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IMHO Sunday: From Alabama to Alabama

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

It’s all in the Tide: One of the favorite political cliché questions during debate amongst candidates is “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” For those supporters and detractors of Trojans’ head football coach Clay Helton, you could ask the same question but in a different form. “Since the Trojans game against Alabama back in 2016 to the upcoming season opener against the Tide in 2020, is USC football better off today than it was four years ago?”

It’s all in the Tide – Part 2: Most Trojan fans, with the probable exception of first-year USC President Carol Folt and her athletic director Mike Bohn, remember Sept. 3, 2016, when the Trojans got crushed by Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, 52-6, in Arlington, Texas. And now four years later, there is the fear that Saban’s program will do a repeat of that game four years ago in the same venue, AT&T Stadium (cover photo above). Certainly, Clay Helton hopes not, but the fact remains is how much better are the Trojans now as they get ready for another encounter with the Tide in a little less than nine months?

Its’ all in the Tide – Part 3: Most of Helton’s USC success happened in 2016 when Sam Darnold eventually became the USC quarterback and with his magical athletic ability took Helton along with him to a dramatic Rose Bowl win over Penn State. A year later, 2017, Darnold and his Trojans’ teammates won the Pac-12 Conference. However, since that 2017 season that ended with a reality check 24-7 loss to Urban Meyer and Ohio State, the cardinal and gold program has been an average, searching for answers to a myriad of questions.

It’s all in the Tide – Part 4: From 2016 through 2017, Clay Helton’s record at USC was 21-6, thanks to Sam Darnold. From 2018 to the present without Darnold, Helton’s record is 13-12. Obviously, one does not expect a 13-12 record in your third and fourth season of a program, which now includes a two-game bowl losing streak. It would be safe to say that from the 2016 Alabama Crimson Tide to the approaching 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide, it paints a pretty transparent picture of why and where the USC football program is today.

The Trojans haven’t been quite the same since the departure of all-world quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above – No. 14)

It’s all in the Tide – Part 5: If President Folt and Mike Bohn don’t understand the extreme frustration of the current state of USC football, it’s probably because they haven’t analyzed the Clay Helton era from the perspective of 2016 Alabama to 2020 Alabama. Until they arrived at USC, understandably I doubt that either administrator was paying much attention to Trojans football from 2016 Alabama to 2020 Alabama. They have come into the Clay Helton era as the virtual caboose on Clay Helton’s production train. Bohn probably had a better idea of the Helton issues from an athletic standpoint, but it’s safe to say that Folt didn’t do a complete analysis of the football program the past four years. To be fair, it wasn’t her mandate, but it was her athlete director’s task. Folt could easily justify keeping Helton because she wasn’t brought to this university just to fix the football program but repair a learning institution with a multitude of legal and academic and athletic issues. Her support of Helton falls under the guise of “integrity” of the head coach.

It’s doubtful that USC President Carol Folt (photo above on right) has taken the time to see the evolution of the Clay Helton’s program from the 2016 Alabama game to the upcoming 2020 Alabama game. However, it’s more likely that athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above on left) has a more complete picture of the Clay Helton era from the last Alabama game to the approaching one.

It’s all in the Tide – Part 6: When people ask for some specifics on the frustration and anger by the USC fans base directed at Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn for letting the Clay Helton era continue, all you need to do is point out from Alabama to Alabama because it pretty much says it all. The only reason Trojans fans are still caught in this national football purgatory is because Dr. Folt – for whatever the reasons being financial or simply integrity – wants it that way, and Mike Bohn – doing nothing short of just resigning after being portrayed as possibly the fall guy – support it, as well.

From the press box…

It’s official: Former Texas defensive coordinator and recent Texas Tech linebackers coach Todd Orlando will be the new Trojans’ defensive coordinator. It’s universally agreed that in the past Clay Helton has been very sensitive regarding the attention – or lack of – paid to tackling drills and the overall physical intensity in USC football practices. The acknowledged belief of Todd Orlando is that in order to be both physically and mentally tough is to practice with a high level of physicality with plenty of scrimmages. In an introductory video on the official USC website, Orlando was interviewed and heavily emphasized, “You can’t practice soft and play hard.”

The Trojans announced on Friday that Todd Orlando (photo above) will be the new defensive coordinator in 2020.

It’s official – Part 2: Todd Orlando was a three-year (1991-93) letter winner as an inside linebacker for the University of Wisconsin and a member of the 1993 Big Ten Championship team that defeated UCLA in the Badgers’ first Rose Bowl appearance since 1963. 

Change of responsibility: The rumor circulating is that linebacker coach Johnny Nansen may be moving to special teams coach. The bigger question here is whether former Trojans’ legendary linebacker Chris Claiborne will be brought on the staff? No question that Claiborne would bring a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, knowledge, and understanding of what’s it like to be a USC defender – not to mention a potentially impressive recruiting force.  

Will former legendary linebacker and 1998 Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne (photo above) be added to Clay Helton’s staff in 2020?

The return: With little fanfare, it was learned that tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has returned to the team for the 2020 season. No question, Imatorbhebhe was – when healthy – a major weapon in the pre-air raid days under Clay Helton. We all remember what a weapon Daniel was when the Trojans, led by quarterback Sam Darnold, went up to Seattle in 2016 and upset the Huskies, 26-13. Injuries, however, bedeviled Imatorbhebhe the following years, and it all but appeared that the standout athlete was done at USC. 

