USC Football: Previewing 7 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Practice
As USC heads into its final practice camp before the start of the 2014 college football season, it does so still looking to answer several questions regarding the identity of many of its starting positional players.
Though depth issues remain as an ugly reminder of their recently completed punishment due to the NCAA-mandated sanctions, the Trojans will still be able to sport a solid two-deep for their new head coach, Steve Sarkisian, to choose from when appointing those who will start for the men of Troy this year.
Indeed, it is those battles in this fall camp that will determine who gets the starting nod, and that is the subject of this slideshow.
With many starting positions still up in the air, it is imperative that those players who hope to start put their best foot forward in these final 15 practice sessions.
But who will those players be?
That remains to be seen, but here are seven positional battles you should keep your eye on…
Aundrey Walker vs. Jordan Simmons (Offensive Left Guard)
As the offensive line continues to go through offseason tweaking, one of the spots whose starting assignment remains unclear is offensive left guard.
Senior Aundrey Walker has the talent and experience but has been inconsistent, while redshirt sophomore Jordan Simmons is coming back from an injury but has practiced very well when healthy.
Look for Walker to retain his spring depth chart starting spot, but Simmons will push him.
Randall Telfer vs. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (Tight End)
The tight end position is one that is woefully thin in 2014, and for that reason, both redshirt senior Randall Telfer and junior Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will see a lot of playing time regardless of who starts.
In Telfer, the Trojans have a proven tight end who blocks and catches the ball well. Meanwhile, Cope-Fitzpatrick was stunningly good in the spring when Telfer was unavailable due to injury.
When the dust clears after the fall camp, expect Telfer to start, but Cope-Fitzpatrick will battle him neck-to-neck throughout these practice sessions.
Buck Allen vs. Tre Madden vs. Justin Davis (Running Back)
Running back is one of the few positions where the Trojans have an abundance of depth, and it all starts with Javorius (Buck) Allen, who had a breakout season in 2013.
Allen will be challenged by big back Tre Madden, who had a sterling start to his season last year but lost time to injury, as did sophomore Justin Davis, who burst on the scene early.
Allen was spectacular last year and has come back even stronger in 2014, but there is so much quality in this unit that you can expect a spirited battle throughout this fall camp.
Jabari Ruffin vs. Quinton Powell (Outside Linebacker)
One of the most spirited battles in fall camp will be the contest between redshirt sophomore Jabari Ruffin and true sophomore Quinton Powell to see who starts at the outside linebacker position.
Ruffin is a beast and has done nothing to diminish his opportunity to start, but Powell has really turned the corner at this position and turned a lot of heads in the spring.
This is yet another battle that will go down to the wire, but regardless of who gets the starting nod, both of these guys will play quality minutes.
Delvon Simmons vs. Claude Pelon (Defensive End)
The battle for who starts at left defensive end will feature two very talented players who have not seen the field of play for USC yet.
Big Delvon Simmons transferred from Texas Tech, where he was a starter, and sat out last year per NCAA eligibility requirements.
Claude Pelon is a very talented junior college transfer who participated in the spring and really flashed some big-time ability.
Both of these players are studs and will play a lot in 2014, but it remains to be seen who will be named the starter.
J.R. Tavai vs. Scott Starr (Right Defensive End)
At one time, it was pretty much a given that senior J.R. Tavai would assume his rightful place as a starter at defensive end, and it might end up that way when all is said and done.
After all, Tavai has been a straight-up beast when it comes to gaining penetration into the opponent's backfield, and that hasn't changed.
What has changed is that redshirt sophomore Scott Starr has matured, and his inspired play with his hand on the ground has given defensive line coach Chris Wilson a welcome problem when it comes to naming a starter for 2014.
While Tavai still has the inside track for the starting gig, Starr won't make Wilson's decision an easy one.
Anthony Sarao vs. Lamar Dawson (Weak-Side Linebacker)
Another interesting battle in the fall will take place between redshirt junior linebacker Anthony Sarao and senior Lamar Dawson.
Dawson has a ton of experience but is coming back from an injury, while Sarao just keeps getting better with experience.
If Dawson is 100 percent healthy, he could make a strong case for reclaiming his starting role, but the smart money is on Sarao to start 2014 as the No. 1 guy.
The seven positional battles profiled here may not be the only significant contests to be waged during the fall practice session.
Injuries could change the complexion of the depth chart during the fall camp, and there is no reason that a true freshman like cornerback Adoree' Jackson couldn't wow the coaching staff and claim a starting position.
Also, the offensive line may undergo significant changes, and the uncertainty of this unit could create some interesting battles such as one or both guard positions, where true freshman Toa Lobendahn and redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers could find themselves fighting to be a starter.
What is certain is that USC will need all hands on deck for a 2014 season that will be chock-full of challenges in terms of roster depth.
For that reason, being designated a starter may not carry the benefits associated with a full roster because it is certain that the two-deep will see a lot of playing time.
And with that in mind, the coaching staff will likely place more emphasis on getting out of the fall camp healthy than being concerned with who gets the starting nod.
Follow me on Twitter: @RickMcMahan