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#26 USC

Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#26

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Lane Kiffin, 25-13 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lane Kiffin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast

OFFENSE

The first order of business, obviously, is to identify a starting quarterback. Coach Lane Kiffin wouldn’t do it at the end of spring camp, so that means the new starter won’t be named until a couple of weeks into fall practice. The competition is between third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, with true freshman Max Browne the longshot. The feeling is that Kiffin leans toward Wittek, who is bigger with a stronger arm, although Kessler is the “gamer” who makes fewer mistakes. Neither one is likely to make Trojans fans forget Matt Barkley, who broke all the school’s career passing records before moving on to the NFL.

Whoever winds up with the job will have the luxury of throwing to one of the finest pass-catching tandems in the country. The star is All-American Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award and should be a Heisman Trophy contender. Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He will be joined by flashy Nelson Agholor, who had an excellent freshman season and was the team’s most consistent offensive player in the spring. At tight end, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are both big and talented enough to be considered solid NFL prospects.

Kiffin’s teams always pass well, but it remains to be seen if he can produce the kind of overpowering running game featured by USC teams in the past. Senior Silas Redd, who ran for 905 yards, and freshman Justin Davis, who was the surprise of the spring, will headline a rushing game that will only be as effective as an offensive line that returns plenty of experience. Replacing center Khaled Holmes will be difficult, and it remains to be seen if huge junior Aundrey Walker can handle the all-important left tackle position. It was Walker’s missed assignment that led to Barkley’s season-ending injury in the UCLA game.



DEFENSE

Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father, resigned as defensive coordinator and was replaced by Clancy Pendergast, who has installed a new 5-2 scheme that should take full advantage of a talented defensive line that ranks among the best and deepest in the conference. Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks a year ago, will be an end/outside linebacker hybrid now. With Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard, George Uko and fast-rising freshman Kenny Bigelow, among others, this could be a dominant unit.

Potential star Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson, the most improved player of the spring, will start at linebacker, while Dion Bailey tries to make the move from linebacker to strong safety. The big question is the rest of a secondary that is short on experience. Junior Josh Shaw will play somewhere, but after that it is difficult to know who will be starting where.

SPECIALISTS

Andre Heidari should be among the better placekickers in the country. Kris Albarado will be the new punter, with Lee, Agholor and Anthony Brown featured as kick returners.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Kiffin is feeling considerable heat after 2012’s disappointing 7–6 finish for a team some ranked No. 1 nationally heading into the season. Now he has the unenviable task of trying to return to prominence with an inexperienced quarterback, a major question mark at left tackle and a defense that could be vulnerable in the secondary.

If nothing else, at least he gets a break in a schedule that doesn’t include national power Oregon and opens with four games, three of them at home, that the Trojans should win.

After that, though, things get difficult. The feeling is Kiffin needs nine or 10 victories, or his job could be in serious jeopardy.




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#12 LSU

Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#12

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 85-21 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis

OFFENSE

Zach Mettenberger is back for his second year as a starter after a junior season that was ushered in with huge expectations — perhaps too big — and wavered between disappointing, mediocre and effective. He wound up with 2,609 passing yards, but only 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has a reputation as a strong tutor of quarterbacks, and he could be a huge influence on Mettenberger in a season in which LSU needs its quarterback to be productive.

In the backfield, Jeremy Hill exploded as a go-to back midway through his freshman campaign and led the Tigers with 755 rushing yards. However, he is facing a suspension after an arrest in late April after allegedly punching a man outside of a bar. Even though Hill will be missed, LSU, as usual, has other quality options in the backfield. Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard both spent time as the lead back last season.

Receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were special at times in 2012, but way too ordinary at others. They need to limit their drops and improve their route-running. Junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie could give LSU a home run threat.

The Tigers go into the season with four veterans up front, augmented by a host of promising newcomers. The one major hole is at center, where Elliott Porter takes over for three-year starter P.J. Lonergan. The right side seems fairly locked down, with Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander back at guard and tackle, respectively. Guard Josh Williford's status is uncertain after a concussion suffered in fall camp.

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DEFENSE

The rebuilding of the defense begins up front, although this isn’t exactly a starting-from-scratch project. In fact, the experienced players back — Jermauria Rasco, Anthony Johnson, Ego Ferguson and Danielle Hunter — may be more athletic and potentially more explosive in terms of generating a pass rush than the recently departed group.

No player was more valuable to the LSU defense in 2012 than departed linebacker Kevin Minter, who more or less took away the middle of the field. A talented six-man 2012 linebacker recruiting class helps fill the gaps along with one of the state’s best prep players, Kendell Beckwith. Senior Lamin Barrow should also be an anchor after he played a strong second fiddle to Minter with 104 tackles.

There will be some new faces in some prominent roles in the secondary. Cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins were forced into action as true freshmen last fall and showed flashes of a bright future. But both also have to get better across the board for the secondary to improve after a late-season fade cost the Tigers wins against Alabama and Clemson. The safety spots seem to be in good hands, with senior Craig Loston — if he can stay healthy — and junior Ronald Martin.

