Southern California Trojans
Head Coach: Clay Helton
2016 record: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Pac 12 South
2016 Bowl result: Beat Penn State 52-49 in the Rose Bowl
2017 returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: +825
Odds to win 2017 Pac 12 Championship Game: +112
Odds to Win 2017 Pac 12 South Division: -295
Regular season wins: over 9 1/2 -185 / under 9 1/2 +160
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Despite a 1-3 start, that included a 52-6 thrashing by Alabama, perhaps no team was playing as well as the USC Trojans at the end of last season. The Trojans ended the season on a nine game winning streak that included a win over Washington and a thrilling 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. USC looks to build on that success in 2017. It won’t be easy as the Trojans return only 12 starters and must challenge defending conference champion Washington for Pac 12 supremacy.
Let’s take a look at USC on offense, defense, and special teams plus a look at the schedule and outlook.
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USC averaged 488 yards per game last year and 35 points per game. Offensive coordinator Tee Martin gets 7 starters back.
The offense was nearly unstoppable when freshman Sam Darnold took over at quarterback full time in the fourth game of the season. He split the snaps with Max Browne in the first three games. Browne has since transferred to Pittsburgh for his senior season. Darnold was spectacular completing 67.2% of his passes for 3,086 yards with 32 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and he also rushed for 250 yards with 2 touchdowns. He is a Heisman Trophy contender and likely #1 pick in next Spring’s NFL Draft. Jalen Greene and Thomas Fitts will back up Darnold.
Running back Ronald Jones II returns after rushing for 1,082 yards with 12 touchdowns on 177 carries, plus 11 catches and a touchdown. The Trojans lose running back Justin Davis (110 carries, 607 yards, and 2 touchdowns, plus 14 catches) to the Los Angeles Rams. Aca’Cedric Ware looks to take most of the back-up carries after he had 78 carries for 397 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. Dominic Davis will also get some carries. Reuben Peters and Chris Edmondson will be the fullbacks.
The Trojans lose their top two receivers including Juju Smith-Schuster (70 catches, 914 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Darreus Rogers (56 catches, 696 yards and 4 touchdowns) to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks respectively. Deontay Burnett takes over as the go-to receiver after making 56 catches for 622 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe had 17 catches for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. His little brother Josh will start at receiver as a redshirt freshman. Steven Mitchell had 24 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown. Michael Pittman will also start at receiver. Tight end Tyler Petite had 10 catches and 2 touchdowns. Back-up quarterback Jalen Greene will also line up at receiver sometimes.
USC only gave up 12 sacks last year, part of the reason for the winning streak. However, the Trojans lose three starters including All-conference tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler. There is still plenty of talent led by returning starters center Nico Faleh and right guard Viane Talamaivao.
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The Trojans allowed 367 yards per game on defense and 25 points per game last year. USC was in the top 40 nationally in total defense, rush defense and points allowed. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast gets 6 starters back in his 3-4 set.
Five star recruit Marlon Tuipulotu originally commited to Washington but switched to USC in January. He will be a star at defensive tackle. Kenny Bigelow looks to return from a second ACL surgery but is a former five star recruit as well. Both Tuipulotu and Bigelow will split time at nose tackle. Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton look to start at the ends.
Linebacker Cameron Smith led the team in tackles with 83 last year. Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu combined for 20.5 tackles for loss last year. Pendergast sometimes uses a 5-2 defensive set, but regardless of who starts in the front seven the Trojans must do better in the pass rush than the 26 sacks they generated last year.
The secondary loses cornerback Adoree’ Jackson to the Tennessee Titans. He won the Jim Thorpe Award and had five interceptions last year. It is a huge loss but the rest of the secondary returns. Iman Marshall and Isaiah Langley will start at the corners. Marshall has NFL talent as well. Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell will start at the safeties.
Kicker Matt Boermeester was kicked off the team after an abuse allegation in February. Redshirt freshman Michael Brown will take over as the kicker. Chris Tilbey will handle the punting duties. Jackson will also be missed in the special teams as he returned two punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns last year. Deontay Burnett will return punts and Ajene Harris will return kicks.
Schedule and Outlook
USC opens the season with three home games against Western Michigan, Stanford and Texas. The latter two are both ranked in the top 25 in the preseason polls and Western Michigan is coming off a Cotton Bowl appearance last year. Road trips to California and Washington State are next. The Trojans then get home games against Oregon State and Utah. USC then travels to Notre Dame and Arizona State, before a home game against Arizona. The Trojans close the season with a road game at Colorado, before the rivalry game against UCLA. USC avoids Washington unless they meet in the Pac 12 Championship game. I think that happens and it will likely be a play-in game for a spot in the playoffs.
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