Thursday, March 27, 2014
Biggest shoes to fill: USC
By Ted Miller
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, which might include the NFL or not. And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.
In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void. Today we look at USC.
Max Tuerk is the favorite to start at center for the Trojans in 2014.
While you could make a case USC's biggest question concerns who will generate an edge pass rush on defense, Martin was as underrated a player as a first-team All-Pac-12 center could be. Not only was he a force as a blocker, he was an important leader, which is one of the reasons he was often trotted out in front of reporters when the Trojans sports information staff needed an articulate voice -- see the news conference after Lane Kiffin was fired. He was the only Trojans O-lineman who started every regular season game in the same position, that "regular season" qualifier being required because he suffered a knee injury in the finale against UCLA that prevented him from playing in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State. Abe Markowitz gamely filled in against the Bulldogs, but he also is gone, as is 2013 depth chart reserve Cyrus Hobbi, who left the team. Finally, Martin's decision to enter the NFL draft a year early was a bit of a surprise, at least in terms of how he was perceived at the beginning of the 2013 season.
Tuerk is the easy, safest answer, and some observers rate it almost as a done deal. The smart, versatile lineman has already started games at guard and tackle. It's not a matter whether Tuerk will start on the line, it's where. And it might be more important to go with an experienced junior such as Tuerk at center rather than have him move outside to right tackle to replace Kevin Graf and ask a youngster to quarterback the O-line. That said, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and freshman Toa Lobendahn, who enrolled early and has been impressive this spring, also are options. In the fall, touted freshman Viane Talamaivao arrives, and fifth-year senior Giovanni Di Poalo is a dark horse option. It just seems more likely that Rodgers, Lobendahn and Talamaivao will be competing for playing time at the less demanding guard spots than center.