(MCT) USC might be ranked in the top 15 in most college football national preseason polls, but the Trojans received only one vote to win the South Division in Wednesday’s Pac-12 media preseason poll, as UCLA was the overwhelming favorite with 37 of 39 votes.
But that did not faze Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian, who shrugged off the poll, which is understandable since USC returns 18 starters from last season.
“One aspect of it for me is how many times have they gotten it right?” Sarkisian said. “It really doesn’t matter, quite honestly. It has no bearing on our approach and our preparation and our ability to perform on game day.”
The media has selected the right winner in 28 of 53 polls, but no results have been kept in division predictions since the Pac-12 split into two divisions in 2011.
Oregon was picked to win the North Division and the Pac-12 title game, receiving 24 votes, while UCLA finished second with 13. USC received one vote to win the conference title game.
“I’m hopeful when we play our last Pac-12 game against UCLA in late November at the Rose Bowl, that it matters for the Pac-12 South championship,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the goal, quite honestly.”
The Trojans went 10-4 during a turbulent 2013 season that saw Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton all serve as head coach. That turmoil of last season serves as a catalyst for this season, according to All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
“I have a lot higher expectations,” Williams said. “With the new coaching staff and how close our players are, we don’t have any of the adversity of last year.”
A key reason USC is considered one of the nation’s top teams is Williams, who said his injured shoulder should be “close to 100 percent” when practice starts August 4.
Sarkisian said the close-knit atmosphere around the team is the biggest surprise he encountered since taking over in December.
“This is one of the closest teams I’ve been around,” Sarkisian said. “They hold each other accountable. Some of it has to do with what they went through last year. I’ve been impressed with how tight the guys are.”
Sarkisian said USC will open training camp with 67 healthy scholarship players. That is well below the NCAA limit of 85 scholarships as USC tries to rebuild following sanctions that ended last month. Williams said the Trojans paid a price for scholarship reductions.
“I feel like it has hurt us,” Williams said. “A lot of guys have taken more reps in practice and we’ve had more injuries because of that.”
Sarkisian said he is eager to start practicing and expects several players, including wide receiver George Farmer, offensive guard Aundrey Walker and offensive lineman Jordan Simmons, to be healthy when camp starts.
The biggest question mark is the offensive line, where it is conceivable two true freshmen could start. The top freshmen candidates are Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Sarkisian said he is eager to start.
“It’s humbling to be back coaching (at USC), I have a lot of memories of the Coliseum,” Sarkisian said. “I went to the Coliseum for the 1984 Olympics, I was there as an assistant coach (at USC) and I went to batting practice for a Dodgers-Red Sox game there.”
Cornerback Anthony Brown will spend time at tailback, although Sarkisian said a full-time move to offense has not happened yet. ... USC will wear new helmets this season that have a shiny exterior and resemble Christmas bulbs. ... The Sun Deck, which is the section of seats behind the end zone in the Peristyle end of the Coliseum, will be elevated this season because suites are going to be placed at ground level directly behind the end zone.
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