In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
IMHO: There’s little to no debate that the Trojans’ quarterback competition will get the majority of the attention in training camp, which begins on Friday, Aug.3. However, the equal but less glamorous scrutiny should also be focused on the Trojans’ offensive line, which will have as much to do with the success of the 2018 season as any part of the team. The simple truth is that as O-line coach Neil Callaway’s offensive line goes, so will the offense, especially against power defensive teams with a physical presence.
IMHO – Part 2: Don’t be misled by the fact that the Trojans have an “experienced” group of returning offensive linemen. It’s fool’s gold to think that experience” will get the job done because it won’t. It takes talent and attitude with attitude being equal to talent. Thus far, I haven’t seen an attitude – namely nasty – on a consistent basis. After watching over two generations of USC offensive lines, some of which have been the best in college football history, the returning group of 2018 offensive linemen do not have a track record of playing physical football – either by performance or due to scheme. As a group, they are wonderful student-athletes, a joy to interview, and easy to root for. However, in the end, it’s all about production, and they have a lot to prove and will have the opportunity with this season’s schedule that they mean business – nasty business. As part of “nasty” business, it means finishing the block and thumping the opponent into the ground.
IMHO – Part 3: Clay Helton says the Trojans will be a run-first team and a physical unit. Well, we’ll see about that and haven’t we heard this before? History should tell us to temper the enthusiasm. No Trojans fan alive wouldn’t be gushing cardinal if Helton’s mandate is validated. Initially, all eyes will be on projected starting offensive tackles Chuma Edoga and Austin Jackson, guards Chris Brown and Andrew Vorhees, and center Toa Lobendahn. No, we’re not calling out these athletes in a negative light. On the contrary, but these five names are the ones being most talked about. They deserve the chance to show what they can do as a unit on the field. While there figures to be some tweaks in personnel as the season progresses or perhaps as early as training camp, these are the guys that will be begin under the performance microscope.
The Drevno factor: There have been reports that running backs coach and running and pass protection coordinator Tim Drevno will have major input into the Trojans’ offense both now and in the future – with emphasis on a power running game. The former offensive coordinator under Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh the past three seasons, there is conjecture that if and when Neil Callaway hangs up the cleats, Drevno will slide back into his natural coaching position of offensive line coach, a position he held at Troy (2014) prior to his earlier departure to Ann Arbor.
The Drevno factor – Part 2: It’s also been out there on the streets that Drevno could be a major factor of bringing back the fullback position or at the very least returning the “H” back position out of the offensive tool box. Most Trojans fans would give a standing ovation to that possibility, especially in short yardage or goal line situations. You can talk about the controversial Coliseum renovation, but more than a number of Trojan fans would like to see some kind of offensive identity renovation.
Rumors: You may have also heard the recent rumor that a group of veteran Trojan football players went into to see Clay Helton to discuss and suggest some improvements for 2018. One of the unconfirmed “rumors” is the players would like more physical practices to become, well, more physical. If this rumor is true and later addressed, it would certainly get thumbs-up from a large group of former Trojan football players who are more than a little perturbed regarding the lack of “manliness” especially on the O-line.
RIF: According to a USC spokesperson, the 2018 Coliseum capacity is being reduced from 92,000 to approximately 81,000. When Coliseum renovation is completed in 2019, the Coli capacity is expected to be 77,500.
RIF – Part 2: In last season’s seven home games in the Coliseum, the Trojans averaged 72,682. Using that average and comparing it to the anticipated 2019 Coliseum’s reduced capacity to 77,500, last season the Trojans would have been sold out – inserting the 2019 standards – for Stanford (77,614), Texas (84,714), and UCLA (82,407). Non-sellout games would have been Western Michigan (61,125), Utah (72, 382), Oregon State (60,314), and Arizona (70,225). So, maybe the 2019 77,500 isn’t an unreasonable reduction in capacity.
From the press box…
Media Day: Pac-12 Football Media Day is this Wednesday at the Loew’s Hollywood. The media day is back to a one-day affair as compared to recent two-day schedules. The Pac-12 has tried to make its football media day an event, holding its gathering at various venues in the past like the Rose Bowl and various movie studios. Unlike past decades, the media day has evolved into a video presentation intended for the Pac-12 Networks, leaving the print and Internet media wanting.
