Today we look at No. 19 – USC.
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Nuts and bolts
Location: Los Angeles
Coach: Clay Helton (third season, 27-10)
2017: 11-3, 8-1 in Pac-12 (lost 24-7 to Ohio State in Cotton Bowl)
Last league title: 2017
Three things to know
1. Replacing Darnold. The No. 1 storyline going into the season for USC is how it’ll fare without quarterback Sam Darnold, a first-round NFL pick. Darnold is a talent that doesn’t come around too often for schools.
But the Trojans have several options and an ongoing quarterback competition between true freshman J.T. Daniels, redshirt freshman Jack Sears and redshirt sophomore Matt Fink.
Sears and Fink may have more experience in the system, but Daniels is intriguing as he joins the team as a five-star prospect and the No. 2-ranked pro style quarterback by Rivals.
2. Loaded D. The Trojans lost two of their top defenders in pass rusher Rasheem Green, who had 10 sacks last season, and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, an all-Pac-12 player who had 9.5 sacks. But the Trojans have a stacked linebacker corps with Cam Smith, John Houston and Porter Gustin, and return defensive end Christian Rector (who had 7.5 sacks).
The secondary features Iman Marshall, who has started 36 games at corner. Marshall could have bolted for the NFL, but will be looking to boost his draft stock more in 2018.
3. Hot seat? Clay Helton has stabilized the USC program after the messy ending to Steve Sarkisian’s tenure. Helton has gone 26-10 since taking over on an interim basis in the middle of the 2015 season, not too shabby when you consider Pete Carroll was 27-9 through his first 36 games.
But expectations are always high for the Trojans, and Helton has to keep them in the Pac-12 and playoff mix if he wants to keep his job.
Three games to watch
1. Sept. 15 at Texas. An early-season matchup between two storied programs shouldn’t disappoint. Both the Trojans and Longhorns are fringe playoff contenders with coaches who are looking to add marquee wins to the resume.
2. Sept. 29 at Arizona. How will the Trojans’ D fare against arguably the best college quarterback in the country, the Wildcats’ Khalil Tate? Tate will be looking to make a Heisman statement this weekend.
3. Nov. 24 vs. Notre Dame. Meeting No. 90 between the legendary schools should be a thriller. Both are expected to be ranked by the end of the season, which means plenty will be at stake – a New Year’s Six bowl? A playoff berth? – two days after Thanksgiving.