Southern California Trojans
Head Coach: Clay Helton
2015 record: 8-6 overall, 6-3 Pac 12 South
2015 Bowl result: Lost to Wisconsin 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl
2016 returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 60/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: +605
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 South Division: +248
Regular season wins: under 9 1/2 -390 / over 9 1/2 +270
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After his second stint as interim head coach in the last three seasons, USC decided to give Clay Helton the full time job permanently. He took over from Steve Sarkisian who was dismissed for some well-publicized substance abuse issues midway through last season. USC began the season 3-3 but would then win four straight games. The Trojans lost three of their last four games but won a tiebreaker for the Pac 12 South title. USC lost for the second time to Stanford 41-22 in the Pac 12 championship game. USC would then lose to Wisconsin 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl.
Helton gets 15 starters back. The Trojans are the second choice in the Pac 12 South behind rival UCLA. Let’s take a look at the Trojans in all three phases of the game, plus a look at the schedule.
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The Trojans averaged 438 yards per game on offense including 270 passing yards and 34 points a game. USC was in the top 40 nationally in all three categories. Tee Martin takes over as the new offensive coordinator and he gets 9 starters back.
Quarterback Cody Kessler was a third round pick by the Cleveland Browns. He threw for 3,536 yards with 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Redshirt junior Max Browne beat out freshman Sam Darnold for the starting job. Browne has been in the program a long time but sat patiently behind Kessler. He was the national high school player of the year in 2012.
The top two rushers are back for the Trojans. Ronald Jones II had 153 carries for 987 yards with 8 touchdowns, plus he made 7 catches including one touchdown. Justin Davis rushed for 902 yards on 169 carries with 7 touchdowns, and made 18 catches for 189 yards. Tre Madden has graduated after rushing for 452 yards on 85 carries with 5 touchdowns.
Leading receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is back after making 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns. The other top three receivers are back for the Trojans. Adoree’ Jackson had 27 catches for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns despite only moonlighting as a receiver from his regular job as a cornerback. Steven Mitchell, Jr. had 37 catches for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns. Darreus Rogers had 28 catches for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Taylor McNamara had only 12 catches but four of them went for touchdowns.
All five starters return on the offensive line, led by All Pac 12 right tackle Zach Banner. Chad Wheeler will start at the other tackle. The guards will be Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Toa Lobendahn will start at center.
The Trojans were not terrible on defense allowing 400 yards per game and 26 points per game. Six starters are back for new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pendergast is in his second stint as defensive coordinator as he was the coordinator in 2013. He spent the last two years as the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
The defensive line must replace all three starters. Kenny Bigelow was supposed to start at nose tackle but tore his ACL in spring practice and is lost for the season. Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton will start the ends. Noah Jefferson will be the nose tackle. Porter Gustin will rotate between outside linebacker and defensive end. He had 7 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Ochenna Nwosu will also start at outside linebacker. Cameron Smith was the Pac 12 defensive freshman of the year last year despite a late season injury. He had 78 tackles last year. Osa Masina will also start at one of the inside positions.
Jackson and Iman Marshall will start at cornerback. Marshall had 67 tackles and 3 interceptions. The Trojans are deep at safety. Chris Hawkins and John Plattenburg had to fight to keep their starting jobs. Marvell Tell III and Leon McQuay III will also be in the mix at safety.
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Matt Boermeester is the new kicker. The Trojans will also break in a new punter Chris Tilbey. He has never played American football but only Australian Rules Football. Adoree’ Jackson will return kicks and punts again. He returned two punts for touchdowns last year.
Schedule and Outlook
USC has a very tough schedule. It all starts with a game against defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Then they host Utah State before road games at Stanford and Utah. The Trojans host Arizona State and Colorado before a road game at Arizona. USC then hosts California and Oregon. The Trojans then have road games at Washington and UCLA before closing at home against Notre Dame. Half the games are against teams ranked in the preseason top 25 polls.
There is a lot of talent here, but the schedule is brutal. I just can’t see any more than 8 wins. Even that would take some upsets.
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