USC Now mailbag: Season prediction, UCLA comparison and depth chart

USC Now mailbag: Season prediction, UCLA comparison and depth chart
USC Coach Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans at the Coliseum back in April. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Two weeks until USC's season opener against Arkansas State on Sept. 5.

My email is for everyone angry about my season prediction.


Keep in mind, last season I predicted an 8-4 record, not including the bowl game.

And what do you know. USC was 8-4, before defeating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

What does a successful year look like for Sark? Is that the same as for the team? What's the bare minimum acceptable result?

— Stephen Job, @Stephen_Job

Way to set the bar low, Stephen.

The bare minimum is 10 wins. Another 9-4 season with a fifth-year senior at quarterback and the latest recruiting class is a step back.

I predict losses at Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon and against UCLA in the Coliseum.

Until we see the defensive line and secondary in action, I'm hesitant to predict many more victories.

Will the 'SC special teams coverage units still be made up of starters?

— Steve Curry, @scurryn

It looks like a combination of a few starters, many backups and some reserves.

You've been to both camps, who is the more physical team and had the more physical practices, USC or UCLA?

— Crunch Time Trojan, @CrunchTimeTroy

The short answer: UCLA.


USC Coach Steve Sarkisian has talked about instilling more of a "bully" mentality on defense.

But UCLA is playing with it.

The Bruins looked very physical during live drills.

UCLA Coach Jim Mora emphasized the word "violent" several times when he spoke with the media about how his team practiced.

The description fit.

Does Sark appear to take an interest in the defense and its players or is he exclusively focused on receivers and quarterbacks?

— Johnny Morton, @johnnymortonsup

Exclusive is a strong word, but Sarkisian spends most of his time with the quarterbacks and receivers.

When the offense and defense practice on separate fields, he rarely ventures over to watch the defense.

Who is the third cornerback behind Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour? Do you think Marvell Tell can start?

— El Muchacho Alegre, @2nd2NoneN13

There aren't many options at cornerback.

Sophomore Jonathan Lockett and freshman Iman Marshall will be the backups.

It's unlikely that Tell will start over Leon McQuay, Chris Hawkins and John Plattenburg in the first few games, but it's possible he works into that role during the season.

Any thoughts/ideas/list of redshirts this season? I know it's early but was wondering.

— Aaron Martinez, @AaronMartinezSP

Several of the freshmen will play.

Here's an early prediction of who will redshirt, if the starters and backups remain healthy.

Quarterback: Sam Darnold

Offensive linemen: Roy Hemsley, Cole Smith, Chuma Edoga and Clayton Johnston.

Receiver: Deontay Burnett

Defensive linemen: Jacob Daniel, Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson and Kevin Scott

Cornerback: Isaiah Langley

I read your post on Ricky Town leaving and its effect on future recruiting. USC is already plotting to land a crop of four-five star replacements. There's an elephant in the room that seldom gets included in the conversation: Over recruiting. The athletes leave their living room where they were promised this and that by the coach and they arrive on campus to find two more four or five-star dudes at the same position and a couple more upperclass guys already starting. The result is that some of them have to leave school.

Ricky Town didn't even make it through fall practice. Think of Aaron Corp at USC, Max Wittek at USC, Asiantii Woulard at UCLA. A few years back USC was gloating because they had eight or so top of the line running backs.

Of course it was too many and some of them transferred out. I think you should consider writing about that. It is seldom addressed in the sports section.

— Bob Zaugh

This is a nine-part question and comment, Bob.

And there's no perfect answer to any of it.

Ricky Town knew what the depth chart was when he signed at USC: Cody Kessler, Max Browne and Jalen Greene, plus Sam Darnold, who also signed in Town's class.

The majority of coaches I've spoken with say they make no promises to recruits, other than the chance to compete.

Several recruits have said otherwise.

The simple solution is for recruits to take a long, hard look at the depth chart and the other players committed in class.

Many recruits say they don't want a job handed to them, but also want to play immediately. Usually, it doesn't work both ways.

Max Wittek and Cody Kessler signed in the same class. Both quarterbacks knew only one would be named the starter. Kessler won and Wittek transferred.

And it's interesting you use USC's six tailbacks in 2013 as an example.

Turns out, all were needed except one.

Justin Davis and Ty Isaac signed in the 2013 recruiting class, knowing there were already four scholarship backs — Silas Redd, Tre Madden, D.J. Morgan and Javorius Allen — on the roster.

Redd, Morgan and Davis each were slowed or sidelined because of injury.

Allen had a breakout season after coach Lane Kiffin was fired.

And Isaac redshirted, then transferred after the season.

Had Isaac stayed, he could have played the next season: Redd graduated, Morgan retired and Madden was sidelined because of a foot injury, which left only Allen and Davis.

Could you tell me what is going on with James Toland IV. I haven't heard anything about him all spring and fall practices.

— Jim Townsend

Tailback James Toland IV, a third-year sophomore walk-on, is competing for reps in a deep position group.

Fifth-year senior Tre Madden and junior Justin Davis take the majority of carries with the starters.

Freshmen Ronald Jones, Aca'Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis also are in the mix.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.