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IMHO Sunday: The development test

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

The growth: Regardless of the outcome, we’ll see how far Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton (photo above) has developed as a head coach by how he objectively – not politically correctly – judges the quarterback competition between sophomore Matt Fink, redshirt freshman Jack Sears, and true freshman J.T. Daniels. There’s a track record when looking back on how Helton handled the Max Browne/Sam Darnold competition two seasons ago, and it’s still even debated today. As history tells us, Helton went with “he waited his turn” Browne over “wait your turn” Darnold.  

The growth – Part 2: While the process of selecting a starting quarterback for the 2018 Trojans will be intriguing, the actual announcement and when will be just as fascinating with so many fans and media pointing back to the Browne/Darnold process as a precedent. I have always contended that given the difficult circumstances, Helton made the right – no win – call at the time in 2016. The issue of starting Browne over Darnold was a difficult call only because it was quite apparent that Darnold was clearly the better quarterback in training camp. Perhaps that experience now for an inexperienced head coach then – caught in a competition that did involve some politics to some degree – is that Helton will go with performance rather than grade level, pecking order, and/or perception. The variables are quite different this time around, and that’s probably a good thing.

The growth – Part 3: So, how much has Clay Helton learned or grown from two seasons ago, a factor that will be incorporated into this season’s quarterback selection? For one thing, there’s no Max Browne factor of longtime loyal soldier who waited his turn. Perhaps an even more telling political factor was that Max was a former national prep player of the year. Speeding up to the upcoming 2018 training camp, there is the realization that neither Matt Fink nor Jack Sears, both of whom were solid but not overwhelming in spring practice, had the impeccable national reputation as Browne coming out of high school. While Browne had no previous starting experience when he was named the starter against Alabama in 2016, whoever gets the starting nod in 2018 will certainly not be in a position in their first outing to be eaten up by a team the caliber of the Crimson Tide defense. With all due respect, the UNLV defense won’t remotely be confused with a Nick Saban defense in terms of talent.

The growth – Part 4: To illustrate how crazy this whole quarterback competition is getting even before the commencement of training camp on Aug. 3, there’s also ready speculation as to whether Matt Fink or Jack Sears will be the first to transfer if J.T. Daniels is named the early or initial starter. As whacko as this may sound, Clay Helton finds himself yet in another case of quarterback scrutiny, and the only difference is that he’s dealing with three quarterbacks instead of two. What has he learned from back in 2016? Grab your popcorn and favorite beverage, this updated decision should be riveting.

Looking forward: ESPN recently asked a selected group of college players, coaches, and media members what they were looking forward to in regard to the 2018 college football season. Clay Helton said, “I’m most looking forward to walking back into the historic Coliseum with a group of seniors that I started my head coaching journey with three years ago and helping them achieve their goal of a championship, which would add to their legacy of winning a Rose Bowl, capturing a Pac-12 championship and extending our 16-game home winning streak.”

The numbers game: In a clever and imaginative piece of athletic tweeting, the Trojans’ athletic department reminded fans that there are eight Saturdays left until the opening kickoff on Sept. 1 against UNLV. What made the info creative is that the jersey No. 8 appeared in cardinal and gold surrounded by former and current players of note who have worn or wear that particular number.

The numbers game – Part 2: The players pictured in the athletic department tweet that wore No. 8 included former(s) QB Jimmy Jones, DE Nick Perry, WR Dwayne Jarrett, S Cleveland Colter, and current CB Iman Marshall. And I ‘am sure you, good readers, could name a few more, as well.

Pittman on Daniels: Asked this week about true freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels and J.T.’s early workouts, veteran junior wide receiver Michael Pittman said, “He knows the offense now. He’s a smart worker, so he won’t go in there and bull s*** around just to be in there to be in there. He’s working and working smart and working to get better and all that. He doesn’t have a serious personality, but he likes to joke around like I like to do, so he fits right in there with me.”

More Pittman on Daniels: On comparing J.T. Daniels to Sam Darnold, Michael Pittman said, “We have to wait and see, but he (Daniels) has real talent.”

Frosh numbers: Speaking of freshmen, here are the official jersey numbers of the Trojans’ freshmen: ILB Palaie Gaoteote IV – No. 1; WR Devon Williams – No. 2; DB Olaijah Griffin – No. 4; CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart – No. 6; WR Amon-Ra St. Brown – No. 8; S Talanoa Hufanga – No. 15; CB Chase Williams – No. 17; QB J.T. Daniels – No. 18; OLB Kana’i Mauga – No. 26; TB Markese Stepp – No. 30; OLB Eli’jah Winston – No. 34; OLB Abdul-Malik McClain – No. 42; ILB Raymond Scott – No. 48; C Justin Dedich – No. 57; OT Liam Douglass – No. 68; DL Trevor Trout – No. 95; and JC transfer DL Caleb Tremblay – No. 96.

