Thirteen USC Trojans were named to Athlon Sports’ preseason Pac-12 football teams, with seven of those Trojans landing on the first team. The 13 total selections were tied for the most of any conference program.
The first-team offense is led by quarterback Kedon Slovis, who beat out Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels (second team). Slovis threw for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2019, and will lead what should be a potent USC offense in 2020.
USC wide receivers took both first-team spots, as Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns got the nod. St. Brown is heading into his junior season with 128 catches for 1,629 yards and 10 total touchdowns in two years. Vaughns is likely to become USC’s all-time career receptions leader this season, as he is just 63 catches shy of tying Robert Woods’ mark of 252 catches.
There might not be a more important player on the USC offense this season than Alijah Vera-Tucker, who is likely to make the move from left guard to left tackle, and landed on the first team here. He’ll be called upon to lead the charge in keeping Slovis upright and healthy for the entire season.
Defensively, USC provided half of the big men up front, as both Jay Tufele and Drake Jackson made the team. Tufele is one of the keys in the middle and is coming off a season where he had 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Jackson is a rising star in the conference and announced his presence last season as a true freshman. He’ll likely play both defensive end and outside linebacker in Todd Orlando’s defense this season, and will hope to improve on the 46 tackles last season, including a team-best 11.5 for loss and 5.5 sacks.
The two linemen are joined on the first team by safety Talanoa Hufanga. He’s battled multiple shoulder injuries during his USC career, but is heading into his third season with 141 career tackles, to go with seven pass deflections, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
The potential of punter Ben Griffiths earned him a spot on the second team. Last season, his first playing football after a long career in the Australian Football League, he averaged 41.2 yards per punt, with eight kicks of at least 50 yards and only three touchbacks on 52 attempts.
Five Trojans were placed on the fourth team, with running back Stephen Carr as the lone offensive player. He’s rushed for 1,153 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his career to this point and should be fully healthy for his senior season after battling a long list of injuries during his time at USC.
Defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu is heading into his redshirt junior season with 81 career tackles, 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He and Tufele will likely set the tone up front for the Trojans this season.
Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote made the fourth team, and he brings some tantalizing physical tools to Orlando’s defense for his junior season. In two years, Gaoteote has 96 tackles, including 7.5 for loss.
Cornerback Olaijah Griffin is heading into his junior year as well, and is looking to establish himself as the Trojans’ top corner. He has 45 career tackles and 10 deflections, and is looking for his first career interception this season.
Kicker Chase McGrath rounds out the USC presence on the four teams, as he returned from a knee injury to re-take the placekicking duties last season. In his career, he’s made 32-of-42 field goals and missed just one of his 119 extra point attempts.
USC and Oregon tied for the most selections (13) among Pac-12 programs, with Stanford and Cal tied and right behind them, with 12.
Slovis making the first team shows what’s expected of him in his second year, and it’s not surprising to see the top two USC receivers given that kind of respect. It’s likely that Drake London, and even one of the redshirt freshmen receivers, could be visible on this post-season team, or next year’s preseason list.
What stands out is that after Vera-Tucker on the first team, there are no other USC offensive linemen named to any of the other three teams. It’s also notable that Gaoteote on the fourth team was the only mention of a USC linebacker. That is Orlando’s position group, and with enough talent there, the hope is that the post-season team looks differently.