Storylines to watch
Who takes over for Sam Darnold at quarterback?
It’s going to be the biggest question of the spring and it’s going to stretch into the season as well for the Trojans. It wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world either if more than one quarterback ends up starting early in the year until they settle on the position.
With a wide-open competition and not much tape to go off of, the Trojans are going to have to really dig in to figure out who is going to be lining up under center for them this fall and for the future.
J.T. Daniels is the big name everyone is going to be watching for, but he isn’t enrolling until the fall. Matt Fink has seen the time on the field and the others are going to have their shot as well to play quarterback.
Clay Helton’s done some incredible things in his first two years as the coach and has found himself in this spot before with Max Browne and Sam Darnold. That very well ended up working out in his favor after making the switch to Darnold. Can he land on the right guy to start this time again?
Do the Trojans have the best defense in the Pac-12?
This one could be a bit ambitious, but the USC Trojans have some serious talent returning on the defensive side of the football this upcoming season. They will have to offset the losses of Uchenna Nwosu, Rasheem Green and others, but they have the pieces in place to do so.
Senior inside linebacker Cameron Smith is going to be the star of the defense and will be called upon to make the biggest impact. Porter Gustin should have a huge role stepping up to replace the loss of Nwosu on the outside.
Clancy Pendergast’s defense will look like the prototypical 5-2 that he loves to run every year and that means getting after the quarterback. The Trojans excel at getting to the quarterback and led all of college football last year with 43 sacks.
With a strong front end of the defense that can get to the quarterback, it will allow their secondary to feast. The Trojans are returning every starter in the secondary but one. Iman Marshall, Marvell Tell III, Ajene Harris and Jack Jones are big-time playmakers that can turn a game in one play.
Being the best defense in the Pac-12 is a tough task, considering what Chris Petersen has done with the Huskies, David Shaw’s job with Stanford and of course the always tough Utah Utes, but USC has the personnel to be the top-ranked defense in the conference.
Can USC be a playoff contender?
The big question that follows USC is the same question that follows them every year: Can they be a playoff contender? The Pac-12 is coming off of a season they would certainly like to forget.
After winning just one bowl game as a conference, they were thoroughly embarrassed under a national spotlight. When it comes to turning things around, it’s going to take one of their pillars to lead the way.
USC’s past makes them that pillar the conference is going to rely on. However, it’s a long road to that point and the Trojans have plenty of personnel questions they have to answer before they can begin even thinking about UNLV and Week 1.
Right now, they’re looking for their next starting quarterback and solidifying the running back spot along with many other positions. At the end of the day, they’re only going to go far if the offense can come together early in the season.
Right now, they know they can rely on the defense and a stout special teams unit. Two-thirds of the picture is pretty clear, it’s the other third that is the big deal that is going to be Clay Helton and Tee Martin’s to sort out. A new backfield and a wide receiver unit in transition is the big story. The good news for the Trojans’ offense is that their offensive line and tight ends should be a major strength. Both are veteran heavy and should make the transition that much easier.