2017 Opponent Update: USC Trojans

USC started 1-2 last year in embarrassing fashion with just 16 combined points against Alabama and Stanford. The Trojans switched to quarterback Sam Darnold (former 5-star Max Browne was benched and is now with Pitt following a grad transfer) in week 4 and still lost to Utah, although the offense scored 27 points and showed many more signs of life.

Turns out, Darnold was the real deal. He lost his first start but finished the season with 9 straight wins culminating in one of the best Rose Bowl performances of all-time.

Southern California

2016 Record: 10-3
2016 S&P Rank: 9
Offense Returning Production Rank: 82
Defense Returning Production Rank: 61

Rebuilding Around Sam

USC has lost a good chunk of offensive production from 2016 but the scary thing is that not many were elite talents. Of the 5 NFL Draft picks only wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster (2nd round) and tackle Zach Banner (4th round) were selected in Philadelphia from the offensive side of the ball.

Wide receiver and offensive line will be the big projects going into August camp. The running backs should be more than fine as only Justin Davis moves on and he was passed up by Ronald Jones as the top tailback anyway. USC will also bring two more juniors Aca’Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis with quality experience. Former Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara technically is the lost starter at tight end but Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Petite combined for 27 receptions, 406 yards, and 6 touchdowns at the position in 2016.

The offensive line remains a question mark as 3 starters are gone, including both tackles, and the spring was filled with some long-term injuries. There are 5 players who have started at least 1 game last year including Toa Lobendahn who missed all but the Alabama game with a knee injury and has 21 career starts.

The wideouts lose the top two players and 4 players overall. There should be a pretty decent youth movement (most expect 5-star freshman Joseph Lewis to have a big role) along with the solid production coming back from Deontay Burnett (622 yards, 7 TD) and Steven Mitchell (226 yards in 7 games).

Limiting Big Plays

USC’s defense was very good last year in nearly all categories…except limiting big plays. Their advanced stats are littered with Top 20 rankings and then there’s a 107th ranked IsoPPP defense and 104th ranked rushing defense IsoPPP.

Solidifying things in the middle of the defensive line will be a major focus. Utah transfer Steve Tu’ikolovatu put in one year as a grad student and was picked in the Draft, while a couple of other nose guards transferred out this off-season. The Trojans can now turn to the perpetually injured Kenny Bigelow and the inexperienced Jacob Daniel.

USC has a lot of outside linebacker and defensive end body-types but needs to shore up the big bodies on the inside.

Solid Overall

There should be plenty of optimism for the Trojan defense as a whole. As stated, they have a plethora of pass-rushing options including a trio of former 5-star recruits. The back 7 is in good shape, too. Michael Hutchings, Adoree Jackson, and Leon McQuay have moved on but blue-chip talent is all over the place looking to step up.

This could be the break out season for DC Clancy Pendergast who has quietly been one of the best coordinators in the country and put together another strong season in Los Angeles last year even though Darnold and the offense were much more in the spotlight.

Summer Spread: USC Favored by 8.5 Points

Hey, the Irish have won their last two at home against USC! However, at this point the Trojans are squarely in the National Championship conversation and Notre Dame is decidedly not.

Buy or Sell: Darnold Winning the Heisman

It’s pretty easy to take the field here if that’s the choice in comparison to one player. Darnold won’t be short on key matchups including Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and UCLA. However, there’s no Oregon or Washington although you could argue that just makes it more likely the Trojans meet one of those teams in the Pac-12 Title Game.

Know a Player: DE Oluwole Betiku

USC basically botched the country’s top weak-side defensive end as a freshman by burning his redshirt in October and only playing him in 5 games. Betiku would finish with zero tackles and has been quite open this off-season that he wanted nothing to do with film and learning the intricacies of playing his position.

The Irish will hope he continue to struggles with the mental aspects of the game. If he puts it together he has the ability to be scary.

Outfitter: Nike

The Trojans have been a Nike school forever. Perhaps more interesting, they signed a lucrative licensing deal with Silver Star Merchandising back in 2011. SSM is an off-shoot of the Dallas Cowboys merchandising company.

Most Important Game: vs. Stanford

Things are going to be real for USC straight out of the gate. They get the Fleck-less Western Michigan program which, in reality, is probably an easy win. However, the Stanford game comes right after followed by Texas. All three are home games. If, USC opens 3-0 and beats maybe their only real divisional competitor in the process hype machines are going through the roof.

By | 2018-05-09T22:26:11+00:00 June 13th, 2017|Football|10 Comments

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Brendan REric Murtaughjuiceboxnd09hls12mpvahalik1 Recent comment authors
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Ugh. I know I’m supposed to root for SC being good to “strengthen the rivalry,” or whatever, but I really wish we could have a really crappy version for a few years just to make up for Carroll’s dynasty. Is it too much to want to see rich Californians cry?


I disagree with rooting for USC to be good. Maybe in the BCS era if you want to sneak into the championship game over someone with a .001 score difference. But we are not in that conversation. USC going 0-12 is better for us this year than them being good. Not only that, but USC will almost always qualify as a good win in the eyes of most people.

If we go 11-1 against a garbage schedule, and USC goes 0-12, and people argue that we don’t deserve it because we didn’t have any huge wins, I will be totally OK with that.


What are the odds Darnold regresses in his second year of starting (ND has some experience with that)?


Definitely a possibility, maybe more so because his last year was so good, it would be hard to replicate even if his skills didn’t regress. But I wouldn’t expect it.


The highlights from last years game show how poor our defense was more than it shows how good Darnold was. The heavy majority of his completions came from 5-8 yard curl routes, quick slants, and halfback swing passes. The few times he threw deep resulted in poorly thrown balls (I’m not going to blame him too much because the conditions were sloppy, to say the least). The defenses inability to tackle or get consistent pressure when blitzing is laughable. I know that USC is a preseason playoff favorite according to a lot of people. It may be my fandom showing but I don’t think it’s crazy to think we can compete with this team this year. I don’t know. Ask me again in late September if I still think we can compete.


We’ll see if the lads can rally around interim coach Les Miles.

Brendan R

We were competing with them just fine last year until the final, what, 90 seconds of the first half? Something like that. I think the spread is fair for where both programs are right now, but I also think it’s perfectly sane to think that it might tighten up some by the time October 21st rolls around.


I’m trying to control my hype and manage my expectations but this site isn’t helping. You guys are enabling my college football addiction and I’m totally okay with it.