Pat Haden really didn’t want Lane Kiffin around any longer. So the USC athletic director made a decisive move just a few weeks into the season when he fired Kiffin on the tarmac at LAX.
A few months later, Haden announced that Steve Sarkisian was returning to Heritage Hall to become USC’s next head football coach. Coach Sark had rebuilt Washington into a winner but could never get the Huskies over the proverbial hump in Seattle. Yet, the timing was right for both parties and Sark made his triumphant homecoming to Los Angeles.
Sarkisian immediately began building one of the more impressive coaching staffs in the nation using both incumbents (Clay Helton, Tee Martin) and familiar faces from UW (Justin Wilcox).
And so, with an elite roster chock-full of five-star talent, Sark embarks on a journey USC fans are hoping returns the Men of Troy to the top of the college football mountain.
Finding replacements for names like wide receiver Marqise Lee, center Marcus Martin, end George Uko, linebacker Devon Kennard and safety Dion Bailey will be Sarkisian's first task this spring.
USC Trojans 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 10-4 (6-3 Pac-12)
Spring Practice Opens: March 11
Spring Game: April 19
Three Things to Watch in USC's 2014 Spring Practice
Adapt to the new tempo
Even in his introductory press conference, Sarkisian intimated at how fast USC’s offense will run under the new regime. He wants his team to play fast. Getting his players accustomed to running the offense at breakneck speed will be critical for returning quarterback Cody Kessler and backup Max Browne, as well as a host of talented but fairly young skill players. The players have reportedly taken to the tempo quickly and are enjoying the new M.O. Sark has said that every position will be up for grabs, including quarterback, and that has fueled competition and intrigue throughout spring camp. It appears that USC practices are fun to be a part of once again.
Rebuild the offensive line
Martin was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick last year and he must be replaced at center. Gone also are Kevin Graf and John Martinez. New offensive line coach Tim Drevno is looking to totally recast this front and has some really nice pieces to work with in left tackle Chad Wheeler and the versatile Max Tuerk. Tuerk, who has played both tackle and guard, appears to be earmarked as Martin’s replacement at center as Drevno builds from the inside out along the line. Khaliel Rodgers and Aundrey Walker were both big-time recruits who the staff has high expectations for as well. Toss in names like Giovanni Di Poalo and Nathan Guertler and the Trojans could have the makings of an elite offensive line. If they can all stay healthy.
Find some edge rushers
Three of the top four sack masters for USC last year are gone. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard (9.0), defensive end George Uko (5.0) and Morgan Breslin (4.5, six games) have all moved on from the Trojans' defense. J.R. Tavai filled in admirably for Breslin a year ago and he should lock down one outside spot while Scott Starr, Quinton Powell, Michael Hutchings and Anthony Sarao are in the mix for serious playing time as well. There is no shortage of talented bodies, so defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox should be excited about his future front seven. Finding an elite pass rusher off the edge, be it with a hand in the dirt or not, has to be an area of focus for the new coaching staff this spring — especially, considering the quarterback play and offensive coaching prowess that the Pac-12 boasts.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 8-10
Steve Sarkisian was an underwhelming hire at USC but coaches shouldn’t be selected based on their ability to win the press conference (just ask UCLA). Coach Sark knows the landscape at USC and has assembled an all-star coaching staff to both recruit and motivate. This team returns a ton of weapons on offense and has loads of young talent on the defensive side of the ball. Recruiting was never Kiffin’s problem and he left the cupboard totally stocked for Sark. So even with a brutal schedule in 2014, fans in USC should expect to compete for South Division and Pac-12 titles right away under the new regime. In fact, a berth in the Pac-12 title game in Sark’s first year is well within reach.