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IMHO Sunday: Reshuffling the QB cards

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

The reality: With the impending departure of junior quarterback Matt Fink (photo above left) through the NCAA Transfer Portal,the 2019 starting quarterback competition is realistically between returning sophomores JT Daniels, the incumbent starter, and surging Jack Sears (photo above right). As a recent guest on Coach Harvey Hyde’s popular radio show, Trojan Talk, the venerable host asked us who we thought should be the starting quarterback as of today. The key word was “today.” Our response was “Jack Sears.” Although we’re under no illusion or wouldn’t be shocked if JT Daniels was named the eventual starter for the Fresno State opener, for us it came down to improving passing acumen and reading defenses, mobility, escapeability to make plays, and natural leadership skills. To be blunt, JT wasn’t the main problem with last season’s offense. The “gumbo” offensive playbook, the offensive line, the play-calling, and the decision-making were the major issues.

Foreshadowing: In 2020, it’s conceivable that either JT Daniels or Jack Sears could be entering the NCAA Transfer Portal if they find themselves as the other’s backup for any length of time next season. If he isn’t the 2019 starter or finishes the season as Daniels’ backup, Sears will already have his degree and may feel it’s in his best interest to take his two seasons of remaining eligibility to another school. If JT Daniels loses his starting position and becomes a backup in 2019, it’s problematic with the same scenario. Prediction: It would be surprising to us if both Daniels and Sears return for the 2020 season, and a lot may depend on what happens in the 2020 version of spring practice. That’s where we are in today’s college football world. 

Timing is everything: To be honest, JT Daniels was not recruited to play in the Air Raid offense no matter the version, although some say this offense may be the better fit. He was recruited for Clay Helton’s “gumbo” offense. That doesn’t mean JT can’t become proficient or even great at the Air Raid, but Jack Sears is the most natural fit for the Graham Harrell’s version of the Air Raid. A lot goes into playing quarterback no matter the system, and let’s not forget that leadership is right up there with physical skills as we have been told by Harrell. When choosing the Trojans 2019 starting quarterback, it may come down to a tiebreaker and whom OC Harrell sees as the better leader at the time he has to make the decision. Of course, the final vote goes to head coach Clay Helton and wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall when that discussion and decision is being formulated deep inside the John McKay Center. And let’s not forget August training camp, which will give both Daniels and Sears plenty of opportunity to separate themselves.

Will sophomore JT Daniels be the Trojans’ starting QB for the second season in a row?

The right move: If junior quarterback Matt Fink follows through with his NCAA Transfer Portal adios to another university, we stand up and applaud him for making the right move for him. No question that Matt, a true competitor, was going to be no higher than No. 3 on the final spring depth chart. Why waste a career knowing the obvious that he wasn’t going to play unless an extreme quarterback emergency? We always felt that Fink could be a really effective true option quarterback, and his passing has greatly improved. There will be other schools that would love to have Matt. His biggest challenge will be to find a school that fits his skill set like a Nebraska.

Foreshadowing: Now that Matt Fink has made his intentions public – outing himself from the “internal” depth chart – are we to believe that Fink will be the only one that emerges to announce their attention to the NCAA Transfer Portal? At last count, the Trojans have had eight transfer portal players listed.   

Moving up: The impending departure of Matt Fink also means that impressive true freshman Kedon Slovis is clearly the logical No. 3 quarterback. Kedon is also clearly advanced for his age and may be the quarterback of the future, although Class of 2020 Mater Dei quarterback, Bryce Young, will have something to say about that when he arrives.

With the impending departure of Matt Fink, true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who surprised many with his maturity and spring performance, figures to start training camp as the Trojans No. 3 quarterback and may not have the luxury of redshirting.

The comparison: Some are comparing Bryce Young to the 84th Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Kyle Murray. In the far future, it could eventually be a battle for the starting position with Young and Kedon Slovis, which would really be a contrast between a pure dual-threat QB in Young and a pure passer in Slovis who by then will be fully entrenched into Graham Harrell’s system…if Harrell is still around as the OC.

