Before Nelson Agholor walked up the Coliseum tunnel on Saturday following USC’s spring game -- which marked the conclusion of five weeks of practice sessions under a new coaching regime led by Steve Sarkisian -- the junior wide receiver took a moment to reflect.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC wideout Nelson Agholor is hoping to take the next step in 2014 after finishing last season with 56 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns.
“This spring wasn’t just about today,” he said, “it was about 15 practices that we got to get better. So, for me, I got better every practice that I had a chance to practice, whether it was weightlifting, field work ... it didn’t matter. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity.”

Few took more advantage of that opportunity than Agholor. Described as a “gym rat” by USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin for the tireless work ethic that Agholor has put on display throughout his time on campus, the dynamic athlete made highlight play after highlight play, standing out as arguably the most consistent performer of the entire slate of workouts.

It was a case of an already proven player taking his game to another level, and according to Agholor, it was his attention to detail that made the difference.

“I felt like I definitely fine-tuned my fundamentals, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Agholor, who made the trek west to USC from Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep as member of the Trojans’ signing haul of 2012. “It’s all about getting the fundamentals back under you, controlling your effort, and practicing with great concentration.”

Martin was anything but surprised by what he saw out of his star pupil. After all, Agholor showed glimpses of what he was capable of last fall, when, with Marqise Lee hobbled during a portion of the season due to injury, he was leaned upon heavily. Agholor responded by catching 56 passes for a team-best 918 yards and six touchdowns, while developing into one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners.

“You started seeing it last year during the season when he started really taking on that role of, ‘Call my number. I want to be the guy,'" Martin said. “He’s a guy that works hard and he wants to be that guy. I like his attitude and he got a lot better this spring.”

Of course, Agholor figures to have the added pressure heaped upon his shoulders that will come with being expected to follow in the footsteps of Robert Woods, USC’s all-time leading receiver, and Lee, the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner, as the next great Trojans receiver.

After putting in the time and effort, it’s a role that Martin believes Agholor is more than prepared to take on.

“I think he’s ready for it,” Martin said. “I think that he came to USC for that. If you go back and look at his signing day interview, he said that this day would be here for him today, and he’s worked for it. So I’m happy for him. You know, he’s had Robert Woods to learn from, he’s had Marqise Lee to learn from, and now it’s his turn.”

Unlike Woods and Lee, however, Agholor’s moment in the sun will come at a time when USC will showcase a new up-tempo, no-huddle offense put in place by Sarkisian. Agholor is encouraged by the strides that he, as well as his teammates, made within the system during spring drills.

“I’m very excited because this is an offense that’s really going to show off all of our weapons -- all of our receivers, our tailbacks, our tight ends,” he said. “We’re going to have guys making plays all over the field.”

Before USC’s opener against Fresno State on Aug. 30, Agholor has the long offseason ahead of him, and he’s ready to begin what he expects to be a demanding training regimen with Trojans strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis and staff.

“This summer is a great opportunity for us,” Agholor said. “We’re going to get a chance to get a whole summer with our new strength coaches. We had a wonderful spring with them, now we get the summer with them to develop our bodies, and then we’re going to do a lot of fieldwork and stuff like that. It’s going to be good for us.”

With his mindset focused in the right direction, all of the pieces appear to be in place for Agholor to fulfill every expectation thrown his way.

“He’s someone that we know is dependable, and he’s going to come through for us,” Martin said. “I look forward to seeing what his fall camp will be like, and what the season will be like for him.”

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.
In both the literal and figurative sense, Las Vegas-based defensive lineman Noah Jefferson was the biggest out-of-state recruit to visit USC on Saturday for the annual spring game.

Alongside many of the top locals who made the quick drive, Jefferson stood on the field inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with his mother next to him, and looked around in amazement at what could be his future home. He saw an estimated crowd of 17,500 directly across the field, the sun beaming down and a pleasant breeze swirling through, and wondered what the stadium would look like with five times as many people.


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Ball security in the Pac-12

April, 22, 2014
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Teams that commit the fewest turnovers generally win more football games. Teams that turn the ball over frequently generally lose more football games. These are fairly safe axioms to live by, because more often than not they hold true.

But not always, especially in the sometimes-backward Pac-12, where the offense is fast and furious and the defense is underrated.

