#3 USC Football 2017 Preview


USC Trojans


Overall Rank: #3

#1 Pac-12

Following a 1-3 start, USC finished the 2016 season with nine straight victories. Those losses came against Alabama, Stanford and Utah away from home so none of them were bad losses, but the Trojans started to play better after that opening stretch and were one of the best teams in the country by the end of the season. USC ended the regular season with road wins against Washington and UCLA and a big 45-27 victory over Notre Dame. And they followed it up with an impressive 52-49 come from behind victory over Penn State in a thrilling Rose Bowl.
2016 Record: 10-3, 7-2
2016 Bowl: Rose Bowl vs. Penn State (W 52-49)
Coach: Clay Helton (16-7 at USC, 16-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tee Martin
Defensive Coordinator: Clancy Pendergast
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Ronald Jones, RB, 1,082 yards
Passing: Sam Darnold, QB, 3,086 yards
Receiving: Deontay Burnett, WR, 622 yards
Tackles: Cameron Smith, LB, 83
Sacks: Rasheem Green, DT, 6.0
Interceptions: Iman Marshall, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: DE Porter Gustin, DE Uchenna Nwosu, LB Ajene Harris
Key Losses: RB Justin Davis, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Darreus Rogers, OL Chad Wheeler, OL Zach Banner, OL Damien Mama, LB Michael Hutchings, DL Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, DB Adoree’ Jackson
Sam Darnold was under center for those nine victories and one of the reasons why the Trojans started to turn things around after a slow start. On the year he completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. That is pretty impressive for a freshman. With Darnold leading the way, USC can have a very impressive offense, but he will need some help with the departure of receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers. Deonta Burnett will likely be the new top target after catching 56 passes for 622 yards and seven touchdowns. Underclassmen like Joseph Lewis, Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman are extremely talented and will have to step up immediately. Perhaps the larger concern is whether or not the offensive line can rebuild quickly enough to give Darnold time to find his new receivers. And that line could hinder what otherwise looks like a very potent rushing attack. Ronald Jones tallied 1,082 yards and a dozen touchdowns last season.
Overall the defense is more experienced in 2017 than they were in 2016. Losing tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu is a big blow though. He often commanded a double team and Marlon Tuipulotu and Kenny Bigelow will have some big shoes to fill. Rasheem Green and Uchenna Nwosu are experienced linemen though and Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu are proven pass rushers. Gustin tallied 68 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13.0 tackles-for-loss last season. Cameron Smith was the only player who had more tackles with 83. He will again be the leader in the middle of the defense. The secondary has experience with safeties Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell and cornerback Iman Marshall. However, replacing Adoree’ Jackson, who left early for the NFL, could be a lingering concern. Sophomore Jack Jones is next in line.
The Bottom Line:
This is a young team, but there is no question that Coach Clay Helton has rebuilt USC into a College Football Playoff contender. The schedule is much nicer too since Washington is not on the Pac-12 schedule this year and USC doesn’t have to play Alabama in non-conference action. The non-conference slate is not easy though with games against Western Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame. However, the biggest early season test will likely come on September 9th against Stanford. The good news is that contest is at the Coliseum, but the young Trojans have to be ready to roll right away or they could quickly find themselves with a 0-1 Pac-12 record and chasing the rest of the way.
Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 200.7 (42nd in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 276.4 (25, 4)
Total Offense: 477.1 (20, 4)
Scoring Offense: 34.4 (36, 5)
Rushing Defense: 139.6 (31, 4)
Pass Defense: 227.5 (65, 6)
Total Defense: 367.2 (36, 3)
Scoring Defense: 24.2 (38, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (67, 8)
Sacks: 2.00 (68, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 0.92 (6, 1)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#1        Sam Darnold
#33      Ronald Jones II
#48      Cameron Smith
#66      Iman Marshall Jr
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#16      Stephen Carr
#23      Joseph Lewis
#44      Austin Jackson
#57      Jay Tufele
#70      Levi Jones
#80      Bubba Bolden
#95      Alijah Vera-Tucker
#112    Hunter Echols
#122    Josh Falo
#135    Marlon Tuipulotu
#142    Isaiah Pola-Mao
#154    Greg Johnson 
#163    Jack Sears