Clay Helton's Trojans are transitioning to a new-look offense with a new quarterback at the controls
USC head coach Clay Helton has achieved a rather healthy amount of success in the relatively short amount of time he has been the man in charge. A Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl victory, and an at-large berth for another New Year's Six bowl (Cotton Bowl) have Trojans fans believing that Helton can accomplish so much more if given the chance.
While the Trojans are returning a healthy number of playmakers from last year, they have many unanswered questions, especially when it comes to quarterback and receiver. This is not to say that they lack talent at either of those positions, in fact the incoming recruits may be some of the most talented players USC has had on the roster in a long time. The biggest question for USC is how long will it take for the new talent to absorb and process what Helton and the coaching staff are trying to accomplish.
How tough will it be for a new-look team under Helton to do damage at the top of the polls? Athlon Sports polled a few writers and contributors to get their take on USC’s realistic 2018 win/loss projection.
USC Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Admittedly, 9-3 feels a little high for USC. The Trojans aren’t hurting for talent, but can Clay Helton push the right buttons to guide this team in its transition through the post-Sam Darnold era? Freshman quarterback JT Daniels has been drawing rave reviews in fall practice — but if he’s the starter — he’ll be greeted by road trips to Stanford and Texas in the first three weeks of the season. USC’s defense has the potential to rank among the best in the Pac-12, which should alleviate some of the pressure on Daniels’ shoulders early in the 2018 season. My guess here is USC loses one more time than I predict and finishes 8-4 — but still barely edges Utah and Arizona in the South.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
USC sets out to defend its Pac-12 title without the services of standout quarterback Sam Darnold. The Trojans catch a break by not playing Washington — the overwhelming pick to win the North Division — but they have two tough non-conference games (at Texas, vs. Notre Dame) and have some tricky league games on the road (Stanford, Arizona, Utah, UCLA). The guess here is that USC takes care of business at home but stubs its toe a few times on the road. The 7-2 league record — even with a projected loss at Utah — should be good enough to win the South Division for the third time in the last four seasons.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Count me in the camp that true freshman JT Daniels will likely be the starting QB at some point early in the year so it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the Trojans as a team that is much better at the end of the year than the beginning. There's plenty of talent on the roster and much better depth than in years past but there might not be the superstar impact players USC has had in recent seasons. The wide receiving corps and linebackers will be big strengths to lean on but it still seems like an uphill battle to repeat as Pac-12 South champs given a very tough schedule.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
USC is going to have to decide on a quarterback at some point and all signs seem to indicate that JT Daniels, a true freshman, is the likeliest candidate to win the position battle. Daniels is a dynamic athlete and a remarkable passer. The Gatorade High School Player of the Year has long been tipped to be the future of the Trojans and the practice reports on him aren’t doing anything to combat that point of view.
For all the flak that Helton takes, he has done a remarkable job with the Trojans. His steady and even-keeled approach to the game work well in both recruiting and on the field. The Trojans are going to need that approach with the upcoming schedule they’re playing. On paper, this is the most difficult season that Helton has faced with the Trojans.
The Trojans’ first five games alone present an unenviable task. Not only does USC play Stanford, Texas, Arizona, and Washington State, the three toughest matchups are on the road. It is a schedule that would play well with the College Football Playoff Selection Committee if the Trojans can navigate it without losing more than one game. Additionally, none of this accounts for the final month of the season, where USC faces Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame. It’s a tall order any way you look at it.
In all, this is a great chance for a younger USC team to learn what it’s like to face a lineup of teams that might be better than them on paper. Paper doesn’t decide games, just ask Matt Barkley about his trip to the Horseshoe in Columbus. If Daniels ends up being as good as advertised, than USC may be able to put together another season of double-digit wins,
One of the more enjoyable parts of college football is watching a young team grow and jell. This USC team is more than capable of delivering that over the course of a season.