game, the season is now over for the men of Troy.
A 9-4 regular-season ledger found the Trojans enmeshed in one of the most emotionally difficult years the program has ever faced, and overall, they came through it about as well as one could expect.
After losing their head coach—Lane Kiffin—five games into the season, interim coach Ed Orgeron led the Trojans to a 6-2 record the rest of the way and did everything that was asked of him except for beating USC's two main rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame.
Sadly for Orgeron, those two losses probably cost him an opportunity to get the permanent gig, and now offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be USC's third coach of 2013 as he leads the Trojans in their bowl game.
Given the turmoil the Cardinal and Gold experienced this year, one could make a compelling argument that the season was a qualified success.
Now the Trojans turn to their new permanent head coach, Steve Sarkisian, and while the choice of "Sark" may not be popular with all who follow the program, it does mark a new era for USC, one that will begin with the 2014 season.
This slideshow will take a peek at what lies ahead for USC next year, beginning with answering some very important questions leading into Coach Sark's first year at the helm.
Will the Trojans be national-title contenders next year?
Here are some factors that may lead to the answer of that question.
In terms of graduating senior starters or critical reserves, USC is in pretty good shape assuming the team doesn't lose too many draft-eligible juniors or redshirt sophomores.
Of course, that is a big "if" and one we will explore in just a moment.
For now, here are the critical seniors who have completed their Trojan careers:
|Kevin Graf||Offensive Tackle|
|Devon Kennard||Outside Linebacker|
|Morgan Breslin||Outside Linebacker|
|Silas Redd||Running Back|
Of course, if it was only the seniors USC were losing, it would be in pretty good shape. But unfortunately, there are many juniors and redshirt sophomores who are also NFL draft eligible, and it is these players whose decisions the Trojans must sweat out.
Here is a list of those players that could leave and a guess as to whether or not they will:
|Player||Position||Leave or Stay?|
|Marqise Lee||Wide Receiver||Leave|
|Randall Telfer||Tight End||Stay|
|Xavier Grimble||Tight End||Stay|
|George Uko||Defensive Tackle||Stay|
|J.R. Tavai||Defensive Tackle||Stay|
|Josh Shaw||Safety/Cornerback||Toss up|
These are not the only players eligible to leave, but these are the ones that contributed most in 2013.
To be sure, Steve Sarkisian's first major recruiting job will be to get most of these guys to return for 2014.
There are several players USC must get in this recruiting cycle. Here are some of them:
Damien Mama is a huge (6'4", 350 pounds) 5-star Scout.com offensive tackle. The Trojans have had their eye on him for quite some time.
Mama is good friends with USC verbal commitments Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivo, both of whom are offensive linemen themselves. This friendship, along with the Trojans being a local school, has them thought to be in the driver's seat for Mama's services.
John "JuJu" Smith
Another 5-star Scout.com prospect, Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, CA) safety/wide receiver JuJu Smith already had USC on his radar. Now, with the hiring of his uncle, Johnny Nansen, to the Trojans coaching staff, it seems all but certain that Smith will don the Cardinal and Gold for his college career.
Smith is a game-changer at either position he plays, and he too is good friends with Mama.
Also a 5-star Scout.com prospect, cornerback Adoree Jackson is much less of a certain thing for the Trojans, but they will get a long look from the Junipero Serra (Gardena, CA) athlete.
Jackson is an electrifying kick returner as well as being an absolute "blanket" in the defensive secondary. The fact that he is keeping an eye on the Trojans is evident from his tweets:
Coach Sark about to get a lot of West Coast recruits . Don't be fooled— SWEET PEA (@AdoreeKnows) December 2, 2013
Will "Sweet Pea" be one of them?
Now that Steve Sarkisian has been hired as USC's permanent head coach, there should be a serious influx of talented Southern California recruits.
Already, guys like cornerback Jonathon Lockett—who just received a USC offer after decommitting from Washington after Sark left—are making serious noise about committing to the Trojans.
However, Lockett is only one of many who are now looking USC with new eyes.
Now it is up to Sark and staff to deliver them.
Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron didn't leave the cupboard bare for Steve Sarkisisan. When he leads the Trojans into 2014, he will have plenty of stars at his disposal in his thin, but talent-laden roster.
On offense, quarterback Max Browne has all of the tools to be a star at this level and beyond.
Blessed with NFL size (6'5", 215 pounds) and the football acumen and arm to match, Browne will be heard from in 2014, although incumbent starter Cody Kessler may have something to say about that.
If it is Browne, he will have plenty of talent to throw to. Leading the way is receiver Nelson Agholor, who made his presence felt in many ways in 2013.
Running the ball in 2014 will be a pair of true freshmen who got their feet wet in 2013. Justin Davis—who got hurt midway through the year after putting up some big numbers early on—and Ty Isaac should be even better next year.
Defensively, big Leonard Williams—a dominant defense tackle/end—will be a first-round draft choice when he leaves for the NFL.
At safety, Su'a Cravens has everything one could want at the position, and that is evident in his starting as a true freshman and making big plays all over the field in 2013.
These are only a few players who have "star" written all over them. The roster is sprinkled all over with more, much to Sark's delight.
Let's face it: The coach on the hot seat is none other than the one who hasn't coached a game yet for the Trojans as their head coach.
Steve Sarkisian will attempt to work his way into the hearts of a Trojan fanbase knowing that he wasn't the choice for those who either yearned for the retention of interim head coach Ed Orgeron or wanted someone—anyone—other than him.
Because of this, Sarkisian will have to operate under those expectations for a segment of demanding fans who may not be pleased with anything less than near perfection, even though this team will still face the depth problems that hampered the 2013 team.
As for the rest of the staff, so much is still in the air that it is futile to speculate on what may or may not transpire in the future.
One thing is for certain: What happens with the defensive coaches, such as coordinator Clancy Pendergast and linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, will be of interest. Both did a nice job in 2013, and if they aren't retained—and neither likely will be—the guys Sark gets to replace them will be under some scrutiny.
Same goes for the replacement of special teams coach John Baxter, who is one of the most respected unit coaches in the country.
The same depth issues that helped contribute to four losses in 2013 remain. That will continue for at least a couple more years as the Trojans continue to deal with the aftermath of the NCAA mandated sanctions that are set soon to expire.
However, the return of those 10 scholarships per year will not immediately soothe the Trojans roster issues, and a fragile two-deep will have to pray for good health for USC to make serious noise in 2014.
Also, while the 2014 schedule has yet to be released, what is known is that USC will host Fresno State—who scheduled that one?—and take on much improved Boston College on the road.
Mix in what is certain to be yet another competitive Pac-12 schedule, and it makes one wonder what insults Sarkisian will have to endure should USC stumble at the wrong time—and especially against the wrong opponents.
Still, if things go just right, who knows what might happen? Perhaps the Trojans can make some noise in the Pac-12 South.
For Sark's sake, he better hope so.