USC defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow, a redshirt freshman who was one of the highest-rated recruits in the country in 2013, suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during voluntary workouts and will miss the entire 2014 season.
The Trojans' athletic department confirmed the news Tuesday:
Coming out of high school, Bigelow was the No. 9 overall player and the No. 2 defensive tackle on the 247Sports composite rankings.
Every other defensive lineman in the overall top 35—Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), Montravius Adams (Auburn), Chris Jones (Mississippi State), Carl Lawson (Auburn) and A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama)—saw the field as a true freshman and showed signs of becoming a high-level contributor in the future.
In this regard, Bigelow, who still hasn't played a down at the college level, was behind the curve even before the injury. On a personal level, missing another season to rehab his knee sets him back even further from his peers. But the impact his loss will have on USC's team next season might be just as pivotal as the one it will have on his career.
With George Uko gone, Bigelow was being counted on to rotate with Antwaun Woods at nose tackle, right beside All-America candidate Leonard Williams. Reign of Troy tweeted that he and Williams were paired together on the interior in a special formation this offseason, adding that he was supposed to be a "cornerstone" of the line:
Bigelow came in, and "Wild Bunch 3" was thrown around, with he and Williams as interior anchors. Now they'll prob never see a down together.— Reign of Troy (@ReignofTroy) July 8, 2014
Needless to say, Kenny Bigelow is an enormous loss for #USC on the interior of the line with George Uko gone. Expected to be a cornerstone.— Reign of Troy (@ReignofTroy) July 8, 2014
USC already had questionable depth along the defensive interior, and now those questions loom larger. Woods will have to play more snaps at nose tackle, and Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons, who impressed coaches this spring, might also have to play some tackle (or prove reliable enough at end that Williams can slide inside).
"You can tell that he's played in college already," said defensive line coach Chris Wilson of Simmons, who started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012, per Greg Katz of ESPN.com. "There are moments when you see him flash and do some really neat things."
Bigelow's injury also means increased pressure on JUCO transfer Claude Pelon and a beefed-up role for redshirt junior/career-backup Cody Temple. If everybody steps up, the Trojans have the bodies to get through this loss and still field a solid defensive front, but the margin for error has gotten considerably smaller.
This all but guarantees that USC will not run a 4-3 defense in 2014.