Thirteen USC Trojans were included on the four Athlon Sports 2021 preseason Pac-12 All-Conference teams, including four on the first team. Only Oregon had more total players, with 14, while USC tied with Washington and was just ahead of Arizona State and UCLA, which had 12 each.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was named to the first team. Athlon clearly expects a season from Slovis more similar to his freshman campaign than his shortened sophomore season. There will be some debate between Slovis and both Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson as the top returning quarterback in the conference, but Slovis has done enough in two years to make his selection to the first team a relatively easy pick.
The other no-brainer USC pick for the first team offense was wide receiver Drake London. The junior doesn’t have as much national attention heading into the season as his play has seemingly warranted, but in Los Angeles and up and down the Pac-12 conference, he’s respected as one of the Pac-12’s most impactful playmakers.
Defensively, USC is represented on the first team by outside linebacker Drake Jackson and cornerback Chris Steele. Jackson is likely playing for a potential spot in the first round of next spring’s NFL Draft and the hope/expectation for USC fans is that he’ll be more comfortable and impactful in his second season at outside linebacker after making the transition without a spring ball or traditional fall camp to get fully acclimated.
And expectations are here for Steele to raise his game another level. Nobody will put more pressure on Steele to deliver than he will, as his goals this season are lofty. He played this past spring with more confidence in his coverage ability and a first-team season isn’t out of the question.
USC’s selections to the second team were wide receiver Bru McCoy, defensive lineman Nick Figueroa, safety Isaiah Pola-Mao and punter Ben Griffiths. The third team featured offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees, defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu and kicker Parker Lewis. The fourth team included running back Keaontay Ingram and kick returner Gary Bryant.
Discussion is warranted as to whether Figueroa or Tuipulotu (or both) deserved to be on that second team based on last season and expectations for this fall. With only three defensive linemen selected for each team, it was tough to get all the deserving players on there, but Tuipulotu is someone who could easily outplay that projected third-team designation.
McCoy’s inclusion on the second team was interesting, as it’s based largely on potential and his standing as a former five-star recruit. He did have 21 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns last season, and wide receiver is not a position loaded with proven returning talent in the conference. McCoy missed some time this spring with hamstring issues, but hopes are high for him to have a big season this fall.
It’s telling that USC has just one offensive lineman listed of the four teams combined. With more than five offensive linemen listed on both the third and fourth teams, that means the Trojans have just one of 23 offensive linemen selected to the four teams. Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Utah all had two. Oregon State and Washington each had three. What kind of impact USC can get at that position could go a long way towards figuring out what kind of season this will be for the Trojans.
Offensive line and inside linebacker are the two spots where somebody (or somebodies) making a big impact this season would seem to be necessary for USC to accomplish its team goals of a conference championship.
It wouldn’t be hugely surprising to see both fourth-team guys outplay their preseason rankings, though neither will be able to do it alone. Ingram’s inclusion is in line with the growing that that he will be the USC starter at running back this fall. He’s a dynamic back in both the running and passing game, but he’ll need to have the ball in his hands to make the kind of impact he had in mind when he elected to transfer from Texas.
Gary Bryant showed what he could do with a late kickoff return against UCLA that helped USC come back for a win in the final moments. Bryant could become the main kickoff returner for USC, and that looks even more likely with Stephen Carr’s decision to transfer to Indiana. Special teams coach Sean Snyder helped put together some solid units for the Trojans last season, and again the expectation is even more production from the return groups this season, given the full spring and fall to implement his vision.
The Pac-12 has had some very solid kickers and punters in recent history, so getting Griffiths on the second team and Parker on the third team speaks to their ability. Again, those are two Trojans who could be in the discussion for the best at their position in the conference by the end of the season.