22 min Read

IMHO Sunday: The USC Quarterbacks Wheel of Fortune

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

Spin the wheel: Where’s Pat Sajak when we need him? Somebody call Vanna White and tell her there’s a new USC quarterbacks’ version of Wheel of Fortune. Can’t reach Pat? Can’t locate Vanna either? How about USC head coach Clay Helton? He always reminds the media that he is a “quarterback coach by trade” and “the son of an offensive line coach.” Okay, until we can locate Mr. Sajak, Ms. White, or Gentleman Clay, your humble columnist will fill in as your game host.  

Okay, you all know how to play the Wheel of Fortune, and since today’s themed game is past, present, and future USC quarterbacks, the first order of business to start our competition is to introduce our contestants. So, let’s do it!  

Spin the wheel – Part 2: Our first spinner on the “Wheel” is from San Clemente, California. Let’s give a warm welcome to former USC quarterback Jack Sears, who left Troy after being placed as the Trojans fourth quarterback on the 2019 depth chart, a development that left a number of insiders scratching their heads, which isn’t to detract what true freshman sensation Kedon Slovis, the 2019 Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, accomplished. It just seemed that Sears was closer to No. 1 on the Trojans’ depth chart than being relegated to the No. 4 spot behind JT Daniels, Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink before this past season.

No longer a Trojan but still attaining his USC degree, QB Jack Sears (photo above) has taken his talents to Boise State.

For the record, our audience will be pleased to be reminded that Jack played in just one game during his two seasons with the Trojans. The former San Clemente (Calif.) High star started for an injured JT Daniels against Arizona State in 2018 and completed 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a close 38-35 loss. That alone qualifies him to be a USC quarterback Wheel of Fortune contestant. And let’s remind the viewers at home that three USC quarterbacks started during the 2019 season.

And we would be remiss not to mention the blond signal caller graduated with a USC degree this past spring and has transferred to Boise State. Jack, good luck to you, and you can begin our game as our first spinner.

Hey, Jack, you landed on “Free Play,” which means you’re automatically eligible to play for Boise State in 2021 if you can win the starting job!

Spin the wheel – Part 3: Now, folks, let’s put our cardinal and gold hands together and welcome former USC contestant No. 2. Hailing from Irvine, California, and Santa Ana Mater Dei High – you ALL know this OC legend…Mr. JT Daniels. Welcome JT, and let’s remind the folks at home that you were once the starting USC quarterback until you took a vicious hit to your knee in the first game of the 2019 season against Fresno State, and you were subsequently lost for the season with ACL surgery.

Former Trojans quarterback JT Daniels (photo above) has announced that he is transferring to Georgia.

As refresher, JT came to Troy in 2018 as a highly touted 5-star quarterback, graduating a full year early from Mater Dei. It was considered a Herculean academic assignment to accomplish in the classroom what you did, but you achieved knowing you would be the starting Trojan quarterback if you could pull off that academic feat.

JT, let’s remind the other players that you directed an inconsistent 2018 Trojans offense to a 5-7 record, but you threw for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. However, your injury to start the 2019 season gave an opening to Kedon Slovis, and the rest is history.

So, after recovering from your surgery, you were smart enough to see the writing on the wall for 2020 and discretion being the better part of valor, you wisely decided to enter your name in the NCAA Transfer Portal, although Clay Helton said you were welcome to return to Troy if you didn’t like your options. After doing your homework, you decided to head to Georgia and the SEC to test your skills in what you hope will be an honest competition against some pretty good talent in Athens.

So, transferring to Georgia without getting your degree from USC, here’s hoping you have an offensive line that will protect your knee and other extremities because you’ll need it with those defensive linemen from Alabama and LSU coming for you. Okay, take a deep breath and give the Wheel a spin for real!

Oh, I am so sorry JT, you landed on “Lose A Turn.” It looks like you’re going to have to lose a season because of your transfer, and the NCAA doesn’t look like they’ll pass a previously discussed immediate eligibility waiver for 2020.

Spin the wheel – Part 4: Our third contestant is a familiar face and name although he never played at Troy but was the original No. 1 recruit for the Class of 2020 only to decommit and enroll at Alabama. Folks, another prep football legend from the OC’s Mater Dei High, please show some love for Bryce Young!

Once a Trojans 2020 verbal, quarterback Bryce Young (photo above) decommitted and signed with Alabama.

Bryce, nice to have you with us. You became eligible for the USC quarterback Wheel of Fortune not by actually playing at USC but recruiting heavily for the Trojans during your commitment – only to break that verbal and join forces with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa. Your prep credentials were impeccable. You were a true spread offense dual threat QB, and you won every possible offensive award out there by the time your work at Mater Dei was completed.

