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IMHO Sunday: How long?

Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

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

Length of time: Although it’s a sign of the times, it’s unfortunate that Trojans’ Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Sam Darnold (photo above) hasn’t even begun spring ball of his second season and the huge buzz – especially at the NFL Combine –  is how good he is already, thus fueling how long No. 14 will stay at Troy after the upcoming football campaign?

Jitters department: In the end, Sam Danold will stay as long as he wants. Nonetheless, Trojans fans will be holding their collective breaths throughout the 2017 season to see if this is the final season of what could be a legendary collegiate career. To be reasonable, let’s enjoy Sam for as long as he dons the cardinal and gold, and then let him do what’s best for his future. Whatever his decision next winter, there is little question that it will come from the heart and will be an informed selection.

Sign of the times: No question, playing three seasons of college or less – depending on your athletic and/or academic standing – and then moving on to the NFL draft is a way of life. However, there have been exceptions with former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart bucking the trend and playing through his senior season.

The process: The big question, as it pertains to Sam Darnold, is how much better can he get? The feeling here is a lot.  After all, Slinging Sammy has played “only” one complete season and with the dramatic 2017 Rose Bowl win, there’s no substitute for experience.

The secret service: A lot of what Sam Darnold accomplishes in 2017 will defend on a rebuilt offensive line. As great as he is at avoiding a rush and improvising, he could be challenged in terms of pocket time. Let’s not forget, last season Darnold had the protection of two experienced All-Pac-12 tackles and an experienced second-team All-Pac-12 offensive guard. However, Darnold’s ability to scramble and improvise certainly was a factor in making the offensive line probably better than what it really was.

Better to give than receive: No doubt, Sam Darnold will be more than willing to spread the ball to a new assortment of receivers in 2017. It’ll be critical in spring ball for Darnold to find receivers that he can trust will run the correct routes and catch passes. Even if the young and inexperienced young receivers step up in the spring, will they be able to handle the spotlight of the big stage during regular season?

How much: How much and how long will Trojans head coach Clay Helton allow Sam Darnold to be in weekly spring scrimmage situations? Will Helton restrict his superstar quarterback from his legendary scrambles? Let’s face it, Helton already knows what Darnold can do. What needs to be determined is can backup QB challengers Jalen Greene, Matt Fink, and Jack Sears gain enough confidence and separate themselves? In a perfect world, Greene would stay at wide receiver if Fink or Sears prove they can move the team.

From the press box…

The principal coach: Not only has newly announced running backs coach Deland McCullough been a “prolific” college running backs coach and was himself a “skilled” player in the NFL, CFL, and XFL, he was also once an educational principal. McCullough worked in education at the high school level as a teacher, head football coach, athletic director and certified principal. He was the head coach at Harmony Community School in Cincinnati (Ohio) for four seasons (2001-04).

The principal coach – Part 2: For his running back accomplishments at Miami (Ohio), Deland McCullough was inducted into the Miami Athletics Hall of Fame in 2004.

Nighttime in South Bend: Once again, NBC has decided to air the Trojans and the Irish in primetime from Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 ET/4:30 PT.

Nighttime in South Bend – Part 2: The Irish will have a bye week a week before the Trojans come calling. It’s conceivable that the Men of Troy could be undefeated when they arrive in South Bend, but the week before the Cardinal and Gold host physical Utah in the Coliseum. FYI, following the trip to ND, the Trojans will make another road trip to ASU, another game that figures to be played under the stars.

Nighttime in South Bend – Part 3: Notre Dame also announced the 2019 USC game will be played on Oct. 12, a week earlier than usual in Notre Dame Stadium. The good news is that maybe it will be a little warmer in Northern Indiana. You can bet that 2019 game, too, will be a night affair.

Nighttime in South Bend – Part 4: The bad news about playing a night game at Notre Dame is that the clock is not in your favor if you are driving east from Chicago. South Bend is on Eastern Standard Time, an hour ahead of Chicago. I guess the good news – if you want to call it that – is that late night drive back to Chicago you gain your hour back. Let’s put it this way, if the game ends at 11 p.m. and you actually get out of congested South Bend exit traffic by midnight, you should get back to Chicago around 1 a.m. Central Time.

It’s rank: Despite the return of Sam Darnold, should we be shocked if the Washington Huskies are ranked ahead of the Trojans in some 2017 preseason polls?

It’s rank – Part 2: The irony to 2017 is that the Trojans and the Huskies won’t meet this season unless they play in the Pac-12 Championship Game in December.

True confessions: At this week’s NFL Combine, former Trojans running back Justin Davis told The Times he still can’t believe the end of the 2017 Rose Bowl. Davis said, “Once the field goal (by Matt Boermeester) went through the uprights, I just had to pause for a minute and think about how we even got there. It kind of still doesn’t even feel real, just in terms of all the stuff that we kind of went through in our time there. It just makes it so much better, knowing that I finished a career that I really hoped something special would happen. For it to actually happen was unbelievable.”

Touching: Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin has hired his father and former USC Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin as a high level assistant coach at Florida Atlantic.

On target: The NCAA has decided not to “tinker” with the current “targeting” rule, which holds a defensive player accountable for leading with his helmet into the helmet of a ball carrier.

The post-game show…

The combine: Nothing tells the true measure of the tape like the NFL Combine, which doesn’t fudge on physical stats. Honestly, many college rosters tend to be somewhat inaccurate in their physical numbers of a player. When John Robinson’s Trojans were at their zenith in the late 70s and early 80s, the offensive linemen – as big and muscular as they were – were almost always downgraded in height and weight. And, yes, I have firsthand knowledge of this revelation, so help me Bruce Matthews, Brad Budde, Roy Foster, and Keith Van Horne. I saw them step on the scales underneath Heritage Hall with my own eyes. Former Trojans legendary offensive line coach Hudson Houck once turned to me and laughed when I mentioned the discrepancy between the program roster numbers and the reality of my direct observations.

The combine – Part 2: I remember former Trojans immortal Hall of Fame offensive guard Bruce Matthews listed at 265 pounds in the program, and when I watched him step on the Heritage Hall scale with Hudson Houck and me in observance, Matthews tipped the scale at 290.

Bench pressing: At the NFL Combine, RB Justin Davis (6-1, 208) had an impressive 21 reps on the bench press, which was more than some of the offensive linemen.

Bench pressing – Part 2: In terms of the former Trojan offensive linemen bench press (225 pounds) results, they were mixed. All-Pac-12 tackle Zack Banner’s 22 while All-Pac-12 tackle Chad Wheeler had bottom performance of 15 reps. Second team All-Pac-12 guard Damien Mama was listed as not participating.

Bench press – Part 3: To put things into offensive line bench press perspective, Utah lineman Isaac Asiata had leader 35 reps while Utah’s Sam Tevi tied Wheeler for the least amount of reps.     

Belaboring a point: Former Trojans recruit Sean Harlow, who badly wanted to be a USC Trojan like his father Pat, an all-star offensive lineman, participated admirably in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Harlow, from San Clemente (Calif.) High, went on to Oregon State and had an outstanding career. You get all sorts of stories why Sean wasn’t offered a Trojans ride. Great kid, great family, and we wish them all the best; however, there’s still part of me that thinks “Who goofed, I’ve got to known?”

Nike combine: Nike will again hold its annual Southern California high school underclass “combine” on Sunday, March 26, at El Camino College. Selected players from this activity and other regional camps across the country will be invited to Nike’s prestigious “The Opening” in Oregon during early summer.

The last word: Hope to you see all at spring practice beginning Tuesday. There is enough position intrigue, and Sam Darnold to keep us all entertained in the coming weeks.

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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