The Trojan football team released its official depth chart for the season opener against UNLV on Saturday, along with an announcement earlier in the day that freshman JT Daniels would be the starting quarterback. Though most of the depth chart stayed true to the expected rotations from training camp, it also contained a number of surprises. Here are some of the most notable observations by position group.
Daniels was the best quarterback throughout camp by a large margin — it shouldn’t come as a huge shock to anybody that he’ll be starting Week 1. He’ll be the only true freshman to start the season at QB for USC other than fellow Mater Dei High School alumnus Matt Barkley, who started in 2009. Perhaps the bigger surprise on the quarterback depth chart was redshirt freshman Jack Sears at No. 3, after redshirt sophomore Matt Fink. Sears outperformed Fink for most of camp, and even appeared to challenge Daniels at times. His placement on the depth chart seems to suggest that he’ll likely transfer out sometime soon.
Senior Aca’Cedric Ware earned the top spot on the chart, after taking a majority of first team reps throughout camp. Many expected sophomore Stephen Carr to take the top job after doing well in camp after returning from back surgery, especially considering his impressive performance as a freshman last year. Surprisingly, Carr is third on the depth chart behind redshirt sophomore Vavae Malepeai. It’s hard to tell why Carr is listed that low — perhaps due to a flare-up of his injury — but the situation will be worth monitoring during the next few weeks.
It should surprise nobody that redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns and junior Michael Pittman are starting out wide. They finished last year strong and have had impressive offseasons. True freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown is listed as the second stringer out wide behind Pittman despite a great camp, while the starting slot receiver spot belongs to redshirt sophomore Velus Jones. St. Brown could be seen getting more reps, even supplanting Jones for the job.
The offensive line rotation came out as expected, with sophomore Austin Jackson, redshirt seniors Chris Brown and Toa Lobendahn, sophomore Andrew Voorhees and senior Chuma Edoga starting from left to right. Although most of those spots have been stable throughout the offseason, Jackson had been competing with redshirt junior Clayton Bradley for the starting left tackle role. Jackson won out that competition and it looks like Bradley will be the preferred backup for both tackle spots.
The starting corner position opposite senior Biggie Marshall was open during the offseason, with senior Isaiah Langley and redshirt freshman Greg Johnson battling for it until the end of camp. Although both players flashed, Johnson had a solid and consistent performance in the past few weeks. He was given the nod to start for week one. Langley will be right behind him on the depth chart, with freshman Olaijah Griffin as the other second string corner behind Marshall following a strong finish to camp.
Cornerback wasn’t the only position battle in the secondary, as the starting strong safety job was also up for grabs. Redshirt junior Ykili Ross came into camp running with the first team at the position, until an injury knocked him out early during camp. Sophomore Bubba Bolden took most of the reps in his place, and will be the one to line up beside senior Marvell Tell with the first team during the season opener. Ross will transfer out of USC in the upcoming weeks, having expressed frustration with his situation.
Although starting redshirt senior nickelback Ajene Harris set the majority of reps as the first punt returner throughout camp, St. Brown will be headlining the depth chart at that position. St. Brown has always been immediately after Harris in the punt return rotation, and looked impressive during his opportunities to run them back. Since he’s still listed with the second team as a receiver, letting him handle primary punt return duties will get him more touches per game, allowing him to make plays with the ball in his hands.