An examination of turnover margin in the league the last three seasons reveals some very interesting results, trends and trend-busters.

Here’s how Pac-12 teams have shaped up the last three seasons:

Some intriguing takeaways (pun intended):
  • Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, is well known for its hard-nosed defense. Yet in 2013, it had a turnover margin of zero (19 takeaways, 19 turnovers) and the Cardinal are in the lower half of the league the last three seasons in total turnovers generated. Worth noting, however, that Stanford also takes care of the ball better than anyone in the league, with a conference-low 54 turnovers in the last three seasons.
  • Oregon has more takeaways than any team in the conference the last three seasons, including a robust turnover margin of plus-21 for the 2012 season (tops in the league for a single-season over that three-year stretch). Wait a second: Doesn’t Oregon catch flak for not playing defense? Huh. The Ducks are second in the league behind Stanford with just 57 turnovers over the last three seasons.
  • Only Arizona State, Oregon and Washington had a positive turnover margin in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Only California, Colorado and Washington State had a negative turnover margin in all three seasons.
  • Stanford is the only team to have a zero margin in a season during the last three years.
  • ASU is the only team in the league to have at least 30 takeaways in all three seasons.
  • During that three-year stretch, only two teams have created more turnovers than Oregon State. During that same stretch, only two teams have committed more turnovers than Oregon State. So while the Beavers' 83 takeaways look great on paper, the 80 turnovers don’t. Makes sense that in the Beavers' best season, 2012, they had a plus-8 margin with 31 takeaways and 23 turnovers. In its worst, 2011, it was minus-8 with 23 takeaways and 31 turnovers.
  • Washington State has the most total turnovers (86) in the last three years. But Colorado has the worst turnover margin. Worth noting that last season the Buffs cut their margin down to minus-3 from the minus-19 in 2012.
  • USC tied with Colorado in 2012 for most turnovers in the league (34). So despite 71 takeaways the last three seasons, their 69 turnovers gives the Trojans only a plus-2 margin. Worth noting that after back-to-back seaspns of negative turnover margin in 2011 and 2012, USC was on the plus side last season at plus-5.
  • Arizona reached the plus side of the turnover margin last season (plus-4) after back-to-back seasons of negative margin in 2011 and 2012.
  • The most turnovers in a season in the three-year stretch was from Washington State, which had 35 last season.
  • The most takeaways in a season in the three-year stretch was by Oregon, which had 40 in 2012.
  • Washington’s much-maligned defense of 2011 still finished the season with a plus-1 turnover margin. Though during the last two seasons under then-coordinator Justin Wilcox (now with Steve Sarkisian at USC), the Huskies are plus-12.
  • The fewest turnovers in a season in the last three seasons is 16 – both from Washington and UCLA last season. Stanford is the only team in the conference to be in the teens in turnovers all three years.
  • Until last season, Utah had been solid at getting takeaways. It led the Pac-12 in turnovers and turnover margin in 2011 (33 takeaways, plus-10 margin). Even in 2012, the Utes were on the plus side, but failed to make a bowl game. Last year Utah dipped to minus-9.

So as you can see, there is obviously some correlation between turnovers and wins/losses. The three Pac-12 teams that didn’t make the postseason last season -- Cal, Colorado and Utah -- each had negative turnover margins.

But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule that the team that has the most turnovers will lose every game and the team with the most takeaways wins. Stanford is a perfect example of that, winning the league last season with an even margin. You don’t need a lot of takeaways to play great defense, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
video
UCLA's biggest recruiting victory in 2013-14 didn't involve a high school player.

ESPN.com's recruiting guru Jeremy Crabtree has a nice story on how USC unsuccessfully tried to hire UCLA's ace recruiter and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm away from Westwood. It begins like this:
UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm was returning from a recruiting trip this past December, when he received a call from new USC coach Steve Sarkisian with an offer that all but included the opportunity to use the Trojans' famed white horse, Traveler, any time he wanted to avoid traffic on the 405. But UCLA coach Jim Mora wasn't about to lose one of his top assistants to the school across town, so he did what any good coach would do. He made an in-home visit and left with a commitment.

Sark's a smart guy. He knows that Klemm is an elite coach and recruiter, and luring him away from a crosstown archrival would make the hiring a double-whammy.

