Anyway you look at it, the 2018 Trojans failed to meet expectations and no sane fan or analyst will argue that. However, a little perspective may provide a glimpse of hope into the future. As outside observers, we are very quick to forget that J.T. Daniels accelerated high school and started for the Trojans in what should have been his senior year at Mater Dei. This was an unprecedented feat for a quarterback at any college, let alone one of the most storied football programs in the history of NCAA Division 1. Not only did Daniels start as an eighteen year old, but his play was acceptable at worst, and exceptional at best, when all things are considered.
There were plenty of bad moments, and the ten interceptions reflect that. However, the good news is that Daniels will begin his sophomore campaign as a teenager with 11 starts already under his belt. He will also (as of this morning) get to work with an incredibly bright and young offensive mind as the Trojans have hired former Texas Tech head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, to be the teams newest offensive coordinator. Not only does this ease the pain of holding onto head coach Clay Helton, it actually justifies it in many ways. Not only will Daniels get a brand new offensive system and philosophy, but he will also get to pick up right where he left off with Clay Helton and refrain from starting from scratch with a new head coach. This should certainly do wonders for Daniels’ offense, and if the team gets off to a slow start, there is already a potential head coach candidate on the roster.
The reality is, it had been evident long before J.T. Daniels or Jack Sears arrived on USC’s campus that the Trojans needed a new offensive philosophy. Many expert football analysts barked at Tee Martin and his playbook throughout Sam Darnold’s tenure here, and that is in spite of two Rose Bowl appearances and one victory. With Kingsbury now in the fold, and Daniels, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Stephen Carr all set to return, this offense could quickly become one of the most entertaining shows in college football. Jack Sears also proved to be a quality backup, throwing for 235 yards, 2 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his lone start against Arizona State, although the Trojans lost that game 38-35.
Despite the headline of this article, the question really is a no brainer. I repeat, we as fans are so quick to forget that Daniels just a year and a half ago was the number one high school football player in the country as a junior(!). Not to mention, he won gatorade national player of the year with Amon-Ra St. Brown as his go to wide receiver at Mater Dei. That alone is a big enough reason to start Daniels this upcoming fall, due to the chemistry and rapport those two have demonstrated between one another time and time again. Sears will compete hard in training camp, but one quick study on Daniels and he is still every bit as talented as he was coming out of high school — this past season should not change that.
Interestingly, we’ve seen this story take place in the Coliseum before, pretty recently in fact. Just two years ago, Jared Goff was the number one overall pick in the NFL draft, but forewent his senior season at Cal and started for the Rams as a raw 22 year old in the NFL’s worst offensive system. The play calling was pathetic, many thought Goff was a huge bust, and Todd Gurley infamously said midseason the team was running a “middle school offense.” Fast forward through coaching changes and a new offensive philosophy behind a young mind in Sean McVay, and Goff is now considered one of the top quarterbacks on the planet. The Rams also became the first team in the Super Bowl era to go from having the worst offense in the NFL to the highest scoring offense in back to back seasons (2016-2017). I expect a very similar development could transpire with J.T. Daniels and this offense over the next 1-3 seasons.
Rookie quarterbacks in the NFL are often judged too quickly, and that is post college. Trojan fans need to look at the perspective and take a deep breath. Remember that J.T. Daniels is still a teenager who was the best high school player in the country as a junior, and trust that everything about this football program will improve next season. And if worst comes to worst, and things don’t change, you have a perfect fit for a new head coach sitting at the helm of the offensive coordinator position. Welcome to USC, Kliff Kingsbury.