Are the Trojans actually underrated for once?
The USC Trojans entered the 2017 season on the shortlist for programs capable of winning the national championship. As is often the case. Also, as is often the case, USC came up short of those expectations.
Now, without the benefit of first round NFL Draft pick Sam Darnold at quarterback, explosive running back Ronald Jones II and leading receiver Deontay Burnett, who along with defensive end Rasheem Green opted to leave school early for a professional career, expectations have been largely muted. But should they be?
The Trojans lost some big names, but USC is still arguably the most talented team in the Pac-12. In terms of recruiting points, there’s no question. And though they rank last in the conference and No. 123 nationally in offensive returning production (40 percent), and 11th and 115th, respectively, in overall returning production (52 percent), the Trojans return a lot of starters. Two of three starting receivers return on offense, as do multiple tight ends with starting experience, and four of five starters on the offensive line, plus every backup up front.
With multiple highly recruited quarterbacks and running back Stephen Carr (assuming he returns healthy this fall after missing the spring due to back surgery) to replace Darnold and Jones, respectively, the offense should still be dangerous in 2018. USC must replace two-thirds of its starting defensive line, but returns six starters in the back seven, as well as nearly every contributing backup. Plus, the unit should benefit from the return from a reinforced linebacker corps that was rattled by injuries last year.
Because of their track record and the loss of talent and production the team suffered after last season, the Trojans aren’t likely to enter 2018 as Pac-12 favorites or in the playoff discussion. And that might be a mistake.