Less than two months away from the start of the college football season, the nation's top college football prospects are being placed among the most elite players on many preseason watch lists.
Following the 2012 Biletnikoff winning campaign from Marqise Lee, the Trojans once again align the top awards heading into this season and have a great shot of taking home some major hardware. Three players from each side of the ball stand amongst the early preseason watch list ranks for the most prestigious awards in college football.
The Maxwell Award, named in honor of Robert W. "Tiny" Maxwell, has been given to America's College Player of the Year since 1937. Three Trojan returning starters, WR Nelson Agholor, RB Buck Allen and QB Cody Kessler have been honored.
Nelson Agholor, USC's returning pass catcher from last season, will certainly continue his strong career arc under coach Sarkisian's offense. Last season Agholor snatched 56 passes for an explosive 918 yards and six touchdowns, and he ended the season on a strong note catching two touchdowns from Kessler in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Buck Allen, who figures to be the Trojans starting running back on one of the deepest groups in the nation, burst onto the scene last season. His determined work ethic, which was heavily featured but never truly showcased the last two seasons, dashed out of the gates for 12 touchdowns and 100-yard games in four of the last six games.
Battling with Max Wittek all the way until week three of the season, Cody Kessler emerged as the team's most suited leader. Finishing the year 9-3 as the Trojans full-time starter, Kessler finished the season on an outstanding tear firing 10 touchdowns to just one interception in his final five games. His best performance however, came against the vaunted Stanford Cardinal top-five defense notching 25 completions for 288 yards, one passing touchdown and the game-winning drive.
The Bednarik Award has been presented to the College Defensive Player of the Year since 1995 and Chuck Bednarik, former standout at Penn and the Philadelphia Eagles, is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame's Class of '69 and the NFL Hall of Fame's Class of '67 which makes his award all the more honorable.
Defensive end Leonard Williams, who finished as one of the top national semifinalist, leads the pack this season. Already projected as an All-American, All-Pac-12 and eventual top-10 NFL pick, Williams would love to follow in the footsteps of a fellow Trojan award winner Rey Maualuga (2003) and the Pittsburgh Panthers defensive line stud Aaron Donald (2013) who won the award and was then drafted in the first round.
Trojan captain Hayes Pullard, who led the team in tackles last season, also emerges on the list joining sophomore All-American standout Su'a Cravens on the back end of USC's talented defense. These game-changing talents could each be in for outstanding seasons, especially flowing more freely under coach Justin Wilcox's defensive alignment.
USC's three selections place them second just behind Stanford (4) for most in the nation. Both the Cardinal (10th NCAA) and Trojans (16th NCAA) battled back and forth all season long for best scoring defense in the conference, but USC finished the season with the best red zone defense in the entire county and have six starters returning.
Semifinalists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced November 3, 2014, while the three finalists for each award will be unveiled November 24, 2014. The winners of the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced as part of the Home Depot College Football Awards Show held on December 11, 2014. The formal presentations of these awards will be made at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala by Revel Casino Hotel Atlantic City on March 6, 2015.