Preseason High 25: No. 20 USC has the offensive firepower to win the Pac-12 in 2020

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There are three sorts of offseason teaching information: a coach is fired, a coach is employed or a coach is being retained. Between hirings and firings, we see about two dozen jobs change arms every year, however not often does a “retained” story generate headlines fairly like when it was introduced that Clay Helton can be again with USC for 2020.

“I’m happy to let you realize Coach Helton will proceed to be our head coach,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn mentioned in December. “His dedication to our student-athletes and to main with integrity is important to restoring our championship program, which is the objective for all of our groups.

“Heading into 2020, Coach Helton and I’ll work collectively to take a tough take a look at all points of the soccer enterprise and can make the powerful selections essential to compete at a championship stage.”

These modifications included turning over the defensive employees and making some infrastructure modifications, factors of criticism and concern for USC followers and energy brokers. However maintaining Helton round for 2020 wasn’t only a blind guess that employees modifications would repair every little thing for the staff. Bohn and USC knew that the roster was arrange for an enormous 12 months that features Pac-12 championship rivalry and doubtlessly a New 12 months’s Six bowl.

Now, as you possibly can inform by their place right here within the CBS Sports activities Rankings, the Trojans do not get a lot Faculty Soccer Playoff consideration proper now, however a few of that is likely to be a nod to one of many hardest schedules within the nation. However even in opposition to a schedule that features Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon and Washington, there’s not a sport that USC cannot win with its expertise. How USC handles that problem will decide whether or not the Helton period will proceed in Los Angeles.

2019 rewind

Closing rating: No. 30 within the CBS Sports activities 130 | Achievements: Pac-12 South runner-up

USC bought off to a 3-Three begin, shedding J.T. Daniels to damage within the opener in opposition to Fresno State after which backup Kedon Slovis suffered a concussion on the second play of the sport in opposition to Utah. Matt Fink starred in an upset win in opposition to the Utes, however the Trojans would go on to lose back-to-back video games at Washington and at Notre Dame.

Then Slovis and the USC offense took off, scoring a minimum of 30 factors in 5 wins throughout the ultimate six video games. The freshman threw for 400-plus yards in opposition to Colorado, Arizona State and Cal earlier than ending the common season with 515 passing yards in opposition to rival UCLA in a 52-35 win. Sadly, the nice vitality from that midseason turnaround and robust end did not make it to the bowl sport, as Iowa steamrolled USC 49-24 within the Vacation Bowl.

Key departures

DC Clancy Pendergast: A four-season stint as Helton’s defensive coordinator got here to an finish after the Trojans had been boat-raced within the Vacation Bowl in opposition to Iowa. The Trojans had been middling amongst their friends throughout this run (Pendergast’s second with USC), ending no higher than fifth within the Pac-12 in scoring protection and yards per play allowed.

WR Michael Pittman: The Biletnikoff Award finalist was among the best broad receivers within the nation a 12 months in the past and simply essentially the most constant and dependable risk within the passing sport. We’re going to spend so much of time speaking concerning the on-paper potential of USC’s offense, however a good portion of the particular manufacturing from 2019 left with Pittman.

OL Austin Jackson: A five-star prospect popping out of highschool, Jackson lived as much as the score with a formidable three years in Los Angeles. Earlier than getting drafted 18th general by the Miami Dolphins final month, Jackson performed in all 39 of USC’s video games throughout his three-year profession with 25 begins, incomes first staff All-Pac-12 honors at left sort out in 2019.

DE Christian Rector: One of many few losses from the defensive depth chart, Rector shall be troublesome to interchange for causes each on and off the sector. The fifth-year senior was a staff captain with 46 video games of expertise (23 begins), contributing at each defensive finish and outdoors linebacker all through his profession with excessive marks being all-conference honors in 2017 and 2018.

QB JT Daniels (possibly): Whether or not Daniels performs once more for USC is a query that hangs over this system. His title is within the switch portal so he can have interaction involved with different colleges, however Helton has made it clear he’d be welcome again ought to he select to remain put. If he stays, the quarterback battle turns into among the many most intriguing within the nation. If he leaves, it is extra stress on Slovis and a room filled with gifted younger receivers to hold the offense.

Who’s again?

OC Graham Harrell: Price mentioning once more right here that, along with Helton getting the vote of confidence from the USC administration, the teaching employees will get some continuity at a key place with Harrell again within the fold for 2020. There have been studies of curiosity from the NFL, however Harrell staying on board retains offensive expectations excessive after main a productive passing assault in 2019.

QB Kedon Slovis: The Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the 12 months goes to get darkish horse Heisman Trophy buzz following his spectacular debut. The stats are gaudy — 71.9% passing for 3,502 yards with 30 touchdowns and simply 9 interceptions — however the important thing to him gaining nationwide consideration goes to be staff success. He is little question going to be one of the vital productive gamers within the nation, however wins and Pac-12 title rivalry would be the outcomes of Slovis elevating his stage of play in his sophomore season.

WR Tyler Vaughns: And you might actually construct this out to incorporate a handful of different key gamers for the 2020 outlook. Solely seven gamers within the Pac-12 recorded 900 or extra receiving yards in 2019. Three of them had been Trojans. Pittman (1,275 yards) is gone, however Amon-Ra St. Brown (1,042) and Vaughns are each again within the fold. In contrast to St. Brown, Vaughns was eligible for the NFL Draft however determined to return for his redshirt senior season. They’re going to have competitors although, with Drake London and different underclassmen pushing for targets within the Trojans’ Air Raid assault.