The return – Part 2:
The big question now with tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe isn’t about his health –he must be healthy enough to play – but rather does the Imatorbhebhe addition mean anything since in Graham Harrell’s air raid offense the tight end is anything but a featured weapon? It could be argued that the tight end position is almost an afterthought.

Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (photo above – No. 88) has been added to the 2020 Trojans’ roster

The return – Part 3:
Daniel Imatorbhebhe’s return puts him in tight end competition with returners Erik Krommenhoek, Jude Wolfe, Josh Falo, and Ethan Rae. No, the Trojans are not hurting for tight ends, but the question is whether they are used as a part of the offense.

The debate:
If you want to get into a friendly conversation with your Trojan buddies, try debating whether offensive tackle Austin Jackson should or should not have entered his name into the 2020 NFL draft.

Should junior All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Austin Jackson (photo above) have entered the NFL draft?

The post-game show…

A bunch of bull-dogs:
The Trojans announced Thursday that Fresno State will again play the Men of Troy in 2028 in the Coliseum. The Trojans and Bulldogs will also play in 2022 and 2026. FYI, the Trojans are 3-1 against FSU. And, BTW, would the Trojans ever dare travel to play at Fresno State in the future?  

Still searching: With Steve Lopes now out of the USC athletic department, who will make the call in the UC Davis removal from the 2021 football schedule, and who will the Trojans play in place of the Aggies, who were scheduled to play the first game in 2021?

It’s being said that the Trojans are trying to delete UC Davis (photo above) from the 2021 seasonal opener in the Coliseum.

The Pro Bowl: The Trojans have had more players participate in the NFL’s Pro Bowl Game – the league’s all-star game – than any other team. At last count, the Trojans have had 226 players play in the Pro Bowl.

When last we saw former Trojans’ defensive end Everson Griffen performing in cardinal and gold, he was announcing his early departure to the NFL moments after the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. Some thought that Griffen’s NFL career would be pedestrian, but Everson has surprised those doubters by being named to his fourth Pro Bowl. 

If you’re near your calendar, you probably want to put into your Nov. 14 square a note that this will be the Trojans Homecoming Game, and the opponent will be the Washington Huskies and first-year head coach Jimmy Lake.

The Trojans have selected the Washington Huskies as the USC Homecoming Game (photo above) on Nov. 14.

Homecoming – Part 2: The week before the Trojans host Washington for the homecoming game, the Trojans will be doing battle at Oregon, a trip into Autzen Stadium for the first time since 2015.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Sir, do you get off being so negative regarding our beloved USC football program? Excuse me, I wouldn’t say this messenger is negative. I would call it realism – speaking truth to power. Maybe it’s my late 1960s protest genes. Look, we’re just the messenger and attempt to give an opinion based on past history and some insider information. Were you complaining when all that I was writing during the Pete Carroll was basically positive? I once had a reader ask me why I wrote nothing negative about Carroll and his team. My response was what was there to be negative about? All they do is win and are entertaining, too.  

By winning at such a wonderful rate as the Trojans’ head coach, Pete Carroll (photo above) received mostly positive media coverage during his tenure with the cardinal and gold.

Caller No. 2: GK, why do you think there was such a delay with the announcement that Todd Orlando was the new defensive coordinator? It was my understanding that Orlando had some financial issues that apparently needed to be worked out in terms of his pay from Texas, where he was fired with some time still left on his Longhorns’ contract along with his brief Texas Tech coaching assignment. Another possible holdup was perhaps USC staffing on the defensive side of the ball. With Orlando now officially on board, we should learn shortly the fate of the current defensive staff members. 

Caller No. 3: Katz, why are the Trojans so invested in recruiting Texas when they are in the middle of a recruiting goldmine here in Southern California? The easy answer is that Clay Helton has not been able to recruit SoCal as in the past due to all the factors you are aware – perception and credibility. Look at the unbelievable amount of local players that have left SoCal for places like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon and you name it. Not a pretty sight and a reflection on the Helton program – whether he likes it or not. Getting back to your question, including Helton, there are now a growing number of USC staff – if you include new DC Todd Orlando that have deep Texas roots. Obviously, recruiting Texas is a good idea but in the long range it’s more of an indication of the current state of California recruiting. Currently, out-of-area coaches know they have a legit chance to land star players from SoCal that under “normal” circumstances would be headed to Troy.

Because of recruiting challenges in Southern California and with a staff that has some Texas roots, Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton (photo above) has made a big recruiting push in the Lone Star State.

Caller No. 4: Coach, are you concerned about the Trojans having to replace both starting offensive tackles in Austin Jackson and Drew Richmond? Probably not as concerned as returning Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis and his parents. With new offensive tackles in the offering for 2020, Trojans offensive line coach Drew Drevno will be responsible to a large degree in making sure that Slovis gets through the season in one piece.

Caller No. 5: Mr. K., since you write about your love of rock and roll music, give me two songs that you feel are legendary at first thought. Okay, I’ll “play” along. If I am forced to say two iconic songs for me, I – again – dating myself, would go with the Stones “Satisfaction”, the Doors “Light my Fire”, and probably a surprise pick – the Buffalo Springfield’s “For what it’s worth”, which I also find appropriate for even today’s current political climate. I know, you asked for two songs. 

The Doors (photo above) and “Light My Fire” were one of our all-time favorite hits growing up.

The Final Word: Don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for the February signing period to see what Clay Helton and his staff can pull out of their recruiting hats. It always gets back to the hat in this day and age, doesn’t it?

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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