And Mora is a smart guy, too.
"I was out of town recruiting, and I landed and drove right to his house at about 10 at night," Mora said. "I think I stayed until till or 1 or 2, until I was sure USC wasn't going to come by. ... Until he signed that contract, I wasn't leaving. I wasn't going to lose him."

It's an interesting story because it touches a lot of bases -- the recruiting process, a battle between rival coaches -- it's also notable that Sarkisian and Mora are (were?) friends -- and a rising coaching talent and how he became so coveted.

Definitely worth a read, even you're not a Bruin or Trojan.
Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen Icon SMI/USA TODAY SportsKenny Hill and Kyle Allen are both competing for Texas A&M's starting QB spot.
Quarterback battles do not always resolve themselves in the spring -- in fact, it’s somewhat rare -- but this cycle provided some news and emerging figures from notable programs across the country.

Starting with an open-but-refined race to replace Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, here are some of those QB battle updates and what they might mean for the 2014 season.

Texas A&M Aggies

Contenders: Kenny Hill, Kyle Allen

In the space of three weeks at A&M recently, Hill, a sophomore, had been suspended for a minor arrest, and veteran Matt Joeckel let his coaches know that he intended to transfer. Hill will eventually be reinstated, but for now that leaves Allen, a freshman, as the only true eligible option to replace Manziel.

Jake Spavital, approaching his first full season as the Aggies’ playcaller, tells me that the message for the two young quarterbacks is very different. And it remains to be seen how each receives that summer counsel and where Allen and Hill land by preseason camp in August.

For Allen, now four months into his time in college, it’s clearly a matter of education. But the staff saw enough mental and physical aptitude to know Allen is a legitimate candidate to start from day one.

“He came pretty far [during the spring],” Spavital told me Monday. “I’m telling you, he’s very mature for being 18 years old. I threw the entire offense at him. . . . We threw him in and tried to see how he learns.”

For Hill -- suspended for allegedly passing out in a flower bed outside a bar in College Station -- it’s a matter of growing up.

“Kenny’s been through it all,” Spavital said. “He’s just got to mature and be a leader. He has the tools to do it, but he has to show to the entire team that he can do it.”

Unlike Allen, Hill does at least have some experience. He played in four games last season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a score. Only one of the games featured an SEC opponent (Vanderbilt), and all of his snaps came in blowouts.

Still, it’s something. And Spavital said Hill has shown strides in terms of comprehension.

“He knows how to operate the whole entire [offense],” he said. “He knows what’s right and wrong. He doesn’t make as many rookie mistakes as Kyle.

“It comes down to a leadership standpoint with Kenny. Is he capable of leading the team?”

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Tale of the tape: UCLA vs. USC 

April, 22, 2014
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There have been some significant pendulum swings in the rivalry between UCLA and USC since 1991.

That was the year in which the Bruins embarked on an eight-game winning streak against USC, which was countered by the Trojans winning 12 of the next 13 meetings -- though two were later vacated because of NCAA sanctions. Now, UCLA and head coach Jim Mora are riding high after two wins in a row in the rivalry, and things have gotten very interesting on the recruiting trail.


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Though two of the top quarterbacks in the country are committed to Pac-12 schools, in terms of numbers at this point in the 2015 recruiting cycle, the conference doesn't stack up to the rest of the power conferences.

And while fans of the various Pac-12 programs might be ready to hit the panic button, there's no such worry behind the scenes.


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OT Chuma Edoga commits to USC

April, 21, 2014
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The USC Trojans, after receiving a commitment from one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Ricky Town, back in January, got a commitment Monday from a player who is expected to protect Town's blind side -- offensive tackle Chuma Edoga.

Edoga, who is the No. 3 offensive tackle and the No. 21 overall player in the ESPN 300, announced his decision on Twitter and confirmed his decision with ESPN.

"I committed to USC. I feel like I can get the best of both worlds by going to USC," Edoga said. "First with football and then with their academics. I have a great relationship with coach [Tee] Martin and coach [Tim] Drevno. They are all pretty cool guys -- real laid back. They really love the game of football and they are focused on what is best for me, they want to make me the best man I can be -- just real genuine guys."

The 6-foot-4, 277-pound athletic lineman from Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern chose the Trojans over Tennessee, Texas A&M, Stanford and his home-state Georgia Bulldogs.

