No. 8 USC Football Opens 2015 Season At Home Versus Arkansas State

    Cody Kessler
    Aug. 30, 2015

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    The No. 8 USC football team kicks off its 2015 campaign with 3 consecutive home games, beginning with a Labor Day weekend encounter under the lights versus first-time opponent Arkansas State. The Trojans have won their past 17 season openers. It's the first of 2 straight encounters against Sun Belt foes, as Idaho visits next week (the last season that USC hosted back-to-back non-conference opponents from the same league was in 1953). USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has a deeper squad than he had in his 2014 debut season, with 77 scholarship players (including 16 returning starters). The offense--in the national Top 25 in passing and scoring last fall--is directed by third-year QB Cody Kessler, a Heisman Trophy candidate who is coming off the most efficient passing season in Trojan history (69.7%, 3,800-plus yards, 39 TDs, 5 interceptions) while setting 6 school records. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, a 2014 Freshman All-American, assumes the go-to receiver mantle from NFL first rounder Nelson Agholor, while TB Tre Madden is back after missing last year with an injury and looks to step in for Javorius Allen, a 1,000-yard rusher now in the NFL (a trio of talented freshmen runners could make waves, too). Everyone is back on Troy's experienced and deep offensive line, led by leading Rimington Trophy candidate C Max Tuerk. The Trojan defense will be hard-pressed to replace dominant tackle Leonard Williams, the sixth pick in the NFL Draft, and linebacker Hayes Pullard's 377 career stops. But Butkus nominee OLB Su'a Cravens will start for his third year after earning Sophomore All-American acclaim in 2014 while posting 68 tackles (17 for loss) and 3 interceptions. And in CB-WR-RET Adoree' Jackson, USC has the nation's most exciting performer; the 3-way player (and All-American long jumper) is being mentioned for a number of national awards, including the Heisman, Thorpe and Hornung. Arkansas State, under head coach Blake Anderson, has posted 4 consecutive winning seasons and bowl appearances. The Red Wolves feature an explosive offense (last season they set school marks for total offense, total offense average, plays, points and TDs). Among the 9 returning offensive starters are dual threat QB Fredi Knighten, a 2014 All-Sun Belt first teamer when he completed 62% of his throws for 3,000-plus yards with 24 touchdowns and just 7 picks and also ran for nearly 800 yards with 11 scores. A-State's top 3 wideouts from 2014 are back and each had at least 600 receiving yards: Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic, whose school-record 237 career receptions is the most of any active player nationally, and Dijon Paschal. The team's top runner from a year ago returns in RB Michael Gordon (he ran for 1,100 yards with 13 TDs). Arkansas State's attacking defense (37 sacks in 2014) is led by LB Xavier Woodson, DE Chris Stone, DB Rocky Hayes and DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. The game will be shown live nationally on Pac-12 Networks. Naval parachutists will drop into the Coliseum prior to kickoff. The popular 2015 USC football schedule poster will be given out to fans.