Thursday, July 13, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: USC Trojans
The Trojans could not have been in worse shape at the end of September last season if they had tried. They had been obliterated by Alabama, and a 1-3 start had the program reeling, and Clay Helton was already in jeopardy before he had completed his first month on the job as USC head coach. Les Miles was even lurking around in LA just in case something went sideways. Helton made a major decision after that. He benched Max Browne, once a prized prospect, and turned to RS freshman Sam Darnold, and everything fell into place. The Trojans finished the season on a 9-0 run, ended up in the Rose Bowl, and beat Penn State in a classic. The Trojans maynow be a conference favorite above even Washington, but the Trojans beat the Huskies in Seattle last fall, so that should surprise nobody. Look for the team to continue to improve in all areas this fall, and look for the Trojans to make a push towards a playoff birth in 2017. Anything short of that would be construed as a disappointment.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Darnold became the savior of the Trojans last fall once he was installed as the starting QB, and Max Browne transferred out to Pitt. Darnold is one of the top three listed QBs in the nation coming into the season, and he won games with iron will alone at times last fall. Look for his masterful play to continue as the offense flows through him.
Ronald Jones, Jr. came on strong as a sophomore last season, and rushed for 1082 yards and 12 scores. He is the Trojans run game this fall, and will be a nice balance in the backfield to the work of Darnold. They should be a perfect pairing in what should be an explosive offense.
The line had a bad reputation in 2015 and for part of last season, but that group grew as the season wore on, and they were playing like USC lines of old by the end of the year. There is plenty of experience, and the depth chart runs rather deep this fall. Chuma Edoga will start either at LT or RT, but that will not be decided until camp breaks. Chris Brown starts at LG, while Viane Talamaivo will start at RG. Senior Nico Falah will start at Center.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Trojans lost a ton of talent at WR last fall with the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers. This will be an area of concern as the Trojans are forced to go with less experienced options in the passing game this season. The one bright spot here will be the return of Deontay Burnett, who became one of the more reliable options on offense last fall. He caught 56 passes and scored seven times.
The PK game will be something of a wild ride once again. Matt Boermeester is gone, and the job will belong to RS freshman Michael Brown as we head into fall camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The starting LB group should be quite good this season with the return of three starters in Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith, and Uchenna Nwosu. Gustin finished with 68 tackles and led the team with 13 TFLs. Smith led the team in tackles with 83, and finished with seven TFLs. Nwosu finished the year with 53 tackles. They will be joined by John Houston, Jr. this season, as he rolls into the starting lineup based on projections.
The secondary is again in good hands despite losing a talent like Adoree' Jackson. CB Imam Marhsll is back, as are Safeties Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell. Marshall finished with eight PBUs, while the Hawkins and Tell combined for 87 tackles. Marshall added three INTs on the season. Isaiah Langley will likely start in Jackson's old CB spot.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The line is thin on talent and production right now, which will put tremendous pressure on the back seven this fall. DE Rasheem Green is solid at DE, however, giving the Trojans a building block up front. He will be joined by DT Malik Dorton and NT Jacob Daniel. Depth will also be an issue behind this group, as it will be at LB, where experience is lacking in a young reserve corps.
Chris Telby had a rough go at times at Punter last fall, and averaged just over 38 yards per punt. The defense will absolutely need more field to work with in the coming year.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Western Michigan, 9/9 Stanford, 9/16 Texas, 9/23 at California, 9/29 at Washington State, 10/7 Oregon State, 10/14 Utah, 10/21 at Notre Dame, 10/28 at Arizona State, 11/4 Arizona, 11/11 at Colorado, 11/18 UCLA
The Trojans, despite some areas of concern, are in prime shape to return to their glory days and run the PAC-12 South. One thing to notice is that the Trojans do not play Washington in the regular season, and they have to visit Washington State. In South play, they visit Colorado, but host Utah. With Darnold at the QB spot, and talent surrounding him, the offense will take off, while the defense finds its groove with the new starters. In short, I am looking at a team that is ready to challenge, right now.