USC just ended what turned out being a season of disappointment—both for the team and the fans, with its 24-7 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl. It doesn’t take much to see that the Trojans will spend the spring and summer improving on weaknesses that sprouted up throughout the year. We’re going to spend some time looking at things that went well for the team and things that didn’t go so well, as well as what to expect going forward.
High’s and Lows for USC’s 2017 Football Season
High: Balanced Offense
Even though all eyes were on Sam Darnold this year, Ronald Jones II was among the nations best running backs. Ranking 8th in total rushing yards this season, tied for 5th in rushing touchdowns, and averaging about 120 rushing yards a game. Jones gave the Trojans one of the best looking run games that they’ve had in years as well as took pressure off of Darnold and the passing attack. If Darnold decides to stay another year, this duo could provide to be one of the top offenses in college football. If not, Trojans fans would have to patiently wait for another talented tandem to come their way.
Low: Unmet Expectations
It has already been stated that Sam Darnold did not live up to the hype that he had this year. Darnold ended the season with a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio this season. Darnold struggled with the turnovers this season, throwing four more picks than he did last season and five less touchdowns than he did. Although he didn’t do as well as he would have hoped in those categories, Darnold finished in the top ten in passing yards in the season. After the tough loss to Ohio State Darnold might reconsider leaving for the NFL too soon. If so, USC will have another shot with the talented young quarterback.
High: Players Stepping Up
There were a lot of questions to be answered by this year’s defense. No one knew who the big playmakers would be, or who would lead the team. Uchenna Nwosu stepped up in a big way for the Trojans this year, finishing with over 70 tackles this season, along with 12 batted passes from the linebacker position. Jack Jones also led the team with four interceptions as a sophomore. Hopefully USC is able to fill in the gaps that will be made by this year seniors, and hit the ground running next season.
Low: Need to slow down opposing offenses
To USC’s credit it’s hard to fill the shoes of a guy like Adoree Jackson, who has over 50 tackles as a cornerback and forces 6 turnovers. But this season there seem to be major holes in the Trojans defense. USC ranked 68th in total defense this year, allowing nearly 400 total yards a game to opposing offenses. They also ranked 27th on turnovers gained this past season. Even though the Trojans have a few pieces that were impactful this past year, it seemed as if the defense was never in control of another team. If the past bowl game is any indication, the Trojans will need to work hard this offseason to make the defense a little more formidable.
So, what’s next?
The Trojans had their behinds handed to them in the Cotton Bowl and yet, it seemed to be a fitting end to what was a letdown of a season. USC finished with an 11-3 record overall (8-1 in conference play) and, initially, this may seem like a success but when you have as storied of a history as The Men of Troy, anything short of a College Football Playoff berth is a disappointment. Ronald Jones II had a stellar year but, ultimately, the team’s up-and-down play comes back to Sam Darnold’s inconsistencies at the quarterback position. This begs the questions: what’s next?
Should they stay or she they go?
First we have to figure out who’s leaving and who’s returning for another year. Chances are the likes of Darnold, Jones, and Cam Smith on defense are all but surefire declarations for the NFL Draft. Darnold and Smith are roommates, so who knows whether or not that will play a factor in whether or not the two return for their senior years. If Sam Darnold does leave, that will force the team to figure out what it has in the likes of Matt Fink, Jack Sears, and J.T. Daniels. As for Jones II, if he were to declare, he would no doubt be considered one of the top backs in the NFL Draft. In addition to Jones, defensive lineman Rasheem Green, who had 10 sacks on the year, and receiver Deontay Burnett are also considering their options. The Cotton Bowl loss almost definitely ensure that USC tumbles out of the top 10 - that coupled with the possible departures of key contributors on both ends of the ball will help determine how the Trojans look entering the 2018 football season.
A glimpse at the 2018 schedule
Here’s what Clay Helton and crew will be up against next season:
Sept. 1 – UNLV
Sept. 8 – at Stanford
Sept. 15 – at Texas
Sept. 21 – Washington State
Sept. 29 – at Arizona
Oct. 6 - BYE
Oct. 13 – Colorado
Oct. 20 – at Utah
Oct. 27 – Arizona State
Nov. 3 – at Oregon State
Nov. 10 – California
Nov. 17 – at UCLA
Nov. 24 – Notre Dame
September 2018 has all the makings of being really brutal - luckily there is a mercifully placed bye week in the first week of October, but we could be legitimately looking at a 3-2 start (those Stanford and Washington State matchups have me feeling weary). Obviously anything can happen, but these aren’t opponents that are just going to roll over. Finishing off the season with games against California, UCLA, and Notre Dame is also nothing to really scoff at.
My first hot take of the season: Clay Helton needs to go
This is tough to say because, by all accounts, Coach Helton is an awesome dude—one that makes it easy for you to root for him. Let’s face it, though: he’s not really an elite coach, and that is something I think this program needs if they want to make a run at a National Championship. I don’t know if I’m alone in saying this or not, but I have big issues with someone who can’t get the most out of a quarterback like Sam Darnold. I know it’s probably not fair to let all the blame fall on the shoulders of the head coach, but I would not be surprised if Lynn Swann pulls the chord and goes for a big name if the Trojans begin faltering.
What are your thoughts? Do you think 2018 will be as brutal as 2017? Do they have a shot at the College Football Playoff? How long is Clay Helton’s leash? Let us know in the comments below!