LOS ANGELES – If you’re a 2015 follower of USC Trojans football, it’s be hard not to focus in on three-year starting quarterback and Heisman candidate Cody Kessler, All-Pac-12 linebacker Su'a Cravens and All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk, and, of course, exceptionally talented sophomores in all-purpose prodigy Adoree' Jackson and gifted receiver JuJu Smith.
Yet with all of these returning star-studded players, here are five players hovering below the Trojans roster radar that may have as much to say in their own way on USC’s 2015 success as the aforementioned national names.
Offensive right tackle Zach Banner: Having started in all 14 games last season, the junior from Tacoma, Washington, will be a focal point along the offensive line. Having fully recovered from 2013 hip surgeries that allowed him last season to tap into his vast potential, there has been some speculation that if Banner has a productive season, he might just dip his rather large body (6-foot-9, 350-pounds) into the 2016 NFL draft pool. It could be a silver lining because it would mean that Big Zach was a consistently dominating right tackle in 2015, and nobody would be more happier about that than Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, offensive line coach Bob Connelly, and Banner’s offensive teammates.
Tailback Tre Madden: Common sense might argue that it’s junior running back Justin Davis who should be on this list, but a major key for the Trojans will be for a big, powerful senior athlete like Madden to be the thunder in the running game. Nobody argues that Madden can be a difference maker at 6-1 and 225 pounds, but despite his obvious talents, health as been a major issue in his career. He has missed two of the past three seasons with injuries, which included last season’s departure brought on by a painful turf toe. Trojans fans are hoping Madden can turn his final season in a Justin Fargas redo.
Linebacker Anthony Sarao: The hardworking senior will be asked to up his game with the departure of fellow inside linebacker Hayes Pullard, who has graduated to the NFL. Last season, Sarao, the New Jersey transplant, recorded 74 tackles, a sack, three deflections and two interceptions, one of which resulted in a 17-yard touchdown return against UCLA. Having started all 13 games last season, Sarao brings a legitimate tough-guy mentality, as illustrated last season by being named USC’s 2014 Co-Lifter of the Year. Sarao’s strength, aggressiveness and savvy will be needed if the Trojans are to be formidable on defense in 2015.
Corner Kevon Seymour: While sophomore Adoree’ Jackson is getting the deserved attention due to his exceptional freshman season, it’s Seymour, the 6-foot, 185-pound senior, who figures to be the initial target of opposition offensive coordinators. No question that Seymour has improved and is battle tested, and his potential was revealed in 2013 when he was named the Las Vegas Bowl Defensive Outperformer of the Game against Fresno State. Seymour could still be challenged during the season by some of those Trojans precious freshmen defensive backs like Iman “Biggie” Marshall. However, what those heralded freshmen lack is what Seymour already has – experience against those wide-open Pac-12 offenses. If Seymour can hold down his side of the ball, the Trojans secondary could be one of the better ones in the Pac-12.
Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons: It’s really the big defensive question 2015: Who can fill or at least solidify the vacant defensive line position left by a by two-time All-America defensive tackle Leonard “Big Cat” Williams? Logically speaking, all eyes will turn to senior Simmons, who appeared in 10 of 13 games last season recording 44 tackles (two for losses), a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal. Simmons certainly has the size (6-5, 295 pounds), and the Pennsylvania native knows the NFL will be watching his final season of college ball. Trojan fans are hopeful that Simmons can plug the hole.