10-3, 7-2 in Conference
Key Wins: Colorado, Washington, Penn State
Key Losses: Alabama, Stanford, Utah
It was a tale of two halves. The season started off touted as a battle of titans: #20 USC went on to take on #1 Alabama. Max Browne was the heir apparent to the USC QB throne and Clay Helton was on to his first season as (not an interim) head coach. The Trojans would promptly get throttled 52-6. USC would lose to Stanford by two scores and Max Browne found himself ousted from his starting spot. Browne would transfer to Pitt later that season. Sam Darnold would step in as starter against Utah and, while losing, put up a respectable performance. That would be the last time USC lost a game in 2016.
The Trojans went on an eight game winning streak that culminated in an at-large bid to the Rose Bowl (since conference champion Washington went to the playoff). In the Rose Bowl, Sam Darnold mustered up all the magic he could and beat Penn State out of sheer will and determination in a 52-49 instant classic of a game. That victory would set up the hype train at full speed for USC in 2017.
Head Coach: Clay Helton
Clay Helton has USC in his blood. While he played at Houston and began coaching in the southeast, he started coaching at USC in 2010 and has not left. In 2013, he assumed interim head coach for a game and was promptly replaced by Steve Sarkisian. When Sarkisian lost his job, Helton became the interim again and led the Trojans to a respectable 8-6 record. While some from the USC faithful were dismayed that a small name coach was hired to such a prestigious spot, he seems to have earned his spot so far.
Sam. Freaking. Darnold.
The man had an excellent 2016 but his “Hello, World” moment did not come until their last game of the season. In the Rose Bowl, Darnold went 33/53 with 453 yards and five touchdowns. If the stats weren’t eyepopping enough, he had incredible plays like this:
The man was on fire and he let the whole world know it. As a redshirt sophomore in 2017, he is the name on the tip of every analyst’s tongue for first overall pick in the 2018 draft. Another great season could dub him as a “can’t miss” talent that some poor franchise will mortgage the farm in order to acquire. Let’s not forget about returning RB Ronald Jones III either. The one issue the Trojans will encounter was a mass exodus on their offensive line due to graduation and the Draft. They wouldn’t be the first team to have a season derailed from an inexperienced line.
The Trojans had a good defense in 2016. Aside from two games where they allowed a combined 100 points (52 v. Alabama (loss), 49 v. Penn State (win)), they only allowed over 30 points once while holding them to under 20 points five times. A considerable amount of starters were sophomores last year and, as expected, a considerable amount of starters return for 2017. Returning talent is a big indicator for success in college football and USC is looking good in that department.
Projected Record: 11-1
I cannot pick one game on the schedule where I can guarantee a loss for the Trojans. However, when playing teams like Stanford, Utah, and @Washington State, you can pencil in at least one loss. Stanford and Utah have devastating defensive lines that could wreak havoc on an unproven USC offensive line. Playing WSU in Pullman is similar to playing either Arizona school in Arizona: anything can happen. I expect USC to go to the Pac-12 Championship but I’m unsure if they can beat Stanford or UW when they do.