From the press box…

Seats giveaway update: As mentioned in last week’s IMHO Sunday, every paid-in-full USC football season ticket holder will have the opportunity to receive two complimentary extracted old Coliseum seats that are being replaced. Per this week’s important update email and confirmation process, “The (Coliseum) seats will be only be available for pick-up from the Coliseum – Pick-up times are TBD but will likely be in Mid-January 2019 through end of February 2019. Season ticket holders CANNOT request specific seat locations.

Seats giveaway update – Part 2: According to the same seat email, “In the fall everyone who has submitted this form (which was part of this week’s email) will be contacted with information on how to upgrade their complimentary seat by either purchasing a mounting kit or having it restored and refurbished. At the same time, there will also be an opportunity to purchase additional seats.” It should be noted that the deadline to respond to the email is Aug.1, and after that date the extracted seats will be made available to the general public. If a season ticket holder does not receive a confirmation email (to receive the complimentary seats), contact USC Athletics at [email protected] to confirm “your submission.”

Seats giveaway update – Part 3: As for an official’s word on the seat giveaway, USC associate athletic director Craig Kelley said, “We want to show our appreciation to our fans during the Coliseum’s ongoing renovation in the 2018 season. We know these free seats will be very popular with our fans and will make wonderful Trojan mementos.”

The hot seat: Speaking of seats, CBS Sports columnist Dennis Dodd made a list of all the D-1 coaches and where they rank in 2018 job security with “5” being squarely on the hot seat and “O” meaning “untouchable” (Alabama’s Nick Saban and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney). The Trojans’ Clay Helton garnered a “2” ranking meaning “all good…for now.” However, former Trojans’ interim head coach and current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron was awarded a “4” ranking, meaning “start improving now.”  

Tunnel vision: On the WeAreSC message board this week, poster “redeye” wrote, “How about Bruce, Clay II, Clay III, & Kyle Matthews leading the team onto the field.” A great idea, but due to other football commitments, it would take some work to get them all together to lead the team out before kickoff. However, it would be worth the effort to make it happen.

More tunnel vision: I support WeAreSC publisher Garry P. in his thoughts to have legendary Trojan quarterback Jim Hardy lead the team out once this season. If not this season, when? Jim may be in his mid-90s, but he is as spunky as ever. In fact, Hardy’s 40 time might be better still than some of the linemen. Come on, let’s make this happen for Gentleman Jim, who should have been given this honor a long time ago.

The post-game show…

The wall: According to PFF Football, Trojans starting right offensive senior tackle Chuma Edoga allowed just six total pressures last season, fewest allowed of returning 2018 Pac-12 offensive tackles.

Driving a Ford: One of the premier recruitable receivers for the Class of 2018 is local Orange (Calif.) Lutheran’s Kyle Ford, who just happens to have won the MVP honors at the prestigious The Opening, a national camp that brings together the top prep talent from around the country. In a recent update in the Orange County Register, Ford says he has visited Colorado but has interest in Oregon, Michigan, USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Florida and Florida State. Both Florida State and Miami have recently offered.

Driving a Ford – Part 2: In the same OC Register story this week, Kyle Ford said, “I’m wide open on everything, honestly. Right now, I’m just letting things play out a little bit.”

Driving a Rae: While it looks recruiting good for the Trojans regarding Kyle Ford, his Orange Lutheran tight end teammate Ethan Rae (6-4, 240), son of former UCLA offensive lineman James Rae, committed to Troy this week and told recruiting guru Greg Biggins that he was going to aggressively recruit Ford. Ah, the old recruiting domino theory of teammates, and many times it works.

Sark the shark: Even though former Trojans’ football head coach Steve Sarkisian lost his lawsuit against the University, it’s certainly hard to feel sorry for Sark in terms of cash flow. With millions of bucks made coaching at various stops along the way – like Washington and USC – and his current check as OC of the Atlanta Falcons, Sarkisian will have more money than most of us would see in several lifetimes.

Still No. 1: Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High, the defending high school football national champions, has been named the 2018 preseason No. 1 team by High School Football America. Under legendary head coach Bruce Rollinson, a former Trojans’ wide receiver (1971), the Monarchs will be severely tested this season playing the likes of national powerhouses Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, IMG Academy (Florida), and Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco.

Still No. 1: The 2017 Mater Dei national champs, of course, sent the Trojans the likes of true freshmen QB J.T. Daniels, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, and LB Solomon Tuliaupupu. Loaded for 2018, the Monarchs again have the Trojans’ recruiting eye for WR/LB Bru McCoy and QB Bryce Young among others.

Coliseum update: This week’s Sunday Coliseum renovation real time photo update: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation 

The last word: Even though this is predominately a football website, we’d be remiss not to tip your hat at the recruiting job that Trojans’ head men’s basketball coach Andy Enfield is doing. Many pundits are currently calling Andy’s Class of 2019 the best class in the country. No typo, the best in the country.

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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