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IMHO Sunday: Is RB Raleek Brown’s Oklahoma verbal a huge red flag?

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

The warning: When Class of 2022 running back Raleek Brown (Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei), arguably one of the nation’s top three running backs, made his recent verbal to Oklahoma, the normal school of thought was that Brown may be a Sooner today, but we’ll see if he eventually becomes a Trojan next December. In other words, can the Trojans flip the super running back or is this a red flag that foreshadows the future when it comes to USC recruiting elite high school running backs?

The warning – Part 2: Especially in Southern California recruiting, historically the Trojans have “flipped” players from outside invaders and brought them to the right side, but will that be the case with Raleek Brown? The elephant in the room facing the Trojans coaching staff, especially HC Clay Helton, OC Graham Carroll, and RB coach Mike Jinks is the fact that the Trojans finished last in 2020 Pac-12 team rushing statistics and tenth in 2019 Pac-12 team rushing, so how do you prevent competitors like Oklahoma from reenforcing that point to Raleek and others? You don’t. The only way to show this won’t be a continuous future pattern is to prove it on the field in 2021.

The warning – Part 3: In 2021, the Trojans have the option of continuing its passing game dedication with lip service to running the ball or they can continue its passing game dedication and make a substantial rededication to running the ball effectively. If you don’t run the ball – especially after coming in last in the Pac-12 – how do you persuade blue chip backs – especially in California – to sign up for cardinal and gold duty? The reality is that you don’t. Once the envy of college football, the legend of the USC tailback is non-existent at the present time. The last great Trojan back we’ve seen run with effectiveness is recent Super Bowl winner Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That was accomplished back in the day when HC Clay Helton emphasized a balanced offense.

Signing out of McKinney, Texas, Ronald Jones (photo above) went on to become USC’s last great All-America running back..

The warning – Part 4:
So, the Trojans have one last golden opportunity in 2021 to reinvent its running game, but only IF offensive coordinator Graham Harrell chooses to adjust his philosophy and places a greater emphasis on running the ball to go along with his potent passing game. Thus far, Harrell has a two-season track record of running stats that will have dramatically descended, which greatly restricts the Trojans chances of successfully signing elite running backs.

The warning – Part 5: It was curious that new offensive line coach Clay McGuire seemed to indicate that he could bring a philosophical change to the running game for no better reason than he has a friendship with OC Graham Harrell. Maybe that will be true, but judging from Harrell’s public comments regarding passing and running, McGuire may have his work cut out for him. I liked what McGuire said, but it remains to be seen if Harrell is willing to be open-minded.

The warning – Part 6:
Of course, another elephant in the room is Trojans head coach Clay Helton, who no doubt has to know if he can’t present running back recruits with some sort of concrete evidence that the Trojans will run the ball and with proficiency, he is in deep trouble in the recruiting game. Will Helton stand up and assert his desire to Harrell that things have to change or will recruiting running backs in California and the nation become an exercise in futility? If the Trojans can’t re-energize their running game, they can forget about Raleek Brown and the Najee Harris 5-star level talents in the Golden State.

In 2021, Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) will be under scrutiny to have a more effective running attack. (Photo by Jordon Kelly)

The warning – Part 7: Of course, the fallout of not being able to recruit running backs could also extend to offensive linemen. I think O-line coach Clay McGuire is right-on when he says that the best teams in the country have a powerful running game and that takes stud linemen, which means recruiting at a high level.

From the press box…

Interesting: Former USC assistant coach Deland McCullough, now a former running backs coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, has become associate head coach/running backs coach at Indiana, according to Football Scoop.

Former Trojans running backs coach Deland McCullough (photo above) has left the Kansas City Chiefs and returned to the University of Indiana as both associate head coach and running backs coach.

Crystal ball: Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was given a contract extension to 2028, which is of note to those that think of Campbell as a potential USC head coaching candidate should that position become open. It should also be noted that Campbell may have an “out” to his contract if a position opens up at another university of choice.  

The trend:
CBSSports.com did a recruiting analysis of the last five seasons and found that the top five schools included in order: Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson.

The trend – Part 2:
In the CBS recruiting report and mentioning schools that were on the accent or decline, CBS wrote, “It’s important to include USC (on the decline) here not because it fits the criteria as much as it also is an example of a bounce-back in progress. Statistically, this is still a downward trend in our five-year sample with back-to-back No. 4 classes in 2017 and 2018 followed by No. 20 in 2019 and No. 55 in 2020.

The Trojans recruiting bounced back in fine fashion in 2021 by signing such top prospects like linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above). The Trojans finished its recruiting class with a Top 10 national group.

The trend – Part 3: CBS added, “But that historically-low ranking for USC is clearly the depths of the recruiting struggles, and Clay Helton was able to make it a blip by signing a top-10 class in 2021. Not only have the additions of players like Korey Foreman and Raesjon Davis helped solidify where USC stands in battles for California’s top talent, but they’ve created some momentum that has given the Trojans a good start on the 2022 class as well.”

Duck and cover: Returning Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough announced he is not returning to the Ducks but will instead be entering the NCAA Transfer Portal. Shough figures to be replaced by backup Anthony Brown, originally a grad transfer from Boston College. The Ducks have also signed Class of 2021 Arizona prep star Ty Thompson, a 4-star prospect.