The tailback: Trojans’ tailback Stephen Carr made the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, a prestigious honor that goes to the nation’s premier running back. The biggest unknown concerning Carr for 2018 is the talented running back’s repaired back. Back issues are be really tricky, and we won’t know how Stephen really is until he gets knocked around.
The tailback – Part 2: Speaking of running backs and the Doak Walker Award, this season the Trojans will face in 2018 some other Doak Walker Award nominees including sophomore Eno Benjamin (ASU), senior Patrick Laird (Cal), senor Bryce Love (Stanford), junior Zack Moss (Utah), sophomore J.J. Taylor (Arizona), and senior Lexington Thomas (UNLV). If the Trojans were to face Washington in the Pac-12 title game, the Men of Troy would also see Husky senior Myles Gaskin or possibly senior Tony Brooks (Oregon).
Back-to-back: Does any other team in the country beside the Trojans have two tremendously difficult back-to-back games so early and so late in the season? The Men of Troy play at Stanford and at Texas in September while the last two games in November are at rival UCLA and Notre Dame. If coaching USC’s early and late schedule was a hamburger, they’d call it the “Widowmaker.”
High honor: Trojans’ incoming freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels and Katelyn Tuohy (cross country and track and field) have been nationally honored as Gatorade High School Athletes of the Year.
High honor – Part 2: At an NYC awards ceremony last Tuesday, J.T. Daniels received his trophy from retired NFL great Peyton Manning, a former winner himself. As a performance refresher, Daniels led Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High to a 15-0 record and a state title last season. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder threw for 52 touchdowns and four interceptions. In three years as an MD starter, J.T. tossed for a school-record 12,014 passing yards and 152 TDs.
High honor – Part 3: Reacting to the award, J.T. Daniels said, “It’s honestly pretty difficult for me to put into words what this award really means to me and just how honored I am to receive it. Wow, Fight on!”
On the cover: Both J.T. Daniels and Katelyn Tuohy will appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Daniels walked The ESPYS red carpet on Wednesday night.
The post-game show…
Progress report: Here is this week’s Sunday Coliseum renovation real time photo update: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation
The great debate: As previously reported, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, a longtime recruiting pipeline for the Trojans and current defending prep national champions, has been nationally pre-ranked No. 1 for 2018 by High School Football America. However, one of the Monarchs’ Trinity League rivals, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, has been nationally pre-ranked No. 1 by Max Preps (MD No. 2). St. John Bosco has a number of Trojans recruits including CB commit Chris Steele.
The great debate – Part 2: Imagine the buildup if both Mater Dei and St. John Bosco remain undefeated heading into their Trinity League showdown on Friday night, Oct. 12, at the Santa Ana Bowl. Grab your popcorn and favorite liquid refreshment. FYI, the Trojans will be hosting Colorado on Saturday, Oct. 13, so no conflict there. If you recall, last season Mater Dei defeated St. John Bosco twice, including a dominating Monarchs’ 49-24 victory in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title game.
Early prep showdown: The good news, if you’re looking for an early national prep showdown that will feature a number of Trojan recruits, mark your calendar for Friday night, Sept. 21, when High School Football America No. 1 Mater Dei hosts No. 2 IMG Academy of Bradenton, Florida, at the Santa Ana (Calif.) Bowl.
Early prep showdown – Part 2: The bad news regarding the Mater Dei/IMG Academy titanic is that the Trojans will be hosting Washington State on Friday night game, as well. It figures that somebody will televising the prep game so it can be recorded. Preaching to the choir, college football games should never be played on Friday night prep windows.
The genes: Michael Muñoz, son of legendary Trojans’ offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, recently accepted a new job at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as vice president of youth football and character development.
The last word: One of the great Southern California sportswriters of my generation and even a better human being, Mitch Chortkoff, 78, passed away last Tuesday after a long illness. Mitch was a tremendous mentor to many writers such as myself and treated everybody with such kindness, displaying a very humanistic smile, laugh, and even a trademark benevolent smirk. Despite his honored stature in the L.A. sports community, he never big-timed anybody, was a gentle soul, and was just a compassionate human being. While known to many as a basketball writer and junkie – Mitch covered the Lakers for 50 years – he also loved college football and was once a constant in the Coliseum press box covering USC football. Mitch, you will be greatly missed, and may you rest in peace.