#16 USC Football 2020 Preview

USC Trojans
Overall Rank: #16
#2 Pac-12
 USC Logo
USC entered the 2019 season with a large overhaul to the program. However, Coach Clay Helton was still in charge of the program and he was able to hold everything together and lead the Trojans to a solid 8-5 season. After the 5-7 campaign in 2018, that was a big step in the right direction. Now, with so much talent returning, the expectations are getting back to where we assume them to be at USC.
2019 Record: 8-5, 7-2
2019 Bowl: Holiday Bowl vs. Iowa (L 24-49)
Coach: Clay Helton (40-22 at USC, 40-22 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Graham Harrell
Defensive Coordinator: Todd Orlando
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Vavae Malepeai, RB, 503 yards
Passing: Kedon Slovis, QB, 3,502 yards
Receiving: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, 1,042 yards
Tackles: Talanoa Hufanga, S, 90
Sacks: Drake Jackson, DL/LB, 5.5
Interceptions: Isaiah Pola-Mao, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Stephen Carr, RB Kenan Christon, RB Markese Stepp, WR Tyler Vaughns, WR Drake London, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, LB Kana’I Mauga, LB Palaie Gaoteote IV, CB Olaojah Griffin, CB Chris Steele, DL Jay Tufele, K Chase McGrath
Key Losses: WR Michael Pittman Jr, OL Austin Jackson, LB John Houston Jr
Quarterback JT Daniels was lost for the 2019 season with an ACL injury. He was the starter as a freshman in 2018 and threw for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns. When Daniels went down, freshman Kedon Slovis was ready to take over. He threw for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns. This will be a fierce and very intriguing quarterback battle. Either way, the Trojans have two proven quarterbacks. They also have a lot of other talent on offense. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns will be two of the best receivers in the Pac-12 and there is a ton of talent at that position looking to make an impact. The ground game was not great last season, but USC has options. Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, Kenan Christon and Markese Stepp all tallied at least 48 carries. Malepeai, Carr and Stepp are all different types of runners so USC could utilize them all if they can stay healthy. Or one could emerge as the workhorse of the bunch with the others providing some quality depth. Either way could be productive for the Trojans, but the unit as a whole does need to improve and that should be very doable as long as the backs can stay healthy.
The Trojans are taking a gamble on new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. After a middle of the pack defensive showing last season, USC must get better on defense if they are going to compete for a Pac-12 title. The new staff will mix things up a bit and that could leave openings for newcomers to make a big impact, but the Trojans do have some talent returning too. Drake Johnson led the team with 5.5 sacks last season and he will team up with linebackers Kana’I Mauga, Jay Tufele and Palaie Gaoteote as the most experienced options in the front seven. The secondary performed quite well last season and all four starters return in cornerbacks Olaojah Griffin and Chris Steele and safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao. With the new look defense there will be some changes for the secondary, but that is a solid group to build around and they should be able to be at least as productive as they were last season.
The Bottom Line:
Much of this season will come down to the defense. USC should have an explosive offense that can outscore just about anybody. But if they want to win consistently, the defense will have to improve. The defense, and the offense for that matter, will be tested right away when USC takes on Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Two weeks later is the conference opener at Stanford. This shouldn’t be a great Cardinal team, but that is always a tough road trip, especially that early in the season. Without Oregon State or Colorado on the slate, USC has a tough schedule, but this is a group talented enough to navigate their way through it and reach double digit victories.
Projected Bowl: Alamo Bowl
2019 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 119.6 (118th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 335.8 (6, 2)
Total Offense: 455.4 (20, 2)
Scoring Offense: 32.5 (35, 3)
Rushing Defense: 162.5 (72, 9)
Pass Defense: 246.2 (96, 4)
Total Defense: 408.7 (78, 6)
Scoring Defense: 29.4 (78, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.77 (119, 12)
Sacks: 2.69 (28, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (71, 7)
Madness 2020 NFL Draft Rankings:
#33 Jay Tufele
#54 Amon-Ra St. Brown