Editor's note: This is the second in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Steve Sarkisian didn’t lose his sense of humor in making the jump from Washington to USC. The new head coach of the Trojans had a great sense of timing when asked about the biggest change people will see schematically or offensively.
“I think our glow-in-the-dark uniforms,” Sarkisian said. “No, just kidding.”
What Sarkisian didn’t joke about is the up-tempo pace USC is embracing.
“We’re going to go fast and that is something that will be very different than had ever been seen at the Coliseum,” he explained. “The schemes are going to look similar, but we are going to go fast.”
The Trojans, who went 10-4 last season, turned to Sarkisian to speed up even more success after firing Lane Kiffin in the midst of the season and opting not to give the permanent position to interim head coach Ed Orgeron.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. I love my job,” Sarkisian said. “I focus on the task at hand. The moment you start worrying about the what-ifs, you’re going to miss what’s right in front of you.”
OFFENSE: Junior quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. It remains to be seen, however, how he’ll fare under a third head coach (fourth if you count offensive coordinator Clay Helton’s stint as head coach for the Las Vegas Bowl) since joining the Trojans.
Kessler does have several weapons at his disposal. Junior tailbacks Javorius Allen (785 yards) and Tre Madden (703 yards) are expected to have the ground game covered and open up the passing attack. Junior Nelson Agholor, who made 56 catches for 918 yards last season, is the top returning receiver.
The line is headlined by the versatility of Max Tuerk (6-6, 285). The junior can reportedly play every position.
DEFENSE: All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams is back after recording 13 1/2 tackles for loss and six sacks as a sophomore. Seven other starters return from a defensive unit that led the Pac-12 in total defense, giving up an average of just 335.2 yards.
USC has a trio of senior linebackers. Hayes Pullard made a team-high 94 tackles last season, while J.R. Tavai and Lamar Dawson were also defenders of note. In the secondary, the Trojans have sophomore safety Su’a Cravens. The freshman All-American made four interceptions in 2013. Senior cornerback Josh Shaw is another player to watch.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Agholor led the Pac-12 in punt returns last season, averaging 19.1 yards — 5 more than anyone else in the conference. ... Senior kicker Andre Heidari connected on 15 of his 22 field goal attempts (68.2 percent) in 2013. ... Junior punter Kris Albarado was last in the Pac-12 with 37.1 yards per punt.
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USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Pac-12 media days
USC players Cody Kessler and Leonard Williams at Pac-12 media days