Ryan Abraham of Peristyle Podcast talks USC, New Old Coach, and Players to watch
The College Football season is back! Fall camp is in full swing and NFLDraftGM had a chance to speak with Ryan Abraham, who has covered USC Football since 1996 and since 2008 with the Peristyle Podcast, to discuss Trojan football for this upcoming season and players to keep your eye on. He also discusses the possible impact of a very familiar new Head Coach. Take a look at what Ryan had to say below.
J: So would you say that this is your favorite part of the season?
RA: Fall camp is certainly a grind but it is also a special time for me. Getting to see incoming freshmen get fully integrated with the team, all of the optimism of a fresh start, redshirt seniors making their final run at glory, stuff like that makes covering college football fun.
J: Given that USC has a new but familiar head coach this year what are some realistic expectations?
RA: I don’t feel I would put the words “realistic” and “expectations” next to each other. While most head coaches get a pass for a couple of years, for several reasons Steve Sarkisian is expected to win right away. First, he was on Pete Carroll’s staff and was co-offensive coordinator with Lane Kiffin. To avoid being dubbed Kiffin 2.0 he has to show the alumni and fans he is a different guy and if he doesn’t win right away, that will be extremely hard to do. He is also inheriting a team that won 10 games last year despite using three different head coaches during the season and he was the choice over fan favorite Ed Orgeron. If Sark doesn’t win now, many will question the decision to hire him in the first place since Orgeron went 6-2 during his stint with a win over a top-5 Stanford squad. And finally, it is still USC and expectations are always high. Maybe not a fair situation for Steve Sarkisian to walk into, but that is the reality of the current state of affairs.
J: What position do you believe will be SC’s strongest?
RA: I would go back and forth between the defensive line, lead by one of the best players in the country Leonard Williams, and the running backs where the Trojans have three guys that could start at any school in the conference. Depth on the D-line is a concern with two players already lost for the year so I will go with the tailbacks. Steve Sarkisian said he doesn’t want an 1,800 yard rusher like he had out of necessity last year in Washington, so look for Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis to split a lot of the carries and be a very effective bunch. I also think Allen, the team MVP last year, will be an effective option in the passing game, something we didn’t see as much last season.
J: Which players do you believe have an opportunity to shine with the new coach?
RA: I think many of the guys who had their careers jumpstarted after Lane Kiffin was fired will be the guys who continue to excel under this new coaching staff. Quarterback Cody Kessler wasn’t named the starter until week three of the season, and once Kiffin was gone and it was clear he was the guy, he showed great improvement as the year went on. Buck Allen was buried on the depth chart under Kiffin and then got his chance with Ed Orgeron and turned that into becoming the MVP of the team.
Both of those guys made the most of their opportunities when Orgeron took over last season and I think that continues this year under Sarkisian and the new high tempo offense.
J: At the end of the season what player do you feel would have made the biggest impact?
RA: Hard to point to just one guy but I am going to say Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor on offense and Leonard Williams on defense. Agholor follows in the footsteps of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee as an absolute go-to guy in this offense. He showed what he could do last season when Lee was hurt and now much of this offense is going to run through him. I expect Allen to break the 1,000-yard mark and catch a lot of balls out of the backfield and maybe even split out wide at times. And Leonard Williams is such a huge play disruptor that opponents always have to know where he is and account for him. Those guys should be the biggest impact players for the Trojans, and interestingly they are all from the state of Florida.
J: Which player will potentially sneak into the draft/have an impact at the next level?
RA: Josh Shaw is a Southern California kid who went to Florida and then transferred back to USC. This is his redshirt senior season and in his career he has had five different defensive schemes, defensive coordinators and position coaches. He has seen it all in college football and has the versatility to play corner or safety. He is clearly one of the leaders of this team and I think with all of the intangibles he will go on to have a great career in the NFL.
J: Lastly, will SC beat UCLA?
RA: Well I picked UCLA to win the Pac-12 South this season but the Trojans beating the Bruins is certainly not out of the question. Talent wise the Trojans are probably a little ahead, but UCLA has a great returning quarterback, a renewed sense of toughness thanks to Jim Mora Jr. and a two-game winning streak against USC. The Bruins are also a deeper team with USC coming off the NCAA sanctions and since that game is played later in the season, the Trojans could be operating with a limited roster depending on the injury situation throughout the season.
Picking now, I would go with UCLA over USC. But I wouldn’t be shocked if this Trojan team gets on a run and ends up being the favorite in that game by the time November rolls around.
I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to answer some questions. Don’t forget to to check out his podcast peristylepodcast.com as he post every Monday with the latest happenings with USC Football. You can also follow him on twitter @InsideTroy.