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ASU Football Opponent Primer: USC Trojans

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The fourth installment of our opponent primer series brings us to ASU's first conference clash of 2015.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Over the course of the remaining weeks separating us from Sun Devil football, we're taking a week-by-week look at the teams ASU will take on in 2015. So far we've profiled SEC powerhouse Texas A&M as well as lesser foes Cal Poly and New Mexico. This week we enter the conference portion of ASU's schedule, starting with the USC Trojans.

Opponent Primer Schedule:

July 8 - Texas A&M - Read

July 13 - Cal Poly - Read

July 15 - New Mexico - Read

July 20 - USC

July 22 - UCLA

July 27 - Colorado

July 29 - Utah

August 3 - Oregon

August 5 - Washington State

August 10 - Washington

August 12 - Arizona

August 17 - Cal

USC's 2014 Season

The Trojans finally ended the Lane Kiffin experiment in 2013 and went with another of its former assistants to take over for him in 2014, bringing in Steve Sarkisian, who had revived the Washington program back into respectability. USC enjoyed a successful season in its first go-around under Sarkisian, but the campaign was marked with disappointment. The Trojans followed an emotional victory over a ranked Stanford team with a clunker against an unranked Boston College, and a dominating win over Oregon State was met with heartbreak at the hands of Arizona State.

The catch that Sun Devil fans will forever remember as the "Jael Mary" is a defensive play that USC linebacker Hayes Pullard should have made, but Jaelen Strong beat him to the ball and completed what was one of many heartbreaking losses the Trojans would experience on the conference schedule. USC beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to earn its ninth win and end Sarkisian's first season on a high note, but the failures in key fixtures against ASU, UCLA and Utah crippled USC's bid for a Pac-12 South title.

Key Losses

DT Leonard Williams - The consensus superstar on USC's 2014 defensive unit, Williams was made the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft after another dominating year for the Trojans. Williams' professional stock was well-earned, as the defensive tackle ravaged Pac-12 offensive lines to the tune of 80 tackles and seven sacks in 2014. He was placed on the first team All Pac-12 team as well as earning first-team All-American honors, designations Williams had also received his sophomore season. His departure is one of the few that USC can't easily fill despite its assortment of five and four-star players.

RB Javorius Allen - While Williams' early exit from the collegiate ranks was almost an inevitability, Allen's decision to leave Pasadena early took fans by surprise. Coming off a sophomore year in which he reached the end zone 14 times, Allen's 2014 campaign saw him take his production to a new level, racking up nearly 1500 yards and scoring another 11 touchdowns. His yardage doubled from 2014 and Allen was named first-team All Pac-12 team, seemingly setting him up for a monster senior year in 2015. However, he opted to leave early for the professional ranks and the Ravens swooped him up in the fourth round.

WR Nelson Agholor - The recent star in a long line of great USC wideouts, Agholor's first and only season as the team's primary option saw him produce his best season to date. No longer in the shadow of Marqise Lee, Agholor racked up 103 receptions for 1313 yards and 12 scores, earning him First-Team All-Pac-12 as well as second-team All-American for his contributions as a punt returner. Agholor left school after his junior season along with Williams and Allen and was selected 20th overall by the Eagles.

Key Returners:

QB Cody Kessler - The third season in a row under center for Kessler, he comes into 2015 with the most confidence he's had yet. Kessler was extraordinarily efficient in 2014, passing for 39 touchdowns while only tossing five interceptions. He only had two games in 2014 in which he completed under 20 passes, and both of those contests were won by a dominating USC ground game. Kessler's the most experienced quarterback in the Pac-12 and enters 2015 as a Heisman candidate as well as a potential top NFL draft pick.

S Su'a Cravens - Taking the the field in his junior season for what will be his third year in a row as a starter for the USC defense, Cravens is one of the top defensive back talents in the country. In 2014 Cravens served as a safety-linebacker hybrid for the Trojans and accumulated 68 tackles on the year, with 17 of them coming for losses. Whether he's a strong safety or linebacker at the next level is yet to be determined, but Cravens ability to succeed at a variety of places on the field is without question.

WR Juju Smith - Smith didn't even turn 18 years old until late in the 2014 season, but the youngster had no problems making his presence felt from the get-go, putting up an impressive 123 yards on four receptions in his college debut against Fresno State. The remainder of Smith's freshman season was riddled with inconsistency, but he erupted for three touchdowns against Washington State and comes into 2015 a serious contender for the Biletnikoff Award.

Reasons for ASU optimism

For one, the Sun Devils get the Trojans back on their home turf, where they dominated USC to the tune of 62-41 and Kiffin's firing last time the teams played in Tempe. ASU has won the last two meetings with the Trojans and has a chance to end Kessler's career 0-3 against the Sun Devils. Todd Graham has lost a total of just four home games in the three years he's coached ASU, with one of them coming in the Pac-12 Championship. If ASU can pull off the neutral-field victory over Texas A&M and take care of business against Cal Poly and New Mexico, a win over USC would put the Sun Devils in early College Football Playoff pole position.

Reasons for ASU pessimism

USC's chomping at the bit to get another shot at the Sun Devils after the way in which each of their last two contests ended. The combination of Smith and two-way standout Adoree Jackson pose a deep threat that Arizona State isn't used to dealing with in the Pac-12 South, and the depth of USC will likely see a few new stars emerge by the time the two team make battle. The Sun Devils are prone to giving up big plays, and the Trojans thrive in making those happen.

And of course, anything can happen in #Pac12AfterDark.