LA Times Sports
Under first year head coach, Steve Sarkisian, USC had a roller coaster of a season. After the Trojans won at Stanford early in the season, many believed they would be the playoff team coming out of the Pac-12. However, the Trojans have struggled to finish games, partially due to players still learning a new system, and because USC is starting nine freshman. USC has started three freshman on the offensive line, who have done an exceptional job protecting Cody Kessler, and blocking for “Buck” Allen. USC fans are also very excited about CB/WR Adoree’ Jackson, and WR John Smith. Jackson has been put in single coverage versus some of the nations best wideouts, and has played like a “lock-down” corner. Smith has played opposite of nationally recognized Nelson Agholor, but he deserves more attention then he has received. Smith has been an important red-zone target to Kessler, and his numbers will only get better. Cody Kessler has flourished under this new system, which has many excited to watch him play next season. USC finally will be able to offer a full slate of scholarships this offseason, which will bring in more superstars, and help with their depth issues. USC could possibly be a national contender next year.
LSU lost a load of players to the draft last year including star WR Odell Beckham Jr., and QB Zazh Mettenberger. This season slowly developed for the Tigers, but they managed to pull off a few signature wins. LSU is working with a new QB under center, Anthony Jennings, and he has shown some flashes of former LSU superstar, DeMarcus Russell. The Tigers did not have as impressive a defense this year, compared to previous seasons, most likely because they have started ten first and second year players. With a few head scratching losses to Arkansas and Kentucky, the lack of experience has been exposed. LSU was able to put up a fight with Mississippi State and Alabama, but have not been able to finish games strongly. Leonard Fournette, the number one ranked RB in the 2014 class, received a massive workload this season, and was a key impact player to the Tigers. Head coach, Les Miles, has proved in past seasons he can develop young players into NFL caliber players, and he has many of those players on his team right now.
Miami has quietly had a decent season, given they are working with a true freshman QB. Brad Kaaya, out of Chaminade High School in California, has performed well under the big spotlight, with a spectacular performance against Florida State a few weeks ago. Kaaya has shown the ability to hit tough passes, while standing tall in the pocket. As the Miami Hurricanes offensive line improves, and more wideouts emerge into the depth chart, Kaaya may soon be in the Heisman discussion, before he graduates. However, it has been RB Duke Johnson who has stolen the show this season, on the Hurricanes, and has been considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. Johnson is a junior, and if the Hurricanes can convince him to stay, Johnson and Kaaya could make up an unbelievable tandem next season. The Hurricanes must recruit well this offseason, if they want to boost their chances at being nationally recognized once again. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame was expected to be back in the national title contention this season, with Everett Golson back; however the season has plummeted quickly for them in the past few weeks. They have lost three straight, and are giving up more than 30 points a game over this stretch. The defense has not been able to produce stops, like we are used to seeing out of Brian Kelly Notre Dame teams. This is mainly because they are starting five sophomores and one freshman on their defense.
These first and second year players on the defense were highly recruited coming out of high school, and are being mentored by a great defensive staff. Notre Dame will lose Everett Golson to graduation, but have a highly prospected Malik Zaire waiting to fill in. Head coach, Brian Kelly, has been able to mentor his QBs well, as we have seen over the past few seasons, and there is no reason to believe he cannot turn Zaire into a winning QB. The Irish have a very young receiving core, and as that core develops, Zaire will become more dangerous. It is uncharacteristic for Notre Dame to be out of national title contention, especially for more than two seasons in a row, which is why I strongly believe next year will be the year Notre Dame returns to their dominance.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Austin Geller