There wasn’t much that JuJu Smith didn’t accomplish during his freshman year at USC. He appeared in all 12 games, eventually earning a starting wide receiver spot, and ended the season ranked second on the team with 51 catches for 658 yards and five touchdowns. Smith also added six kickoff returns and a handful of carries to his first-year resume.
One thing he didn’t do, however, was contribute in all three phases of the game since there was no defensive time for JuJu, while his fellow freshman Adoree’ Jackson did get a chance to see time on offense, defense and special teams. Smith, who was a terrific safety in high school, has been battling Jackson in one-on-ones during bowl practices and said this week that he could end up joining Jackson as a triple-threat weapon for the Trojans next season.
“Adoree’ Jackson is a great player,” Smith said. “He was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which is awesome. For me to get to go against him every day is amazing and it’s real nice challenge to get me ready for game day. It will be great to go through our time at USC together, and next year I’ll be going both ways with him so it will be fun.”
Houston, we have a final 5: One of the top prospects on the USC wish list is linebacker John Houston, who released his list of five final schools on Friday and, to no surprise, the Trojans were included, along with Oregon, Arizona State, Miami and Oklahoma. Houston has already taken visits to the four other schools on his list and will trip to USC for the Trojans big recruiting weekend on Jan. 16, when several of the top remaining prospects will be on campus.
Houston has long been rumored to have the Trojans in his lead spot and, while nothing has changed that, he has legitimately enjoyed seeing the other schools, particularly Oregon. With that being said, the last visit is always critical and USC would appear to be well positioned to close this one and land the coveted target. Houston is ranked as the No. 2 inside linebacker by ESPN but with his 6-foot-3, 210 pound frame he could easily end up as a strong side backer as well. Houston will take part in the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 2 to be shown on ESPN2.
Must-see matchup: You can be sure that plenty of NFL defensive line coaches will be paying attention to the Holiday Bowl with Leonard Williams of USC and Randy Gregory of Nebraska taking part in the game. The two juniors are both expected to declare for the draft and both were projected as top-5 selections by Todd McShay of ESPN in his mock draft that was released this week.
Williams, who was named the USC team MVP this week, is actually ranked atop McShay’s overall player rankings, in large part because of the versatility he has shown and the ability to play multiple spots at the next level. The fact Williams was also a consistent contributor despite playing with injuries also has been noted by the professional scouts. What they also will find when they take a closer look at Williams is a guy who plays the game with passion and has a strong work ethic. It speaks volumes that his selection as an All-American this year made him the first two-time AA selection at defensive end for the Trojans in 50 years.
Gregory has an impressive list of accomplishments of his own, including a unique ability to rush the passer as evidenced by 18 career sacks as a Cornhusker. Like Williams, he also battled injuries this year but played through it and ended the season with 10 tackles for loss. With a 6-foot-6, 245 pound frame it’s easy to see that Gregory has the physical dimensions to play in the NFL with the only question being the eventual position, an OLB in a 3-4 or DE in a 4-3.