USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IJanuary 5, 2014

USC Football: 5 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    As USC embarks on the Steve Sarkisian era, the new head coach will lead an almost equally new staff into preparation for the 2014 season.

    Along the way, Sarkisian will have to address an abundance of questions that face all new staffs as they endeavor to build their program.

    However, this is USC, and as the leader of one of the most storied college teams in the nation, coach Sark will find that the learning curve to return the Trojans to prominence is much shorter than at other places.

    Thus, it is under the auspices of increased pressure that the new head coach will formulate a game plan to get USC back where it expects to be—which is vying for a national title.

    When Sark dives into the nuances of his Trojans for the upcoming year, he will find a team with some solid components and even more question marks.

    As such, here are some of the concerns he must address.

Replacing Departed Players

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    Marqise Lee
    Marqise LeeStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    For most programs, replacing players who have either graduated or are NFL-draft eligible just comes with the territory.

    At USC, however, that task takes on a very different meaning, for reasons that will be explained in the next slide.

    Mysterious foreshadowing aside, Sarkisian will be looking at replacing a number of important players, and exactly how many of those still remain to be seen as of this writing.

    USC knew that seniors such as outside linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin would be gone, as is the case with starting right tackle Kevin Graf. But it is the status of those NFL-eligible juniors and redshirt sophomores that are choosing to leave that is causing Sark and his staff many sleepless nights in their new Southern California digs.

    Those players who have now declared for the pros include wide receiver Marqise Lee, safety Dion Bailey, center Marcus Martin and defensive tackle George Uko.

    While Lee was expected to leave, the others could have gone either way, and the fact that they are indeed leaving hurts an already challenged roster immensely.

    With whom and how Sark replaces these players—with more likely to follow—will be a major concern for the coaching staff heading into the offseason.

The Ever-Present Depth Issues Are a Huge Question

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    Nelson Agholor
    Nelson AgholorStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    As alluded to in the prior slide, USC is dealing with issues that no other program has to face in 2014.

    Body slammed by the NCAA when it issued some of the most severe sanctions in the history of college football, the Trojans will have to weather roster issues that arise when you are limited to 15 yearly scholarships and 75 total full-ride players.

    And as USC meanders its way through these penalties, it has to deal with the notion that though it can theoretically have 75 scholarship players, in reality, it will come nowhere near that number due to attrition that can't be replaced with 15 players a year.

    That is why the departure of those NFL-eligible players is such a blow to the Trojans and why depth is—and will continue to be—such a crucial concern for this coaching staff.

    For USC, it will need incredible health this year if it hopes to be competitive in the tough Pac-12 Conference, because thanks to their buddies at the NCAA, it can't survive without it.

Which Incoming Freshmen, If Any, Can Contribute Immediately?

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    Incoming JUCO Freshman, Claude Pelon
    Incoming JUCO Freshman, Claude Pelonphoto from 247sportscom

    Because of scholarship limitations, USC is in a difficult position when it comes to which players it offers those precious 15 full rides to, because unlike other programs, those precocious youngsters need to produce almost immediately.

    While other programs will take their time and develop their freshmen, USC needs to get them on the field where they can help mask roster deficiencies.

    Because of this, redshirt years for their freshmen are a last resort, not a preferred first option as it is elsewhere in college football.

    The ramifications of this reality are obvious on many levels, not the least of which is that developing players comes as matter of necessity and not convenience.

    This is not to say that every incoming freshman will play this year for USC, but it is a consideration that Sark and his staff will entertain as they prepare for 2014.

How Does Sark Initiate Open Competitions?

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    Cody Kessler
    Cody KesslerKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    When Steve Sarkisian was first hired as USC's head coach, one of the first things he promised was that he would hold open competitions for all the starting positions.

    Of course, that is to be expected when a new coach inherits a team, but that doesn't make the task any less daunting.

    Now Sark and his staff will be spending many sleepless nights reviewing the Trojans of 2013 and assessing exactly who has what to offer.

    By the time he welcomes his new players for spring practice, Sark and his staff will have some basic idea of who will compete for those starting slots.

    But exactly how he goes about formulating that depth chart will be an offseason worry.

Installing New Schemes Will Be a Concern for Sark

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    Justin Wilcox
    Justin WilcoxKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    It's not just that USC is getting a new head coach and staff; it will also be getting a new way of doing things on the field of play.

    Gone is the old, reliable pro-set offense that the Trojans ran for years. Now they will be operating a hurry-up scheme that eschews fullbacks and huddles.

    And how about the 5-2 defense that Clancy Pendergast installed in 2013 that was so effective for the most part? Forget that too, as new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will install a 3-4 base defense that employs some elements of a 4-3 on occasion.

    So Sark and his staff will have their hands full as they prepare for the 2014 season.

    And you can believe getting the new schemes in place will be a major concern for Sark in the offseason.


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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    To be certain, Steve Sarkisian has a full plate in front of him as he surveys his new team and what needs to be done heading into the 2014 season.

    Depth-chart considerations, implementing new offensive and defensive schemes and putting his own stamp on his new program are just a few things that will capture Sark's attention in his new job as the Trojan head man.

    Meanwhile, an anxious fanbase still smarting over the departure of much-loved former interim head coach Ed Orgeron will be casting a wary eye over the multitude of changes Sark is contemplating and scrutinizing his every move.

    When taken in its entirety, Sark has plenty to be concerned about...enough to keep him busy all offseason long.


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