USC wants results to match recruiting

USC wants results to match recruiting
USC quarterback Cody Kessler celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass during a win over Colorado on Oct. 18. Kessler will be back for his senior season with the Trojans. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

USC's recruiting class was rated among the best in college football. Now all the Trojans have to do is parlay that success into a similar standing in the College Football Playoff ranking at the end of next season.

As the Trojans' star quarterback has already publicly noted, there's a lot of work to be done. But expectations are high.


Even before national signing day last week — and despite the early departures of such standouts as defensive lineman Leonard Williams, running back Javorius Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor — several college football websites projected the Trojans as a top-five team next fall.

"We're not going to shy away from what people expect us to be," Coach Steve Sarkisian said on signing day, adding, "The fact that people think that we have the potential to be that? OK, now what are we going to do about it?

"That's really the approach that we're taking."

Or, as quarterback Cody Kessler tweeted: "So pumped for this new recruiting class! 2015 is going to be a year to remember! No more talking, it's all about the work now!"

USC, which finished 9-4 in Sarkisian's first season, begins spring practice in three weeks. The Trojans are seven months from their Sept. 5 season opener against Arkansas State.

USC's first full recruiting class since 2011 should help the Trojans with depth issues caused by NCAA sanctions, but it probably will be another two years before the roster is fully stocked with 85 scholarship players.

The Trojans also should be bolstered by the return of running back Tre Madden, offensive tackle Chad Wheeler, linebacker Jabari Ruffin and defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow, who were all expected to contribute but were sidelined for all or part of last season because of injuries.

Kessler, a senior, provides the Trojans with an experienced, marquee player to build around. Last season, he passed for 39 touchdowns, with five interceptions, and he will enter the season in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Third-year sophomore Max Browne and redshirt freshman Jalen Greene will compete to be his backup. Freshmen Ricky Town and Sam Darnold are likely to redshirt.

The running backs in USC's signing class could have the most immediate impact.

Junior Justin Davis returns and senior Madden is expected to be back after sitting out last season because of a toe injury, but freshmen Ronald Jones, Aca'Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis will get long looks during training camp.

Jones is "a real home-run" threat, Sarkisian said, while Ware is "a little bit more between-the-tackles physical runner" and Davis can play slot receiver and running back.

The anticipated loss of Agholor, and the unexpected decision by receiver George Farmer to also turn pro, will require junior college transfers Isaac Whitney and De'Quan Hampton to step in and play.

Coaches are hoping that Whitney and Hampton, both 6 feet 4, can provide the Trojans with size mismatches.

Sarkisian described tight end Tyler Petite as "maybe the most important guy in the class" because the Trojans are so thin at the position. Sophomore Bryce Dixon played last season, but Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was academically ineligible.

USC's offensive line returns intact, so freshmen such as Chuma Edoga, Roy Hemsley and Cole Smith can provide depth or redshirt in a position group that has been bulked up to 14 players.

Sarkisian acknowledged that "at times last year we got pushed around a little bit," so he is intent on instilling the defense with a "bully" mentality.

Five new defensive linemen now potentially give the Trojans 12 to rotate. Several probably will redshirt because five returning linemen are seniors.

Ruffin's return and an influx that includes Osa Masina, Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith and John Houston will make the linebacker corps deeper.

Iman Marshall is expected to compete for immediate playing time at cornerback and Isaiah Langley, Ykili Ross and Marvell Tell will add depth to the secondary.

Twitter: @latimesklein