The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the ninth of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 17 USC Trojans.
Clay Helton led the Trojans to an 11-3 record last season, but the performance in the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State leaves a bitter taste. What adds to that is the loss of several players to the NFL, including Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones. Although they may not be as talented as last season, USC can have a respectable year.
The offense returns seven starters, but loses Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones, which will be hard to deal with. Last year, they ranked 35th in points per game, 39th in rushing and 16th in passing. Without those two players, the offense will likely regress a bit.
J.T. Daniels is a true freshman, but figures to already be the best quarterback on the roster. He graduated high school a year early at the USC-feeder school Mater Dei. He certainly has talent and will now have to go prove the hype is real.
If Daniels can win the job, he will have some help at the skill positions. Tyler Vaughns will be the lead receiver after tallying 57 catches for 809 yards and five touchdowns. Michael Pittman was also solid last season with 404 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 23 catches. They will be joined by Amon-Ra St. Brown, the younger brother of Equanimeous St. Brown, who has a lot of potential as a freshman. At tight end, Tyler Petite is a senior with experience.
Stephon Carr doesn’t have the most experience at running back, partly because of Ronald Jones playing a lot of snaps and partly due to injury issues. When he did get the ball, he made the most of his opportunities at 5.6 yards per carry. If he can stay on the field, he has the talent to be another good USC running back.
The best thing to have for a freshman quarterback is a good offensive line. With four returning starters, the Trojans could sport one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Daniels is clearly the X-factor for this team. If he can step into Sam Darnold’s shoes and play decently, the whole team could get on a roll.
The defense was average to below-average in just about every category last season. They ranked 60th in points allowed per game, 56th against the run and 80th against the pass. Seven starters return on this side of the ball as well, which usually means the unit will improve.
Christian Rector is back at defensive end after his 7.5 sacks last year. He will be the best pass rusher on the defensive line. The other defensive end and nose guard position will have new players stepping in. Getting more of a pass rush to help the secondary will be imperative for this bunch.
The strongest position group will be the linebackers. Between Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith and John Houston, there is NFL-level talent to work with. Smith was the leading tackler with 112 total tackles. Uchenna Nwosu’s pass rush will be missed.
There is also a lot of talent coming back to the secondary in 2018. Iman Marshall and Jack Jones have the talent to create one of the best corner duos in the country, but haven’t lived up to that billing yet. Marvell Tell III did a little bit of everything for the Trojans from the safety position with 85 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, three interceptions, two passes defended, one fumble recovery and one touchdown.
They have enough good players to be a top 25 defense, but their history leaves a lot to be desired on that side of the ball.
USC has non-conference games against UNLV (home), Texas (away) and Notre Dame (home). Texas gave them a game last year, even though USC was the far superior team. A road game in Austin will be a huge test for a team with some new key pieces. Notre Dame’s defense will be tough, but it’s a rivalry and anything can happen.
In conference, the Trojans have competitive games against Stanford (away), Arizona (away), Utah (away). That is not too difficult to manage and if they beat Arizona, they should be able to win the Pac-12 South.
It’s always hard to project how good a team can be with a huge question mark at quarterback. With that being said, USC’s players are great around the quarterback position. It is fully within their capabilities to win eight to 10 games this season and qualify for the Pac-12 Championship Game.
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