After a 21-6 start to his tenure in LA, a 5-7 year in 2018 has placed head coach Clay Helton behind the proverbial eight ball. Helton reshuffled most of his coaching staff in the offseason, and there is still a ton of talent on this team, but they’ll face one of the toughest schedules in the country.
After a year that saw a 0.8 point drop in yards per play and six and a half fewer points a game, USC decided it was time to bring in a new offensive coordinator, after their first choice got hired away by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, the Trojans brought in Graham Harrell, who helped turn North Texas into a G5 contender the past few years and developed star QB Mason Fine.
There is A TON of talent for Harrell to work with here. Vavae Malepeai (5.4 YPA, eight touchdowns) is back in the run game, the top three returnees in the passing game, Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Tyler Vaughns (15 touchdowns, 2,182 yards combined), and a ton of blue-chip recruits throughout the offense.
The quarterback last year was freshman JT Daniels, who had a solid year for a freshman playing against Pac-12 defenses (7.4 yards a throw, 60%, 14 TDs, 10 INTs), but will need to improve if the Trojans want to compete for a Pac-12 title.
The line loses three starters and will likely have to rely on some very highly touted but also very inexperienced underclassmen to fill into the holes. I like the Harrell hire at OC and I think the offense improves.
USC’s defense certainly wasn’t the problem last year and granted they dealt with a lot of injuries, but they did leave something to be desired for a team recruiting at USC’s level. The Trojans lose top tackler Cam Smith and pretty much the entire secondary, but there is some exciting talent throughout.
On the line, Christian Rector (12 sacks last two years) is back on the end, and on the inside, they return a pair of stud sophomores in Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu (combined 7.5 sacks) and add highly touted JUCO Caleb Tremblay. At the second level, five-star sophomore Palaie Gaoteote will need to step into a bigger role at the OLB spot, but John Houston and Jordan Iosefa will provide some veteran leadership in the linebacking toom.
The secondary is a bit of a question mark, just one starter returns, but they do add JUCO transfer Jaylen Watson and high four-star corner Issac Taylor-Stuart.
A team with this much talent should improve on last year’s numbers, but I’m worried about inexperience throughout the defense. The line is a group to keep an eye on with some special players at every spot.
USC will face one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2019, not good for a coach trying to keep his job. All but one game on the schedule is projected to be contested within seven points, so there are a lot of ways this year could go. On the high end, this team has the talent for a Pac-12 title, on the low end, they could miss a bowl again. I don’t think either of those will happen, but it’ll be closer to the former than the latter.
|Date||Opponent||opp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|12-Oct||at Notre Dame||10||-9.1|
|9-Nov||at Arizona State||33||-0.8|
Average Projected Record: 7.0 wins, 5.0 losses (5.4 wins, 3.6 losses)