In Steve Sarkisian's first year back at USC, we learned a number of things about the direction that this team is headed. Perhaps chief among them is that this team has the ability to really throw the football effectively.
After fighting off rumors that he would be replaced by freshman Max Browne, Cody Kessler stepped up in a major way for USC with a breakout season. He completed 69.7 percent of his passes last season for 3,826 yards and 39 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He was arguably the second best quarterback in the Pac-12 behind only Marcus Mariota, who was the best player in college football (as shown by the Heisman Trophy on his mantle). With Mariota now onto the NFL, Kessler has an opportunity to really step into the national spotlight in 2015.
But first he'll have to find someone to throw the football. Three of the top four pass catchers from a season ago have all gone to the NFL with Nelson Agholor, Javorius Allen, and George Farmer declaring early for the draft. Led by Agholor's breakout season, the trio combined for 170 receptions for 2,085 yards and 17 touchdowns. That's 54 percent of the team's receiving production from 2014 now gone.
The question now is who steps up to fill the receiving gap? Fortunately for USC they never seem to run out of dynamic playmakers who can catch the football. What they lack for in experience, they more than compensate with potential.
Leading the pack of young pass-catchers into 2015 will be JuJu Smith. Smith was one of the crown jewels of the 2014 recruiting class and made an immediate impact on the Trojan offense as a freshman. He finished second on the team in receiving with 54 receptions for 724 yards and five touchdowns. With another year of experience under his belt, he looks to slide right into the No. 1 receiver position and become the next great USC wide receiver.
Smith won't have to do it alone, however. Fellow former elite recruit Adoree' Jackson figures to get more looks on offense in 2015 after catching just 10 passes for 138 yards with three touchdowns. He showed what he can do with the football in his hands, proving to be extremely dangerous on kick returns, returning two for touchdowns including a 98-yard highlight reel return in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska.
Add in junior Darreus Rogers, the elder statesman of the group, who caught 21 passes for 245 yards and four touchdowns last season to sprinkle in a bit of experience. There's also Steven Mitchell, who has struggled with injuries since coming to USC and posted just 7 receptions for 82 yards in 2014 (though two went for touchdowns), but enjoyed a very solid spring. Mitchell has reportedly bulked up, adding around 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, and put his ability on display with some fantastic catches during spring practice.
While the turnover at receiver appears drastic this offseason, there is an incredible amount of potential star-power waiting to step up in 2015. How well they translate that potential into production this fall will go a long way in determining just how strong a case the Trojans have for the Pac-12 title.