From the press box…

Nighttime in South Bend: The Trojans game at Notre Dame on Saturday, Oct. 12, in South Bend will once again be a prime-time televised event, which means a 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT kickoff. While it’s a reasonable time for those watching the game on NBC in Southern California, it becomes a nightmare for those that will travel to the game. Most Trojan fans stay in Chicago, which is about an hour and a half away from South Bend. However, after the game, the traffic getting out of Notre Dame Stadium is like getting out of a capacity-filled Rose Bowl at night. Most folks will get back to Chicago around 1:30 a.m. in the morning… or later. It’s not quite so bad if you’re staying at a hotel in the general South Bend vicinity. BTW, hotels in the South Bend area are not reasonably priced, which means around $300 or more a night. FYI, most hotels in the South Bend area require a two-night (Fri./Sat.) stay.

There is nothing quite like the Trojans playing the Irish in storied Notre Dame Stadium

Nighttime in South Bend – Part 2:  The USC at Notre Dame game is usually played on the third Saturday in October. The change to the second Saturday in October this season is due to Notre Dame’s contractual ACC contract, which requires the Irish to play a minimum number of ACC teams although Irish football is an Independent. All other ND sports participate in ACC league play.

Nighttime in South Bend – Part 3: For those of you who will be traveling back to the Midwest for the Notre Dame Weekender, let me say it will be worth every penny. However, the best way to deal with it is to fly into Chicago on Thursday so you can spend time in the Second City and attend Friday’s noontime Navy Pier Pep Rally with the Trojans Marching Band. No matter if you’re returning to Chicago right after the game or returning to The Windy City on Sunday, we suggest you plan your flight for Sunday afternoon.   

The Trojans’ Friday noon Navy Pier pep rally in Chicago is an annual Notre Dame Weekender tradition. This season’s rally marks the last for retiring TMB director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner.

Green party: In addition, the USC at Notre Dame game is the only night home game for the Irish. The slugfest will be a battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh, and the battle will be the “Irish Wear Green” game, which means that ND fans will be encouraged to wear green to Notre Dame Stadium.

In you haven’t heard, former Trojans’ defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze has been hired as a defensive analyst at LSU. It means that Kenechi will be reunited with his former Trojan D-line mentor, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron. At this point, it’ll be interesting following Udeze to see what Coach O’s mentoring will have on his former D-liner’s professional future.

Former Trojans’ defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze is now at LSU as a defensive analyst, working under former Trojans’ D-line coach and current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron

The post-game show…

On the road: This week, the Trojans’ football staff will take to the road for the long recruiting and evaluation period, which allows assistant coaches to visit high school campuses locally and across the country. FYI, the recruiting period ends on May 31.  

The afterthought: Because of the latest happenings going on with Trojans football, we are all reminded that a number of “former” Trojans will be waiting with eager anticipation for this week’s NFL draft (Thurs. – Sat.), which will be held in Nashville, Tennessee. For players like former OLB Porter Gustin, OT Chuma Edoga, C Toa Lobendahn, CB Iman Marshall, and others, the moment of draft truth is almost here. Best of luck, gentlemen.   

A reminder: This Monday evening, April 22, the Trojan Club of San Diego will be holding its spring football dinner (5:30 p.m.) at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in Hotel Circle, and the guest speaker will be offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Graham Harrell. Guest emcee will be WeAreSC publisher Erik McKinney. For information and/or reservations, visit: www.trojanclubofsandiego.com

Trojans’ offensive coordinator and QB coach Graham Harrell will speak Monday night at the Trojan Club of San Diego. There figures to be a lot of questions regarding the Trojans’ quarterback situation given the Matt Fink probable departure. WeAreSC publisher Erik McKinney will serve as the moderator in serving up questions to the Trojans first-year OC

Progress report: Here’s the latest real time Coliseum renovation camera view: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

Looking ahead: The Pac-12 Networks will conclude their “spring game” coverage next Saturday, April 27, with Colorado (11 a.m.) and Washington (12 p.m.). All times are Pacific Daylight Time. Next season, the Trojans play UW in Seattle (Sept. 28) and CU in Boulder (Oct. 25).  

The last word: You need to read “Under Son’s Healing Powers,” a tremendously touching Los Angeles Times story, written by J. Brady McCollough, recounting the ongoing relationship between Trojans’ freshman wide receiver John Jackson lll and his father, John Jackson Jr., the former Trojans’ wide receiver great and USC football radio analyst who continues to recover from a major stroke. Click below or copy and paste, and you might want to have some Kleenex by your side. https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/la-sp-usc-football-john-jackson-family-20190417-story.html

Greg Katz
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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