USC Football: 10 Trojans Primed for Breakout Seasons
With slightly more than a month left until the start of the college football season, those who follow the USC Trojans wait anxiously for the beginning of the Steve Sarkisian era.
And while the Trojan faithful will keep an eye on how the new head coach administers his program, they will also be following the exploits of a USC team that will feature several highly touted players on both sides of the ball.
Because USC will be woefully thin in terms of scholarship players available this year, the Trojans will depend on these starters to play a lot of meaningful minutes and perform at a high level when they do.
This slideshow will look at several Trojans who have the potential to excel for USC in 2014 and offer some comments on why they are poised to star this year.
Some of the names included here will be familiar to fans of the program, while others may be somewhat of a surprise but to be certain, all of these players and more will have to have great seasons for USC to get where they want to go.
So without further delay, here are 10 Trojans poised for breakout seasons in 2014.
Javorius "Buck" Allen (Running Back)
On a team with less depth at running back, the inclusion of Buck Allen on this list would be a no-brainer.
However, running back is one of the few units where the Trojans are stacked, with Tre Madden and Justin Davis also demanding attention in a rotation that Sarkisian is likely to exploit in an offense that will heavily feature the run.
In fact, ESPN.com's Johnny Curren shared that view when assessing USC's crowded backfield. "Allen was the surprise of the season, going from little-used reserve to team MVP. Still, the tailback corps is overflowing with talent, so he figures to face plenty of competition, particularly from Madden, as well as Davis when he’s healthy enough to jump back into the fray."
Still, it's hard to ignore Allen's production in 2013, when he rushed for 785 yards (5.8 avg. per rush) and 14 touchdowns in what essentially was half a season of regularly playing.
If Allen get can enough touches, he should have a stellar season.
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (Tight End)
In 2014, USC will feature a new offense under Steve Sarkisian, and one of the characteristics of that offense will be a focus on the tight end position.
This could be a problem for Sark because tight end is one of those units that is severely lacking in depth in 2014.
Only two scholarship players—Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick—return this year, and because of this, either or both of these players could have big numbers after this season in this offense.
I'm going with Cope-Fitzpatrick to have a breakout season for a couple of reasons, including Telfer's history of injuries and a spring camp that saw young Jalen take the next step in his progression as a dominant player at the position.
At 6'4", 255 pounds, Cope-Fitzpatrick has a prototypical size for the position, and he will produce numbers that will turn heads this year.
Darreus Rogers (Wide Receiver)
The easy call here would have been to offer USC's preseason All-American Nelson Agholor as a breakout player for 2014, and while Agholor is likely to excel this year, I am going to go with his receiving mate on the opposite side of the field.
Darreus Rogers is a big, strong receiver with excellent hands who will benefit immensely from the added scrutiny Agholor will receive from opposing defensive coordinators.
Rogers had 22 receptions in 2013 for 257 yards in a year when Marqise Lee and Agholor were the primary targets for a quarterback (Cody Kessler) who didn't find his stride until close to half of the season was over.
Now Lee is gone to the NFL, and it is Rogers' turn to shine.
Cody Kessler (Quarterback)
Although this will be a run-first team according to his coach, quarterback Cody Kessler will have an opportunity to do big things for the Trojans in 2014.
After a slow start in 2013 when he was sharing time with the now-departed Max Wittek, Kessler came on strong over the last half of the season and wound up with very respectable numbers last year.
Now firmly entrenched as USC's starter, Kessler will benefit from his secure starting position and comfort in Sark's uptempo offense.
Leonard Williams (Defensive Lineman)
This won't come as an epiphany to anyone who follows the Trojans, but defensive lineman Leonard Williams is really good.
But because he is so talented, that may throw a curve in Williams' plan to put up gaudy numbers in the stats department for 2014.
That is because opposing defenses will certainly be keying in on him in an effort to keep the dominant junior out of their backfield.
Still, the effectiveness of some players isn't directly tied to stats, and if the added attention that Williams draws opens things up for other players, he will have more than done his job.
And that will qualify as a breakout season for him in 2014.
Antwaun Woods (Nose Tackle)
Antwaun Woods is another of those players who will benefit from playing with a great player—in this case, Leonard Williams—in 2014.
Although as a nose tackle, Woods has different responsibilities on the defensive line, he will thrive as Williams takes on additional blockers from opposing offenses—especially when it comes to stuffing the run.
Also, Woods is in much better shape than he has been in the past, and the junior appears poised to take on more responsibilities in terms of leadership as well.
On a strong defensive line, Woods is one of the stronger links in defensive line coach Chris Wilson's already impressive chain.
Hayes Pullard (Middle Linebacker)
Many would argue—and I would agree—that senior middle linebacker Hayes Pullard has already had breakout seasons in the past.
After leading the Trojans in tackles last year with 94, Pullard has been one of the most consistent linebackers in USC's history.
Returning to the Trojans for his final campaign, Pullard continues to take on more responsibilities, and he is the unquestioned field leader for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Look for Pullard to add to his stellar resume for the Trojans in 2014 before taking his considerable game to the NFL, where he will make some professional team very happy indeed.
Josh Shaw (Cornerback)
With an eye to his NFL future, senior cornerback Josh Shaw will once again offer his lockdown skills to the Trojan defensive backfield.
Already seasoned at the position, Shaw eschewed a chance to bolster a safety unit that is woefully thin with only three scholarship players at the position (more on that later).
At 6'1", 200 pounds, Shaw is a big, physical corner and opposing defenses will have to think twice before throwing his way.
But if they do, look for Shaw to have a big season in 2014.
Leon McQuay (Free Safety)
With only three scholarship safeties on the 2014 roster, sophomore Leon McQuay III is destined to see a lot of playing time this season.
After contributing 19 tackles last year, including an interception, McQuay served notice that he will be a star sooner rather than later.
Also, playing opposite Su'a Cravens (more on him later, too) will find him in the thick of things as opponents look to avoid young Cravens' side of the field.
If McQuay continues his progress, he will have a big year in 2014.
Su'a Cravens (Strong Safety)
Whatever accolades this slideshow can offer regarding USC's stellar strong safety Su'a Cravens, it won't do him justice.
After contributing 52 tackles and four interceptions as a true freshman in 2013, Cravens played like a seasoned veteran, and that trajectory is expected to climb this year with a season of experience under his belt.
Cravens is destined to go down as one of the finest safeties in Trojan history, and that legacy will continue to be crafted with a breakout season this year.
While the 10 players featured in this slideshow are primed for a breakout season in 2014, they aren't the only ones.
Another player who received consideration for inclusion in this piece is cornerback Kevon Seymour, who will probably see a lot of balls thrown his way as quarterbacks look to avoid Josh Shaw.
Cases could be made for Jabari Ruffin at linebacker, J.R. Tavai at defensive end, and of course, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, USC's stellar prospective All-American and a player who will draw opposing teams attention for sure.
And that's not all. Literally any player starting for the Trojans (and a few backups, too) have the talent to bust out in 2014.
Of course, the coaching staff and the legions of fans who follow the Trojans are hoping that a gaggle of players have breakout seasons this year.
Because if they do, you just might find USC taking one of those four playoff spots at the end of 2014.
And that would bring a smile to all associated with the Cardinal and Gold for sure.
Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan