With all those NCAA sanctions behind them, are the USC Trojans ready to return to the elite of college football in 2015? Second-year Coach Steve Sarkisian appears to have one of the most talented rosters in the nation. Here are USC's 2015 odds from 5Dimes.
Unless you follow Washington and Southern Cal football, you might not be familiar with the phrase "7-Win Sark." If Sarkisian coached somewhere like Iowa State or Vanderbilt, getting to seven wins each season and earning your own phrase would be a badge of honor. But it wasn't an endearing term to fans at the University of Washington as they felt Sarkisian's Huskies underachieved by finishing 7-6 each year from 2010-2012. That's why many Huskies boosters weren't all that upset when USC hired him after the 2013 season, even though UW was 9-4 that year and won a bowl game. Frankly, most in the Pacific Northwest thought the school upgraded in hiring former Boise State coach Chris Petersen.
Maybe we soon will be saying "9-Win Sark" because he led the still scholarship-depleted Trojans to a 9-4 mark last year. That included wins over ranked Stanford and Arizona and a blowout of Notre Dame in the regular-season finale (really the first domino that saw Irish QB Everett Golson transfer this offseason). The Trojans capped their season with a wild 45-42 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
USC is welcoming back 15 starters in 2015, eight on offense and seven on defense. On offense, the key losses were stellar wide receiver Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards, 12 TDs) and leading rusher Buck Allen (276 carries, 1.489 yards and 11 TDs). But back is quarterback Cody Kessler, who is +1375 to win the Heisman. He comes off the most efficient season in USC history, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with 39 TDs and five interceptions while setting or tying six school season records. His top target now figures to be receiver JuJu Smith, a 2014 Freshman All-American who had 54 receptions with five scores. The entire line is due back.
The defense will certainly miss tackle/end Leonard Williams as he had 80 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, and seven sacks last year while often drawing double teams. That unit figures to now be led by safety/outside linebacker Su'a Cravens, a 2014 Sophomore All-American who had 68 tackles and led the Trojans in tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (three).
USC 2015 Schedule Analysis
There are no guarantees in sports betting, but I'll go ahead and bet my house that USC is 2-0 entering Pac-12 play. That's because they open Sept. 5 against Arkansas State and then host Idaho the following week. Come on!
Things get started Week 3 when Southern Cal hosts Stanford, which could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game. Last year, the Trojans went to Palo Alto and upset the No. 13 Cardinal 13-10. Andre Heidari kicked a career-long 53-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining to win it. You may remember that game as the one where USC AD Pat Haden was on the sideline yelling at officials. He would be fined for that. Kessler struggled, hitting 15 of 22 for only 135 yards. USC is 5-5 ATS in its past 10 against Stanford.
The first road game of the season is the next week, Sept. 26, at a good Arizona State team. The Sun Devils beat USC 38-34 in L.A. last year. That was one of the endings of the year as ASU's Jaelen Strong caught a 46-yard Hail Mary as time expired. Arizona State scored three TDs in the final 3:53. USC has covered only three of the past 10 against ASU.
On Oct. 8, USC hosts Sark's former team, Washington. Then it's a trip to Notre Dame on Oct. 17. Kessler threw six touchdown passes in the 49-14 rout of the Irish last year. It was 35-0 in the second quarter. Trojans have won seven of past 10 in series.
The schedule eases up a bit over the next four games: Oct. 24 vs. Utah, Oct. 13 at California (trap game!), Nov. 7 vs. Arizona and Nov. 13 at Colorado. Then it's the potential Pac-12 game of the year, USC at Oregon on Nov. 21. The Ducks are early 5-point favorites. That's followed by USC hosting UCLA on Nov. 28. The Trojans are -3 there. The Bruins have won and covered three straight in the battle for L.A.
USC is +1500 to win the national title, +350 to win the Pac-12 and with a wins total of eight on college football odds.
NCAAF Free Picks: I like this team a lot. I think the Trojans do win the Pac-12 South, although that trip to Oregon worries me because I could see another conference loss for USC at Arizona State. Can USC win the South with two losses? Yes -- Arizona did in 2014. Go 'over' the wins and I'm throwing some money down on Kessler for the Heisman. Two losses might be one too many to reach the College Football Playoff. The Trojans are +350 to make it and -530 to miss.