For one of the more talented teams in all of college football, USC has been stricken a crippling blow to their weakest position as redshirt junior defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow is expected to miss anywhere from 7-9 months due to a torn ACL. Bigelow injured his knee during Thursday's practice and MRIs conducted Saturday morning confirmed the team's fears.
As one of the more experienced players on the team, Bigelow was expected to compete for a starting role on the defensive line after an exodus of defensive lineman since last season where the Trojans lost five key players to the NFL Draft or graduation.
As for the Trojan defense, this injury couldn't have come at a worse position. The Trojans have 15 remaining defensive linemen and almost every single one of them is an underclassmen. For new defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze, his talents and abilities as a coach will be immediately tested as he will be tasked with coaching up a line that is young and inexperienced.
Fortunately for the Trojans, it's not a matter of talent at defensive tackle, but the inexperience at the position that causes a hindrance. Bigelow's main competition for the position were blue-chippers in sophomores Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson. Both served as backups in their appearances last season as true freshmen, however, Green a five-star recruit coming out of Junipero Serra last season might have the inside track given his high recruit capital.
Jefferson's mammoth 6'6" 330 lbs. frame would be an ideal fit for the nose tackle under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defense, while the highly-athletic, 6'5" 285 lbs. Green would give the line a jolt at defensive end.
With a nose tackle over center, two defensive ends and two more hybrid ends on the line, this defensive scheme calls for a lot depth -- something the Trojans are, as of now, short on.
Three-star JUCO transfer Josh Fatu had great productivity at Long Beach City College as he amassed 17.5 sacks in his two seasons as defensive tackle, so depending his ability to adapt to the playbook, Fatu could be Jefferson's only true competition at nose tackle. Reshirt sophomore Malik Dorton seems to be the logical choice to bookend Green, however expect him to see stiff competition from sophomores Jacob Daniel and Christian Rector.
Expanding out to the hybrid end/ EDGE role, much will expected of the true freshmen and crown jewel of the USC recruiting class of 2016 -- Oluwole Betiku. A five-star recruit and top-20 high school player, Betiku's raw athleticism will be tested very early in the season as the lack of depth on the defensive line will thrust the 6'3" 250 lbs. freshman into a starting role.
Already in a bind, head coach Clay Helton will have to hope the talented yet inexperienced defensive line steps up this year or he may have to get creative this season to drum up any quarterback pressure and stop the run two critical items required to win the PAC-12.