1. J.T. Daniels Is Not Ready
J.T. Daniels is in the running for the most talented quarterback in college football. But being talented and being ready are two completely different things. After taking 11 classes this spring to graduate a year early from Mater Dei high school, Daniels has shown in his first two games a clear lack of connection with many of his receivers and zeroing in on players.
This is obviously not his fault. He’s a true freshman, he’s only been on the team since fall camp. Most quarterbacks who start early, like Sam Darnold, start as a redshirt freshman, after spending a full year learning the playbook, developing connections with receivers, growing as a quarterback, and adjusting to college life. Daniels had the impossible task of doing all that in fall camp. But at the end of the day, he is USC’s starting quarterback. He won the job, and he needs to perform better than a three-point output with 16 of 34 passing for 215 yards and two interceptions. Once again, the question will arise whether coach Clay Helton picked the right starting quarterback. The good news is that Daniels still has time to turn this season around for USC, but he will have almost no margin for error.
2. This is the Best USC Defense Since the Pete Carroll Era
It might sound like a bold statement or a stretch, but it really isn’t. USC’s defense has been mediocre since 2010, and this defense is clearly elite. A big problem in the early going has been the lack of turnovers forced, but that could just be due to the fact that they’ve played two teams that primarily run the football and don’t take too many risks.
Iman Marshall was a lockdown corner against Stanford barring one play, and he also prevented Bryce Love from getting the edge time and time again. Meanwhile, the USC front seven played lights out. The headlines will be Love leads Stanford to victory because he rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown, but if you consider that 37 of those yards came on six carries on the first drive, and another 59 came on one long run, USC held Love to 40 yards on his other 15 carries. Love lacked consistency, which is why Stanford only scored 17 points.
The only issue seemed to be the safeties matchups against tight ends. Stanford tight end Kaden Smith had four catches for 77 yards, including a 26-yard catch on 3rd & 23. The USC defense was burned over the middle time and time again. The absence of Bubba Bolden did not hurt USC in the opener as Isaiah Pola-Mao filled in nicely, but against Stanford, Pola-Mao had just one tackle.
3. Are Clay Helton and Tee Martin Good Coaches?
Whether Helton is fit to be head coach for USC has been a question that has been asked since his hire back in 2016. After going an unimpressive 5-3 as interim head coach, Helton was still surprisingly named the permanent head coach by then athletic director Pat Haden. Since then, Helton has led USC to back to back seasons with 10 or more wins, including a rose bowl win and a PAC-12 title. But last year ended in disappointment with a 17-point loss to Ohio State, and 2016 raised many questions as to why Darnold was not the starter from day one. Another major question is whether Helton can take USC to the next level, which is competing for a college football playoff berth.
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Tee Martin has been hyped up as the next great up and coming coach for a few years now, but is he really a good play caller? There’s no question that he’s one of the best recruiters in the nation, but his offense in 2017 was disappointing considering the amount of talent. USC ranked 35th in points per game despite having an elite quarterback and running back, although injuries definitely played a big role. Is it wrong to assume that Martin is partially responsible for Daniels and the offense’s early struggles?
If USC fails to reach the College Football Playoffs in the next three years, should Clay Helton be fired?
Yes, even if he has a 10 win season
Yes, but only if he wins less than 10 games
No, he isn't the problem