"It was a pretty tough decision," Edoga said. "They are all awesome schools. Anyone would die to go to some of those other schools but I'm pretty solid, I feel like I made a good decision to go to USC."


(Read full post)


video USC's 2015 class is now headlined by offensive tackle Chuma Edoga, the No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 300. Read on to see how our staff projects Edoga to develop at the next level:


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The biggest theme for the Pac-12 in 2014? Passing, passing, passing.

As you surely know if you frequent the Pac-12 blog -- typically considered the University of Oxford of the Internet -- we've been typing pretty regularly about the returning QB talent in the Pac-12. As in 10 returning starters, a group that includes a handful of national awards candidates.

That alone would support the notion of big passing numbers this coming fall. But there's more!

  • The Pac-12 is extremely deep at receiver.
  • The Pac-12 is questionable at running back.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top sack leaders from 2013.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top interception leaders from 2013.

Thus the formula: Experienced QBs plus questionable running games plus questionable pass defenses equals big passing numbers.

Of course, that probably means the teams that can run the ball well and play good defense are going to end up leading the conference.

But here are the supporting facts:

Returning rushing leader from 2013: No. 5 Byron Marshall, Oregon (1,038/86.5 yards per game)

2014 challengers: D.J. Foster, Arizona State; Thomas Tyner, Oregon; Jordan James, UCLA; Javorius Allen, USC.

Breakdown: The Pac-12's top four rushers from 2013 are gone and most conference teams are uncertain that the position. In fact, Foster might be the only certain No. 1 option this coming fall.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon State's Sean Mannion is one of 10 returning QBs in the Pac-12 for 2014.
Returning passing leader from 2013: Sean Mannion, Oregon State (4,662/358.6 ypg)

2014 challengers: Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Taylor Kelly, Arizona State; Connor Halliday, Washington State; Jared Goff, California.

Breakdown: With 10 QBs coming back from 2013 -- a number of whom have national pedigrees -- the Pac-12 is as deep at the position as it has been in recent years. And with Arizona and Washington, the two teams with legitimate QB competitions (assuming Utah's Travis Wilson is given the green light by doctors), the supporting casts around the new QB will be strong. As noted: big passing numbers this fall, across the board.

Returning receiving leader from 2013: Dres Anderson, Utah (1,002/87.7 ypg)

2014 challengers: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State; Nelson Agholor, USC; Chris Harper, California; Ty Montgomery, Stanford.

Breakdown: Despite losing the three most productive pass catches from 2013 -- Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson and Josh Huff, not to mention Marqise Lee -- the conference is overbrimming with receiving talent. Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State welcome back most of their top guys from 2013, and Arizona State, USC and Utah also are potentially strong at the position.

Returning sacks leader from 2013: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington (13)

2014 challengers: Tony Washington, Oregon; Kevin Anderson, Stanford; Leonard Williams, USC; Nate Orchard, Utah.

Breakdown: Kikaha and Washington are the only returning guys who ranked among the conference's top-12 in sacks in 2013 (another good sign for conference QBs?). One of the biggest injuries this spring was Utah losing OLB Jacoby Hale.

Returning interceptions leader from 2013: Steven Nelson, Oregon State (6)

Challengers: Marcus Peters, Washington; Greg Henderson, Colorado; Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona; Su'a Cravens, USC; Ishmael Adams, UCLA; Jordan Richards, Stanford; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon.

Breakdown: Only two of the top eight interception leaders is back in 2014 (another good sign for QBs?). A few guys to watch out for: Arizona State's Damarious Randall, Stanford's Alex Carter, UCLA's Fabian Moreau and USC's Josh Shaw.
More than 150 recruits were on hand at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday for the USC spring game, an indication that the Trojans and their new coaching staff are again drawing plenty of interested eyes.


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Pac-12's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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You picked a dangerous mall to host a game show in. I hear the Easter bunny was accosted this morning.
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans true freshman offensive left guard Toa Lobendahn stood in the west end zone of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and wondered if he had really started in the annual spring game on Saturday in front of 17,500 tanning, cardinal and gold-clad fans.

“It was overwhelming. Well, not really overwhelming but joyful,” Lobendahn said moments after completing his first spring game. “It was great being in front of all these fans.”

It’s been quite a spring of learning, performing and adjusting to life on a college campus for Lobendahn, who left La Habra (Calif.) High after the 2013 fall semester of his senior year to enroll in time for spring practice.


