If USC is going to avoid another 5-7 season, it will need star turns from at least a few players. That might seem obvious, except last year was the first time since 2000, when USC also went 5-7, that the Trojans were shut out of the all-conference first team.
You might recall, Coach Clay Helton remarked heading into last season that the roster was devoid of a star, despite the presence of three-year starters Cam Smith, Porter Gustin, Marvell Tell and Iman Marshall. It was a bit ominous at the time but ultimately accurate. I think it’s fair to say USC has greater star potential this year, as a handful of guys appear primed to make that leap.
So who exactly are the best players? I polled two other writers on the beat, Chris Trevino of USCFootball.com and Antonio Morales of The Athletic. (Like myself, they pay close attention to practice.) We each submitted a list of USC’s top 20 players right now.
A few interesting notes about the ballots:
- Fourteen players were on all three ballots.
- Twenty were on two of three.
- There wasn't a single duplicate ranking.
- The biggest disparity was with Austin Jackson.
- The smallest disparities involved Jay Tufele and Talanoa Hufanga.
- The biggest point-margin between slots were from 4-5 and 13-14.
- Nine new starters made the list.
- Freshmen and sophomores accounted for thirteen selections, and five of six who also received votes.
Here is the composite (with my personal ranking in parentheses):
20. Wide receiver Devon Williams (15)
19. Cornerback Olaijah Griffin (13)
18. Linebacker John Houston (17)
17. Running back Stephen Carr (20)
16. Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (16)
15. Running back Markese Stepp (10)
14. Punter Ben Griffiths (unranked)
13. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (8)
12. Running back Vavae Malepeai (14)
11. Defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu (12)
10. Defensive end Drake Jackson (5)
9. Offensive tackle Austin Jackson (18)
8. Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (7)
7. Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (6)
6. Quarterback JT Daniels (9)
5. Defensive end Christian Rector (11)
4. Safety Talanoa Hufanga (3)
3. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (1)
2. Defensive lineman Jay Tufele (4)
1. Wide receiver Michael Pittman (2)
Also receiving votes: DB Chase Williams, TE Josh Falo, CB Chris Steele, WR Munir McClain, C Brett Neilon, CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart