What are the five key questions going into the season that need to be asked at Pac-12 football media days?
Pac-12 Media Days
July 24, Hollywood, CA
5. Q: How many games does Clay Helton have to win in 2019 to be the 2020 USC head football coach?
Clay Helton is only a year removed from winning the Pac-12 championship.
It took way too long to rise back up after being hammered way, way, way too hard for – to be simplistic about it – the Reggie Bush transgression of working with a marketing company, but in Helton’s first three seasons, he took over for Steve Sarkisian and got USC to the Pac-12 Championship, went to the Rose Bowl in his second year, and won the title in Year Three.
He’s a good guy – he’s not your normal self-important, I’m-curing-cancer attitude college football head coach – and he’s the type you want to see succeed. But there are certain places that you 1) can’t go 5-7, ever, 2) lose to your rival, 3) go 5-7 and lose to your rival when you’re rival is awful, and 4) go 5-7 and miss out on going bowling because you lost to your rival when your rival is awful.
The recruiting classes haven’t been USC-amazing, and there’s the fear that the guy from that rival program on the other side of town will have it all figured out in a hurry.
Making matters worse than the talent-level not quite being up-to-snuff and the rise of Chip Kelly’s UCLA program looming is the wild – and without any substance … yet- speculation that if ol’ Urban wants to get back in the game after spending time working in the Fox College Football world in LA, USC would be the one place that would check every box possible.
Considering the expectation from the base is to always be in the national championship picture, and Pac-12 titles and Rose Bowl appearances are always going to be followed with a “that was nice, but … “, how many games does Helton have to win?
Besides, “all of them.”
2018 was a rebuild year. Going with a 17-year-old starting quarterback – even one as talented as JT Daniels – was going to ensure a slew of rocky moments, especially considering the running game wasn’t in place to help the cause.
The hope was for Kliff Kingsbury to step in and make the offense amazing as the new coordinator – which would’ve been a disaster for Helton considering it was potentially a no-lose, next-coach-up situation for Kingsbury if the Trojans struggled to win despite a high-powered attack – but that obviously didn’t work, and now it’s former Texas Tech star QB Graham Harrell running the new offensive attack.
There’s plenty of young talent at the skill spots, the lines are at least experienced, and the hope has to be for the youth movement of last year to pay off big. However …
Fresno State, Stanford, at BYU, Utah, at Washington, at Notre Dame. By any reasonable standard, 5-1 would be phenomenal to kick things off, and 4-2 would be terrific, but reasonable standards and USC don’t always go hand in hand.
It’s not like the schedule gets a whole lot easier, with three road games in a four-week stretch, to go along with home dates against Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Considering the Colorado game is on the road, and there’s no Oregon State to face, there isn’t one 1000% sure-thing win on the slate.
This is an 8-4/9-3ish team with a 7-5 schedule – but that could be said for most teams in the Pac-12 South other than Utah, and it has to play at USC.
Best guess answer? As long as it looks like Helton and USC are in for a massive 2020 with most of the young offensive starts about to take things to another level, and as long as there’s a decent bowl game and a win over UCLA, he’ll probably be fine with eight wins.
Seven? Uh-oh. Nine? Fine …
As long as Chip Kelly’s team isn’t playing for the Pac-12 Championship.