By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
Pasadena dreaming: I fully understand that getting into and winning a College Football Playoff national championship is the ultimate USC Trojans goal, but after watching Friday’s Rose Bowl Game between Stanford and Iowa, I’ll considering the Men of Troy are “on their way back” when Clay Helton takes the Men of Troy back to “home” to Pasadena on New Years Day.
Rush to judgment: Clay Helton sold his USC future on being physical and having a physical running game. I’ll take Helton at his word, but the Holiday Bowl certainly seemed like a contradiction – especially in the first half – when the Trojans looked like a Sark/Kiffin throwing team. And let’s not forget that both Sarkisian and Kiffin preached they wanted to be a physical running team, which did not consistently materialize in their tenures.
The promise: Clay Helton said after the Holiday Bowl that his number one priority in the off-season is for the Trojans to be physical on both sides of the ball in the trenches. What Trojans fans, football alumni, and the media want to see is that commitment. It’s now all about Helton’s own credibility. I take the Holiday Bowl as an anomaly and give Helton a pass. This is what will be intriguing about spring ball. Spring ball will be all about action and not words, and I believe Helton knows that and his assistant coaching selections will reflect that.
Band of brothers: The common bond among Clay Helton, Steve Sarkisian, and Lane Kiffin are that all three are former quarterbacks, and quarterbacks by rule love to pass the ball first and run second. And if you think that Kiffin has changed at Alabama, you can bet he is on the strongest of leashes from Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz: After Wednesday’s Holiday Bowl, Trojans head coach Clay Helton said, “It’s a game that I am going to look back and watch the film and be a little bit sick.” Helton won’t get any argument from the Trojans fan base that was probably more than “a little sick” following the loss to the Badgers. Frustrated and angry might be more accurate.
It’s true: Despite the Trojans losing the last 3 of 4 games in 2015 to finish 8-6, Helton has every right to sell positives, and he has made sure that he reminds those in shouting distance his Trojans still won the difficult Pac-12 South Division. It’s important because recruiting season will soon to be back in full swing and winning the Pac-12 South is something Helton can legitimately sell.
Clancy return?: With LSU’s hiring of former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as the Tigers new DC, all signs are pointing to a probable return of former Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (2013) as Helton’s DC choice. I would take that as a major plus if Clancy returns.
Latest coaching rumors: Aside from the rumor that Clay Helton will be hiring his brother, Tyson (offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky) for an offensive position to be named, a number of news outlets are also reporting that Western Kentucky offensive line coach Neil Callaway will accept the offensive line position with the Trojans.
More Callaway: If the rumors of Neil Callaway come to fruition, there is a Helton family connection. Callaway, 60, was the University of Houston’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator from 1993–96 under Clay Helton’s father, Kim. Callaway also coached at Auburn and played for the legendary Bear Bryant at Alabama. He was also a former head coach at Alabama Birmingham. This is the type of experience and age that has been lacking on recent USC coaching staffs.
Last add Callaway: Neil Callaway would give the Trojans a strong recruiting presence in the Southeast. He coached under former Georgia head coach Mark Richt in Athens where the Bulldogs won three SEC division titles and two conference championships during Callaway’s six seasons “between the hedges.” FYI, he was hired by Bobby Petrino to be the O-line coach at Western Kentucky. Say what you want about Petrino’s personal behavior, but the man can coach and knows football.
The insiders: There are those inside the John McKay Center that have been saying all along that the 2016 USC Trojans will be a much better team than the 2015 club. With the kind of murderess schedule next season, they’d better be.
Perspectives: Although Clay Helton named Trojans wide receiver coach Tee Martin as his offensive coordinator and play caller for 2016, Helton called the plays in the 23-21 Holiday Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Conversely, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich named Ducks wide receiver coach Matt Lubick as his new offensive coordinator and play caller for 2016 and allowed Lubick to call the plays in Oregon’s 47-41 triple overtime loss to TCU in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday night. Maybe Helfrich would like to review the current status of his defensive coordinator.
