USC comes in at No. 10 in the CFN preseason top 25. Here are the five things you need to know about the 2016 Trojans.
Is Clay ready for the gig?
An easy choice after all the drama surrounding Steve Sarkisian, Clay Helton was the transitional head coach with the right blend of personality, steadiness, and familiarity to be the interim man over the second half of last season. But now the full-time gig is his, and is the case with all superpower college football fan bases, there’s a belief the program could’ve done better.
This is one of the premier jobs in all of football. With the Rams in town, USC is no longer the best pro team in the city – a bad UCLA fan joke – but the expectations are always going to be there to be in the national title chase every season. Facing Alabama to start the season, Helton has a chance to make his mark right away. Or else the second-guessing will ramp up big-time going into Week 2.
And Helton’s first big decision will be …
The starting quarterback
Cody Kessler was very, very good, even if he didn’t quite get the national attention USC starting quarterbacks normally earn. But Max Browne has the NFL skills and look that Kessler doesn’t, and he’s got the experience in the system to step right in and be the main man going into the Bama showdown.
There’s also Sam Darnold has been every bit as strong in his fight for the job, and in some ways – especially with his speed and mobility – he’s a little bit better. The Trojans could go with a dual-quarterback system, but Helton needs to find the guy he can stick with.
It’s USC, it’s going to run the ball
How do you ease in a new quarterback? Be better at running the ball.
The quarterback situation will get all the attention no matter how it ends up shaking out – USC is USC – and there’s going to be some flash and power to the attack from the start.
Of course, Alabama’s defensive front might have something to say about that, but the Trojans have a special tandem in Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II to split carries behind a fantastic offensive line.
The defensive line must be up to snuff
The back seven will be among the best in the Pac-12 with athleticism, depth, and a whole load of talent, especially in the secondary. But the line has to be ready from the start – not to obsess over one team, but Alabama’s going to bring the thump – with a way-too-thin and way-too-inexperienced front. Everything else is in place for a special season, but if the line isn’t doing its job, it’ll be the team’s Achilles’ heel.
What’s going to happen?
Things will work out – sort of – as the Trojans come up with an 8-4 regular season.
They’ll lose to Alabama to start, suffer road losses to Stanford and Washington from the North that won’t be that big a deal, and withstand a road loss at Arizona. On the high side, they’ll take care of home against Oregon, and go up the road and beat UCLA to take the South before losing the rematch to the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship.
And along the way, they’ll ruin Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff dream.