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Spring games roundup

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Here's a quick look at some of the highlights of the four spring games this past weekend.

Arizona State

Sophomore linebacker Viliami Moeakiola stopped running back Jarek Hilgers on fourth-and-short on the final play as the Maroon team held off the Gold squad 29-23 in front of 8,456 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 7 of 22 passes with a touchdown for the Maroon team. Gold quarterback Mike Bercovici went 11-of-24 with three touchdowns and an interception.

“I like the format that we did because it created more competition,” said ASU coach Todd Graham. “The gold team was really down, but came back and fought back, got a chance to win. Maroon held on with a fourth down, goal-line stand. D.J. [Foster] was frustrated with me—he really wanted to play more. I thought he did some good things when he was in there. Loved the big shot to Jaelen [Strong] from Taylor Kelly. I thought Kelly really looked good today. He really managed the offense and was very much in command of things. Both offensive lines divided up evenly on each team — all those guys did some good things."

The complete stats are available here.

USC

In front of 17,500 fans at the L.A. Coliseum, kicker Andre Heidari made four field goals. But the offense failed to get into the end zone and the defense came out on top 16-15.

Newly re-anointed starting quarterback Cody Kessler completed 5 of 10 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Max Browne went 6-of-17 for 76 yards with no scores or picks and Jalen Greene was 4-of-11 for 61 yards – also without a touchdown nor an interception. Notes Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Before getting too alarmed, it is worth noting that dating to the Pete Carroll era, USC's spring finale has not served as a reliable indicator of fall performance.

Rather, it's annually an exercise in avoiding major injury while looking ahead to summer.

So a true evaluation of [Steve] Sarkisian's new fast-paced, no-huddle scheme cannot begin until USC plays its Aug. 30 opener against Fresno State at the Coliseum.

Walk-on tailback James Toland IV was the top rusher with 36 yards on eight carries and tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick caught three passes for 56 yards. Scott Starr had a game-high six tackles, with three for a loss.

"We had a couple big pass plays, but the defense played really well and tackled well,” Sarkisian said. "And we got out of the game with no serious injuries."

Utah

Despite 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns from transfer Devontae Booker, the Red team took down the White squad 28-27 in front of 12,056 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Quarterback Travis Wilson, still shackled by noncontact restrictions, completed 7 of 12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in five drives.

Dominique Hatfield (four catches, 93 yards) and Westlee Tonga hauled in touchdown receptions for the White team. Troy McCormick rushed eight times for 34 yards with a touchdown to lead the Red squad.

"We've been high on Devontae Booker ever since he got here," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He didn't get here more than a week or two before the start of spring ball, so he was fighting his lack of conditioning all spring. But as soon as he gets himself in great shape, I think he'll be a very good running back in this conference. All of the running backs ran hard today. A strong running game is where everything begins, even if you are a spread team."

Sal Velasquez and Filipo Mokofisi each picked off Brandon Cox, who threw the only interceptions of the game. Adam Schulz was 9-of-13 for 110 yards with a touchdown and Conner Manning was 9-of-12 for 86 yards and a score.

The complete stats are available here.

Washington

Though Washington didn’t keep official stats for its drizzly spring game, quarterback Jeff Lindquist threw four touchdowns in red zone and situational drills and, per Adam Jude of the Seattle Times, was unofficially 11-of-15 for 134 yards.

Troy Williams, who has been splitting reps all spring with Lindquist while the team awaits the status of Cyler Miles, was 11-of-18 for 38 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Deontae Cooper, Lavon Coleman and Ralph Kinne were the only backs who participated. Cooper carried nine times for 68 yards, Colmean rushed 18 times for 99 yards and a touchdown and Kinne had seven carries for 38 yards.

Head coach Chris Petersen told Gohuskies.com that picking a quarterback to replace Keith Price could go all the way up until the season opener – if not longer.

“Absolutely, that’s possible. Yeah, we could go to Game 9, if it hasn’t been decided,” Petersen said. “We’ll take this one day at a time. One day, one game. I know it sounds cliché, but it really will be. … I mean, it’s all nice to have a starting quarterback, but that guy graduated in December. And so, we are at square one. Until one guy establishes himself, we don’t have a guy.”

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