DT Jay Tufele: The drought of dominant defensive lineman at USC is over, and subsequent spring we’ll see the Trojans have their first first-round defensive lineman drafted since Leonard Williams went No. 6 general in 2015. Tufele turned down an opportunity to go to the NFL Draft after a productive redshirt sophomore season that noticed him earn All-Pac-12 first staff honors and be named USC Defensive Lineman of the 12 months for the second straight season. He is bought All-American potential in 2020 and would be the face of the staff defensively.

Recent faces

DC Todd Orlando: The 49-year outdated former Wisconsin linebacker spent the final 5 years working alongside Tom Herman at Houston and Texas. Ousted as Herman sought to make a change at each coordinator positions, Orlando brings the Trojans a soccer philosophy pairing of kinds teaching reverse Graham Harrell. He is bought old fashioned Huge East chops, however loads of current expertise teaching with and in opposition to trendy up-tempo offenses within the Huge 12 and AAC. It isn’t simply Orlando, although, as USC welcomes a rebuilt defensive employees that features line of defense coach Vic So’oto (Virginia), cornerback coach Donte Williams (Oregon) and safeties coach Craig Naivar (Texas).

WR Bru McCoy: After signing with USC out of highschool as a five-star prospect in December 2018, McCoy enrolled within the spring semester solely to switch out to Texas simply in time to make it for spring observe. Then, after taking part in all spring with the Longhorns, McCoy transferred again to USC in the summertime solely to later announce that he isn’t capable of play initially of the season due to an sickness. No. 1: we hope McCoy is totally wholesome. No. 2: if he’s and may stand up to hurry, he may have an electrical redshirt freshman season on this offense.

WR Gary Bryant Jr.: Simply because the Trojans’ recruiting class ranked outdoors the top-50 doesn’t imply it’s with out potential for fast impression in 2020. Bryant Jr. was a four-star prospect ranked because the No. 5 participant within the state of California. He might need missed out on spring observe, however he has been enrolled at school because the begin of the semester and can have an opportunity to hit the bottom operating when play resumes on campus.

Vital video games

Week 1 vs. Alabama — Sept. 5: The final time these two performed in Week 1 was 2016 — Clay Helton’s first full season as head coach. The Tide rolled 52-6 and would go on to win their subsequent 14 video games earlier than getting gutted by Deshaun Watson within the CFP title sport. Helton would rally USC again from the beatdown and go on to win 10 video games, together with the Rose Bowl, and end ranked within the prime three of the AP High 25 ballot. The purpose is: do not take an excessive amount of away from Week 1, it is a lengthy season.

Week 5 at Utah — Oct. 2: Whereas Utah shall be changing loads from final 12 months’s Pac-12 runner-up squad, they have younger expertise that is likely to be able to reply the decision. On the very least they are not going to be unprepared for USC in Salt Lake Metropolis in a sport that carries a season’s price of significance. The Trojans’ win in opposition to Utah within the Coliseum final 12 months saved the Utes out of the highest 4 of the playoff rankings heading into Championship Saturday. Even when the gamers are gone, this system remembers.

Week 10 at Oregon — Nov. 7: One other fascinating revenge issue sport. After main 10-Zero on the finish of the primary quarter in final 12 months’s sport in opposition to the Geese, then ranked No. 7 within the nation, USC bought blitzed. A 28-7 second quarter was adopted by 28-7 second half and immediately the house staff went from a top-10 upset win to strolling out as 56-24 losers. This may be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Sport, although it will not carry as a lot weight within the division race if USC has head-to-head tiebreakers in opposition to the opposite prime groups.

2020 outlook

USC can have among the best offenses within the nation with Slovis working the Air Raid and a humiliation of riches at broad receiver. With Vaughns, St. Brown and London, you have bought three gamers who may very well be WR1 on one other roster, and the ceiling of McCoy being an eventual first-round draft decide. That type of offensive outlook has all of the stress on the protection to step up and play at a championship stage, which goes to place the microscope on Orlando and that reloaded defensive employees.

When Orlando’s defenses have been at their finest throughout his time at Houston and Texas, they have been capable of finding success defending up-tempo offenses with simplified scheme and nice playmaking/ball abilities. The expertise is there at USC to make all of it work on paper, the gamers will simply must obtain a whole lot of data shortly with no spring observe within the lead as much as the season. The one factor that Orlando can do is ship on a promise for extra physicality, bringing an edge and intimidation issue again to USC’s protection.

So it is like a whole lot of USC seasons. We are able to lay out the roster and the defensive upgrades and level to a staff that ought to have an opportunity to win each time it takes the sector. The problem is that with USC we have come to count on disappointment in the case of matching that on-paper benefit with efficiency on the sector. Not in each sport throughout the board, however at sufficient key factors within the season the place USC falls wanting championship expectations.

That is the place I am ducking outdated behavior and doubling down on the Trojans. Helton is 20-Four in opposition to Pac-12 South opponents and I do not assume he and this staff get sufficient credit score for being one of many groups to beat within the convention. It isn’t the overwhelming dominance of the Pete Carroll period, however two Pac-12 Championship Sport appearances with one win, a Rose Bowl and a 72% profitable proportion in convention play is price highlighting. This system has some room for progress by way of its nationwide championship rivalry, nevertheless it’s wholesome sufficient to enter each season as one of many favorites to win the convention and I feel they’re going to achieve this in 2020.

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