The USC Trojans enter 2020 as one of the biggest question marks in the Pac-12. After putting together the conference's third-worst recruiting class and retaining Clay Helton but firing a number of assistants, the expectations for the Trojans in 2020 are rather low.
As noted by Banner Society, USC fell 49 spots lower than its all-time norm. It was the 55th-ranked recruiting class in the nation. It was uncharacteristically awful for the Trojans. Banner Society stated that USC's class was so bad, it would be like Vanderbilt finishing with a higher recruiting class than Alabama.
But it's not all horrible for the Trojans. They do return a wealth of talent on offense, including two potential starting quarterbacks in Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels. They have several talented receivers and running backs also returning as well as a decent number of players on defense that give the Trojans hope they can improve upon last year when they won eight games and a spot in the Holiday Bowl against Iowa.
While eight games might seem like a low bench for the Trojans, it's important to remember they suffered a host of injuries, including losing Daniels for the year at the start of the season. With that in mind, let's take a look at some first-year players who could have an impact on the Trojans' 2020 season.
Gary Bryant Jr., WR
The Trojans lost a host of players to graduation, the transfer portal, and the NFL. Some of the biggest losses were to the receiver corps, which lost Michael Pittman Jr. to the NFL and Dominic Davis, Devon Williams, and Velus Jones to transfer. While talents like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, and Tyler Vaughns are still there, getting a guy like Bryant can only help the Trojans.
Bryant is the crown jewel of the Trojans' class, a four-star consensus recruit with a really high player average (.9763). Bryant averaged 19.8 yards per catch and had 27 total touchdowns throughout his high school career. In his senior season alone, Bryant averaged 94.5 yards per game with 14 total touchdowns, as they occasionally used him in the backfield. He is a talented player and has a diversified skill-set that could help him see the field early for USC.
Jonah Monheim, G
Monheim was a highly sought after recruit, holding offers from 30 schools, including Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, and Notre Dame. That USC landed him is a huge boost to their offensive line, which saw several departures this past offseason. If nothing else, Monheim will provide stiff competition to the veterans.
USC loses Austin Jackson, Drew Richmond, Jacob Daniel, and Clayton Bradley this offseason. Austin and Richmond alone played in a combined 25 games last year. Monheim was the 16th-best offensive guard in the 2020 class, so he definitely has the talent to come in and push guys like Liam Jimmons, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Jalen McKenzie. He likely will not start right away, but USC landed a quality recruit in Monheim.
Parker Lewis, K
USC can't lose with Parker Lewis. The Trojans have been in need of reliable kickers. Last year, USC lost Chase McGrath for the season with an ACL tear, and there's no word on how he's healed and how it has affected his kicking. Lewis enters the arena as the seventh-best kicking recruit in the nation. If McGrath isn't up to the job, Lewis could end up Wally Pipping him and carving out a nice career for himself.
Kobe Pepe, DT
Pepe enters USC as a three-star recruit out of California powerhouse St. John Bosco. While his recruiting stats aren't going to light anyone's fire — he's the nation's 49th-best player at his position, the 50th-best player in California, and the 567th best player in the country — the hiring of Todd Orlando as defensive coordinator could open the door for him to see rotation time early.
Per Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com, Orlando is a guy that likes to mix up his defensive fronts, and it's possible that some of them will jibe with Pepe's talents. The Trojans have had a lot of success with the recruiting of defensive linemen, so there's a good chance Pepe will find a groove eventually, even if it isn't this year.
Jack Yary, TE
If there is one player on this list who enters USC with off-the-charts expectations, it's Yary. If the name sounds familiar, it's because his father, Ron, is a Trojan legend, in the college football and NFL Hall of Fame, and in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Talk about a shadow, but Jack is his own man and plays his own position.
While his father was an Outland Award-winning offensive tackle, Jack is an outstanding tight end with over 1,000 career receiving yards in high school. He averaged 13.4 yards per catch and accounted for an astounding 21 total touchdowns, including several touchdowns out of the backfield. USC has struggled to incorporate tight ends in recent years, so Yary will be hoping to break that trend with his outstanding play.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.