After years of playing non-New Year’s Six games, USC returned to the Rose Bowl this past season with a bang. In one of the best bowl games of the year, the Trojans defeated Penn State 52-49 in a comeback for the ages, at least until the Super Bowl.
The USC Spring Game is set for April 15, but there is a lot of work to be done between now and the season opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2. With some key players off to the NFL, the incoming recruiting class and members of previous ones will be expected to step up and take the place of those leaving.
While the Trojans continuously put together top-10 recruiting classes, here are five newcomers that could step up and contribute right away.
Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, True Freshman
Of all the recruits USC needed the most, Tuipulotu would be near the top of the list for most experts. What USC got out of Utah grad-transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu was nothing short of a miracle. The Trojans’ defensive coaches referred to him as the heart of the defense and that’s exactly the type of role they imagine for Tuipulotu, who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice.
Stephen Carr, RB, True Freshman
With the departure of Justin Davis, Carr has a chance to come in and make an impact alongside Ronald Jones II. Carr has all the physical tools and was a consensus five-star recruit. If he is able to deliver on even half of his potential, USC could have its next great back.
Jay Tufele, DE, True Freshman
A late grab for USC, Tufele was projected to go to Utah when he chose the Trojans. It couldn’t have worked out better for USC, who picture a nice 1-2 punch with Tufele and Tuipulotu. One of the nation’s best defensive tackles, Tufele is going to be expected to come right in and compete for playing time.
Joseph Lewis, WR, True Freshman
The nation’s No. 31-ranked recruit will be expected to come right in and help at the position with the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Lewis has blistering speed and is a bit more polished than some of his peers when it comes to running routes and route concepts. USC is loaded at the wide receiver position, but Lewis is the type of athlete who makes room for himself on the depth chart.
Michael Pittman, WR, Sophomore
This one is kind of cheating since Pittman is not a freshman or junior college transfer, but he didn’t play much last year with USC having options like the aforementioned Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers to throw to. Now that those folks are gone, expect Pittman, who was one of the most physical and gifted prospects in the 2016 signing class, to emerge as one of Sam Darnold’s favorite targets.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a Marvel Comics guru. Webb has been writing about USC for Athlon Sports for three seasons now. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.