Pressure is on Clay Helton after the Trojans finished with a losing record in 2018
USC has had to engage in a bit of rebuilding after former quarterback Sam Darnold went third overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Trojans turned to true freshman JT Daniels, who had a bit of a learning curve and had to deal with a daunting schedule.
Head coach Clay Helton didn’t have much support from fans following last season's 5-7 finish, USC's first losing campaign since 2000. Helton got the dreaded vote of confidence from equally embattled athletic director Lynn Swann and is back for the 2019 season, but it's no secret he's on the hot seat.
You’d think a head coach who has already led his team to a Holiday, Rose, and Cotton Bowl would have more support from fans but that’s simply not the case and Helton won't get any breaks from the schedule-makers either.
The 2019 slate opens with a game against a Fresno State team that won 10 games last season. The Trojans also make a trip to Provo to face BYU, and do so after playing Stanford and prior to facing Utah. And don't forget about the week 6 date with Notre Dame, a College Football Playoff participant last season.
The second half of USC's schedule features home games against Arizona, Oregon and UCLA as well as a road date with a rejuvenated Arizona State program under Herm Edwards. One of the few breaks appears to be the Trojans' divisional matchup with Colorado but that game is in Boulder and is followed by the visit from the Ducks.
So what are the expectations for the Men of Troy in what is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for Helton? Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for USC in 2019.
USC Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The 2019 season will be a make-or-break year for Clay Helton at USC. On paper, there's a lot to like. The Trojans return a solid front on defense, a talented quarterback in JT Daniels and one of the nation's best receiving corps. However, big concerns in the trenches and in the secondary loom over this team heading into Week 1. Helton made good hires to restock his staff this offseason, but a tough schedule won't do him any favors. I went with a 7-5 finish but could see anywhere from 6-6 to 8-4.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
This is obviously a pivotal season for Clay Helton at USC. I'm not sure there is a magic number of wins he needs to save his job, but there is no doubt the Trojans need to show significant improvement this fall. And they should be improved, but I'm not sure my forecast (7-5 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12) is good enough. The first half of the schedule is as tough as it gets for any team nationally; I've got USC winning the first two, both at home, then losing four straight (including an upset loss at BYU). The Trojans should rebound after that. There is a decent chance they can run the table on the back half of the slate, but I've got a loss at Arizona State on Nov. 9.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
USC is facing a make-or-break year under Clay Helton, and the Trojans may not enjoy the luxury of having their head coach for the remainder of the season if he doesn't win enough in the early going. Faced with one of the toughest schedules in college football, USC will have to hit the ground running with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. If the Trojans can find a way to balance their new-look offense with an improved defense, the Trojans have a chance to compete in the Pac-12 South. Whomever Harrell taps to lead the offense will be expected to handle the new air-raid-based attack with ease. The non-conference slate consists of BYU, Fresno State, and Notre Dame. USC also draws Oregon and Washington in the North. If Helton is still standing after Week 5, then USC is likely going to be a factor in the Pac-12 in 2019.