Returning Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough (photo above), who played against the Trojans in the 2020 Pac-12 title game, has announced he is entering the NCAA Transfer Portal. (Photo by John McGillen)

The post-game show…

Honest Sun Devil: Chris Claiborne, former Trojans All-America linebacker, only USC Butkus Award winner, member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, and now first-year linebackers coach at ASU, was asked about competing against his alma mater. Chris said, “Yes, USC has a great history. I know that, I’ve been there and been a part of it. But at the end of the day, I’m looking forward to what I got to do and be able to do with the linebackers that I have here. It’s not personal, just straight business.”

Former Trojans linebacking legend Chris Claiborne (photo above) is now the linebackers coach at Arizona State and says that facing his alma mater is “not personal, but business.”

IMHO: I am not sure when, but one day both Chris Claiborne and current ASU DB coach and former Trojan Chris Hawkins will return to USC to coach, and don’t count out the return of former Trojan Prentice Gill, current Sun Devils receiver coach, who turned down a chance to return to USC to coach the 2021 tight ends.

The Cranes: Crane High School, the alma mater of both first-year USC coaches Clay McGuire and Seth Doege, is known as the Golden Cranes.

Just wondering:
With COVID and the current climate surrounding USC football, wouldn’t you like to know currently how many season tickets have been sold or cancelled for the 2021 season?

The Coliseum (photo above) did not have fans in attendance in 2020 due to COVID, and there has been no public information regarding how many season tickets for 2021 have been sold or cancelled.

The newcomer: In checking out new USC football program addition Bryan Carrington, not only is he listed as a quality control assistant, but it was illuminating to see Carrington also listed as with title of “running backs.” Hmmm.

New quality control analyst Bryan Carrington (photo above) also has the title of “running backs.” Carrington is another University of Texas transplant.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Greg, do you expect the Trojans to dip into the NCAA Transfer Portal before spring practice?

Caller No. 1, I don’t think the Trojans are done adding players to their roster, and I am not so sure the current roster will still be the same as it is when spring practice rolls around. There are two things to consider: (1) The Trojans would still like to pick up a seasoned left tackle if possible and (2) Once spring practice is completed, will there be any departures? Clay Helton doesn’t like to release a depth chart if possible, but if he does, you can be sure that there will be plenty of “or” for each position group.  

Caller No. 2: Sir, do you think next season we’ll see Reggie Bush’s No. 5 jersey hanging on the steps on the peristyle end of the Coliseum along with the other Heisman Trophy winners?   

Caller No. 2, it’s possible that USC could take the stance that Bush deserves to have his jersey back and even if he doesn’t get his Heisman back, the Trojans athletic department could show its protest by displaying the jersey anyway. Although not much has been said at the present time, it’s possible there has been some movement to have conversations with the Heisman folks.   

Will Reggie Bush’s No 5 jersey (photo above) be on display in the peristyle end of the Coliseum in 2021?

Caller No. 3: G-Kat, do you think that by not having any home attendance in 2020 that it gave Clay Helton more job security?  

Caller No. 3, attendance increases to declines would certainly be a measuring stick for the arguing for or against Helton. However, since there is no definite future regarding attendance for 2021, it would figure that it all comes down to wins and losses. I personally believe that Gentleman Clay needs to win the Pac-12 and get to the Rose Bowl to keep his job. A trip to a lower bowl would not be considered as progress and would mean that Helton has one conference title in six years.   

Caller No. 4: Greggor, now that the Trojans have had a very successful recruiting Class of 2021 with an emphasis on defense, how much pressure will be on the offensive staff for the Class of 2022?

Caller No. 4, I think there is a lot of pressure, especially with the recruiting of offensive linemen, running backs, and, of course, receivers. So much of recruiting on the offensive end could also depend on what the future offense is going to be if Graham Harrell and/or Clay Helton depart. Right now, there is a lot of unknowns that will only be answered by playing out the 2021 season. I will say this, if a new coach comes in, I don’t think it will hurt offensive recruiting if the change is done reasonably early at the end of the season.  

New Trojans offensive line coach Clay McGuire (photo above) will be under scrutiny for future offensive line recruiting.

Caller No. 5: Mr. Katz, what is the best concert that you’ve ever attended?

Caller No. 5, funny you asked that question. I was texting with a friend, and she asked me what was the best concert that I’ve ever attended. Well, I’ve attended a ton of cool concerts ranging from Elvis to the Stones to members of the Beatles, but the one I remembered that was as good as it gets was when I attended in 1970 a concert at The Forum, which featured Poco, the Guess Who, and headlined by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I went to the concert with my best buddy Bob and we had no tickets, but a man came up to us in the Forum parking lot and said his daughter’s two friends couldn’t go to the concert and he just wanted to unload the tickets and gave us a deal we couldn’t refuse. I was shocked that the concert seats were eight rows from the front of the stage. It was electric being that close, and I’ll never forget when CCR ended the concert with “Keep on Chooglin” with the sellout standing and dancing. Ah, those were the days.

The last word: Considering all the criticism of the Trojans offensive line and former head coach Tim Drevno the last two seasons, it’s probable that in that two-year span, the Trojans will have had two first round draft picks in Austin Jackson (2020/Miami) and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who is being talked about as a first rounder in the upcoming April NFL draft. Hmmm.



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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