I’m fully convinced that the college football scheduling committee places a majority of the Pac-12 contests late at night for a specific reason.
After a fun-filled Saturday of nothing but college pigskin, don’t let the dreary eyes and sluggish attitude overtake you. You may miss the fireworks.
The Pac-12 conference features a full slate of teams that can win on any given night, and just as it was a year ago, there seems to be a plenty of title contenders out west.
My early season predictions for the playoff included Southern California, so just to add a little icing to the cake, I had the luxury of catching up with beat writer Michael Lev as he weighs in on his Trojans.
AK: The Pac-12 sees a balanced mixture of returners and fresh faces, mainly at the quarterback position. In your opinion, who will give USC the most problems on the schedule and why?
ML: Three teams spring to mind. The first is Arizona State. Recent trips to ASU have ended disastrously for USC; each of the last two trips has ended in a 21-point defeat (and the second one cost Lane Kiffin his job). The Sun Devils also return a quarterback in Mike Bercovici who broke the Trojans’ hearts last season. The second team is Oregon, which returns to USC’s schedule after a two-year hiatus. Autzen Stadium is a tough place to play anytime of year but particularly in late November. Finally, there’s UCLA. The Bruins have beaten the Trojans three years in a row, and the games haven’t been that close. Although UCLA lost its star quarterback, it has plenty coming back.
AK: The Trojans are primed for a playoff run in 2015? If they do indeed come out on top, what’s going to be the key factor or ingredient that will play into that happening?
ML: USC has enough talent to make the College Football Playoff. The Trojans also will have better depth with their first 25-man recruiting class since 2011, and that should help address their biggest issue: finishing games. The Boston College game last year was a trap. The UCLA game was the Bruins’ all the way. The ASU and Utah games were flat-out choke jobs. USC absolutely should have won those games but let them slip away because of poor play-calling and execution. To get into the playoff picture this year, they must prove they can finish in the fourth quarter. It’s already been a point of emphasis in spring practice, and it’ll continue to be one throughout the season.
AK: Last year, wide receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive playmaker Su’a Cravens headlined the Trojans. Who are two names to watch next season on both offense and defense?
ML: I assume you’re looking for some under-the-radar guys. On offense, I really like receiver Steven Mitchell. JuJu Smith is the headliner and the assumed successor to Agholor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mitchell – now that he’s finally healthy – posted comparable numbers. I also think tailback Justin Davis is in for a big season. He missed almost the entire offseason last year while recovering from an ankle injury and didn’t really get going until the latter half of the season. He’s expected to be the lead dog this year, and I think he’ll thrive.
On defense, cornerback Kevon Seymour has looked like a different guy this spring. He was good, not great, last year. This year he has a chance to be great. The other guy I like on defense is middle linebacker Lamar Dawson, who appears to be fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out last season. Dawson is a throwback middle ‘backer, a downhill run-stuffer who will give USC’s defense a new dimension.