Deja vu: After last season’s 2014 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska, former Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian proclaimed a 9-4 record as a “total success.” After the Trojans 23-21 loss to Wisconsin and finishing the season at 8-6, USC head coach Clay Helton said, “I think that we’re on the rise, I really do. You look at the amount of talent coming back. You look at it, you think, ‘Wow, the future is so, so bright.’ ’’
IMHO: You won’t have to debate whether the Trojans are the more talented team when they open 2016 against Alabama. And don’t tell me the Tide will have to replace a number of players that have departed to the NFL. The Tide simply reload as the Trojans once did under Pete Carroll. As for 2016, I’d rather play The Tide in game No. 1 than game No. 10.
Roll Tide: So Trojans fans, the way the 2015 season ended, are you still as excited about facing Alabama in the 2016 season opener next September as you were after the Holiday Bowl?
Red flag: During Holiday Bowl practices, a number of returning Trojans for 2016 openly commented how excited they were about playing Alabama. Wasn’t that kind of an ominous foreshadowing as it pertained to focusing in on Wisconsin?
From the press box…
Just wondering: Wouldn’t you have liked to have been inside the brain of Trojans athletic director Pat Haden as the events unfolded during and after the Holiday Bowl?
The streak lives: The Trojans continued a conference streak in which the previous teams that lost in the Pac-12 title game also lost in their ensuing bowl game.
The turnstiles: Because of the excitement and anticipation of the game, the National Funding Holiday Bowl attendance of 48,329 was a rather disappointing turnout. Of course, the 7:30 p.m. kickoff didn’t help. And, yes, it got pretty chilly at Qualcomm Stadium.
The jam: After the game, fans returning back to Orange County and the Los Angeles area were greeted by a huge roadwork traffic jam in San Clemente, which probably got most fans home well after midnight.
On second thought: During the Holiday Bowl pregame banquet at the San Diego Hilton Bayside, part of the program featured comments from San Diego mayor Kevin Faulkconer, who drew a loud groan from the massive gathering when he said, “I want to thank Wisconsin fans for spending lots of money in San Diego. It makes me happy.” Not quite the response that Faulkconer was expecting.
The view: Spending a couple of days in downtown San Diego for the Holiday Bowl reminded me once again how beautiful the San Diego skyline looks lit up at night.
The post-game show…
The Cardinal: I loved the spirit of Iowa and its fans, but for my money I wanted Stanford to beat the Hawkeyes, which it did rather convincingly, 45-16. Nope, wasn’t shocked at all that the Rose Bowl turned into Iowa’s Kinnek Stadium. Stanford obviously didn’t care.
Oy veh: Is there any possible way that Stanford’s junior-to-be All-Universe running back Christian McCaffrey can be waved into the NFL before the Trojans travel up to Palo Alto next season for their Sept. 17 meeting with the Cardinal? Folks, he was the best player in America this season and will be the same next season.
Speaking of the Tide: I’ll go out on a limb and pick Alabama to win it all next Monday night against Clemson. Then again, back in August, I picked Nick Saban’s team to win it all.
The truth: Now honestly, I know how happy many of you were when Nebraska beat UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl, but how many of you were really euphoric when Bruins standout running back Paul Perkins declared for the 2016 NFL draft along with stellar defensive tackle Kenny Clark?
In memory: So it was so very sad to have confirmed that former Trojans wide receiver Sam Dickerson had passed at the young age of 66 to cancer. I was actually sitting in the back end zone when Sam made his legendary catch with precious time remaining to help defeat UCLA, 14-12, in 1969.
The last word: Still debated today: Was Sam Dickerson’s catch a legit touchdown in the back corner of the closed end of the Coliseum or was No. 18 out of bounds? Forever the question is asked. In today’s replay world, I would be willing to bet there would be no conclusive evidence and the ref would have said, “The play stands as called. Touchdown.”