After a frustrating 5-7 campaign in 2018, not a single USC football player was selected to the All-Pac-12 Conference first team. The snub, while ultimately insignificant, was a depressing distinction at the end of a dismal season, an uneasy sign of how far a roster filled with five-star talent had fallen.
A year later, after an 8-4 season, there is another bit of progress to report. Three Trojans made the All-Pac-12 first team on Tuesday, while five were honored on the conference’s second team.
Kedon Slovis, who arrived at USC last spring as an overlooked, three-star quarterback, was chosen the Pac-12’s offensive freshman of the year, capping a season that saw him shatter several school records and instill hope in the future of USC’s offense.
His top target, Michael Pittman Jr., was selected to the All-Pac-12 first team, following his own breakout season in which he routinely took over when USC needed him most. The Biletnikoff Award finalist was an obvious choice, after reeling in a conference-leading 95 receptions and 1,222 yards, along with 11 touchdowns, which tied for second in the conference.
Joining Pittman on the Pac-12’s first team are two pillars of USC’s improved fronts, offensive tackle Austin Jackson and defensive tackle Jay Tufele.
Jackson started late this season after missing the start of training camp following surgery to donate bone marrow to his younger sister. Upon returning, the Trojans’ junior left tackle quickly emerged as the anchor of a resurgent offensive line. Soon, he’ll have a decision to make on whether he’ll return to that same spot next season or declare for the NFL draft, where he could be selected in the top three rounds.
Tufele, a sophomore, was a key cog for a Trojans defensive line that had its dominating moments this season. As he fought through various injuries, Tufele still finished with 4½ sacks and 39 total tackles, 6½ for a loss.
Two of USC’s best defensive players landed on the second team, presumably because of time they missed with injuries. Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga, who ranks fourth nationally among defensive backs in tackles per game (8.44), and freshman defensive end Drake Jackson, who led USC in sacks (5½), were joined by offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and kick returner Velus Jones on the second team. Pittmanwas also named to the All-Pac-12 second team as a special teams contributor.
Slovis’ path to Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year was perhaps the most encouraging sign of progress this season. After winning the backup job to start the season, Slovis stepped in for the injured JT Daniels and proceeded to break freshman records in completions (260) and passing yards (3,242). He’s well on his way to also besting Cody Kessler’s school record for completion percentage, after completing a stunning 71.8% of his passes.
As USC won five of six to finish the season, Slovis threw for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns in four of those games, tying another school record.
Linebacker John Houston Jr., cornerback Olaijah Griffin, kicker Chase McGrath, and wide receivers Amon-ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns were chosen as All-Pac-12 honorable mention.