Key Player

Zach Mettenberger, QB – Showed signs of being an All-SEC-caliber quarterback at times and now has a new offensive coordinator to help him find consistency.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR – The Tigers need Beckham to limit his drops and use his athleticism (16.6 ypc) to produce big plays.

La’el Collins, OL – Gives the Tigers a veteran to plug in at left tackle or one to keep at left guard if a younger lineman emerges. Either way, he is the anchor up front.

Lamin Barrow, LB – Overshadowed by Kevin Minter, but he was one of the stalwarts in a linebacker corps that helped camouflage some inexperience and youth in the secondary.

Anthony Johnson, DT – Blossomed as a sophomore as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher and comes back as LSU’s best and most experienced man on the front four.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

Yes, LSU even got stung by early departures in the kicking department when wacky but talented punter Brad Wing left for the NFL. But another strong-legged Australian, Jamie Keehn, showed his value in the bowl game when he averaged 44.6 yards per kick. The placekicking spot is up for grabs between junior James Hairston, who has kicked off the last few seasons, and walk-on Colby Delahoussaye. 

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL, leaving only 10 starters returning in 2013. The cupboard isn’t bare for Les Miles, but the Tigers are behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West pecking order. LSU won’t abandon its run-first approach on offense, but Cameron, the new coordinator, is tasked with getting more production from Mettenberger. The defense has plenty of young talent and will get better as the season progresses. However, there will be an adjustment period with the departure of six key linemen, an All-SEC linebacker and two starters in the secondary.

 

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5 Greatest Moments in LSU Tigers Football History

10 Greatest LSU Tigers (since 1967)

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#13 Florida

Gators

NATIONAL FORECAST

#13

SEC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Will Muschamp, 18-8 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Pease | DEF. COORDINATOR: D.J. Durkin

OFFENSE

Will Muschamp’s second team in Gainesville won games through physical play and a grinding style, but its passing game did not put up a vintage Florida performance. The Gators’ 146.3 passing yards per game were their second-lowest for a season since 1979.

Unquestioned as the primary quarterback, Jeff Driskel will need to improve his field vision and ability to read defenses. The junior is mobile, but he needs to do his part to decrease Florida’s sack totals. Driskel could be an improved quarterback, but he may not have the receivers and tight ends to showcase his ability. The Gators are looking at cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and incoming freshmen, led by Demarcus Robinson, to boost the receiving corps.

At running back, Matt Jones established himself as the top option, distancing himself from junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. A physical back at 6'2", 226 pounds, Jones can run through contact and could be an anchor for Florida’s ball control offense. Taylor, the son of Florida legend and NFL running back Fred Taylor, broke Emmitt Smith’s state career rushing record as a junior.

One of the most optimistic developments during the offseason for the Gators’ offense could be the improvement of the line. With Maryland transfer Max Garcia at guard and tackle D.J. Humphries adding weight, the left side of the line could be especially improved. At 280, Humphries is the only projected starter weighing less than 300 pounds.


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DEFENSE

Muschamp would prefer to have all his best players on the field at the same time, which presents an interesting dilemma with both Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell best suited for the “Buck” position, an end/linebacker hybrid. One could end up playing outside linebacker. Dominique Easley, who led the Gators with four sacks last season, can play both defensive end and tackle. If the Gators are thin anywhere up front, it’s at tackle where Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter departed.

Linebacker will be the most untested part of the defense, but there’s room for optimism. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moves from outside linebacker to the middle, but he is suspended for the first two games of 2013. He’ll be the Gators’ best hitter. Freshman linebacker Daniel McMillian was one of the breakout players of the spring. He has a nose for the ball and could become a starter as a rookie.

Depth is strong at cornerback, enabling Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs to play safety. They have a combined 33 career starts, mainly at cornerback. Marcus Roberson is a solid cover corner while Purifoy, who had three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks last season, is the top playmaker. Brian Poole, a special teams contributor as a true freshman, and incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III will be tough to ignore even in a crowded backfield.

Key Player

Jeff Driskel, QB – The junior became the first quarterback in FBS history to throw four TD passes while passing for fewer than 100 yards when he did so against South Carolina last season.

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB – He’s a returning starter at cornerback, where his nose for the ball prompted Florida coaches to test him at receiver during the spring.

Dominique Easley, DL – His ability to play end or tackle will be an asset for Gators’ line. He led the team with four sacks in 2012.

Antonio Morrison, LB – Big hitter came off the bench to help seal a Florida win over Florida State in Tallahassee last year.

Jaylen Watkins, S – Senior who started 19 games the last two seasons can play corner, safety and nickel.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

A ball control offense needs a good punter, and the Gators have that in Kyle Christy. The junior averaged 45.8 yards per kick for a team that finished ninth nationally in net punting. The major question will be at kicker where the Gators will need to find a replacement for Caleb Sturgis, who made 24-of-28 field goals last year. Brad Phillips is the frontrunner for the job.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Florida’s final record looked like a typical season in Gainesville at 11–2 and a Sugar Bowl appearance, but the Gators were a high-wire act for most of the year. What’s most encouraging is that Florida improved in key areas such as physical play and turnover margin (from minus-12 to plus-15).

Expect another tough running game and salty defense, but without an above-average passing attack, the Gators are built for another season of grind-it-out games.

 
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