Bryce, you were classy in your decommitment to USC by saying all the right things. What you didn’t say was that Clay Helton was on wobbly footing as the Trojans’ head coach, and you didn’t like what you saw at the time. Call it making the right decision at the time you made the decision.

Given what has happened with Jack Sears and now JT Daniels and knowing that Kedon Slovis – if he can stay healthy – is the USC quarterback at least through the 2021 season, you can sit back at Alabama and turn your head in the direction of Southern California and see how your former verbal school is doing.

Congrats, Bryce, you’ve landed on our “Prize” slot, which means you win a possible starting assignment against the Trojans to open the 2020 season in Arlington, Texas, if you can beat out the competition during training camp. And if you don’t, you’ll still probably get some playing time nonetheless.

Spin the wheel – Part 5: A previous contestant who has already spun the Wheel once before, you know him as the veteran USC quarterback who once went into the NCAA Transfer Portal, explored his options, and eventually decided to return to Troy. A man who needs no real introduction, a warm welcome for senior Mr. Matt Fink.

Once entered into the NCAA Transfer Portal only to return, QB Matt Fink (photo above) is a previous winner for the Wheel of Fortune, having relieved an injured Kedon Slovis last season against Utah and guiding the Trojans to an upset victory over the Utes.

Welcome back, Matt, you’ve already spun the Wheel in 2019 with great success but to remind the folks in the audience and at home, your decision to return to USC paid dividends. First, with Jack Sears bidding adios before the 2019 season, that eliminated one competing contestant for playing time. Then JT Daniels gets hurt early in the first game against Fresno State, and you again move up one on the depth chart. And finally, you solve the playing time puzzle when Daniels’ replacement, Kedon Slovis, goes down early during a Friday night titanic in the Coliseum, and you come in to lead your Trojans to a 30-23 upset victory over the Utes, completing 13 of 17 passes for 203 yards in the first half and pitching two touchdowns in consecutive drives upon coming off the bench.

Matt, step up to the Wheel for 2020 and let’s see your fortune.

How about that! Matt, you landed on a “Free Square,” which means not only are you now firmly entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback behind returning starter Slovis, but it figures – based on the health history of Slovis – you’ll be seeing plenty of playing time in 2020. That’s one sensational spin!

Spin the wheel – Part 6: Last but not least,our final contestant or should we say two contestants who will play as one. Let’s show the Fight On spirit and welcome to prepsters Jake Garcia, a current Trojan verbal from La Habra (Calif.) High and Miller Moss from Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, who could be announcing for the Trojans at any time.

La Habra (Calif.) High’s 5-star quarterback Jake Garcia (photo above) is already a Class of 2021 verbal.

Let’s first start with you Miller. You are now “rumored” to be considering a JT Daniels academic move to reclassify yourself as a quarterback for the Class of 2020. Not likely, but JT proved it can be done, and we’re told you have the smarts to get it done and enroll early for 2021 USC spring practice. It’s just a rumor, but at one time the early arrival by JT was also a rumor. I know, I know, nothing official, but we had to ask.

And now let’s greet Jake Garcia, a 5-star quarterback from La Habra, and you certainly have put in your time trying to get other recruits to join you for the Trojans’ Class of 2021. So far, Jake, you and the Trojans coaches are accumulating a lot of prep talent, which has transitioned into a Top 5 class at the moment by some recruiting polls.

With the Trojans having to now fill the No. 3 quarterbacking slot behind Kedon and Matt, there is immediate opportunity although there is still presumed NCAA Portal Transfer Mo Hasan, a QB grad transfer from Vanderbilt, who BTW is not yet officially on scholarship.

Okay Jake and Miller, lots going on, but let’s give the Wheel a future spin.

Hey fellas, you’ve landed on the “Wild Card” slot, which means that whichever one of you gets to USC first gets a head start on the other! Now that’s some wild card!!

Spin the wheel – Part 7: Okay players, you’ve all spun the Wheel, but unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see how the 2020 season transpires before we can declare an uncontested winner of sorts. Of course, it all really depends on the current coronavirus state of national state of affairs.     

From the press box…

Welcome home: A giant thumbs up to the USC football program, which has hired two former outstanding players as quality-control analysts. Former legendary two-time All-America inside linebacker and Troy’s only Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne and fellow inside linebacker Hayes Pullard lll, who captained the 2013 and 2014 Trojans, are now officially part of Clay Helton’s program.

Former USC legendary linebacker Chris Claiborne (photo above) is returning to Troy as an offensive quality control analyst.

Welcome home – Part 2: Folks, having Clairborne and Pullard back is a big deal. Having interviewed both former players a number of times, they’re also All-American people. Both Chris and Hayes – and this is shared by many in the media – were destined to become outstanding coaches after their playing days. While we all know they were hired as analysts, it wouldn’t be shocking for either to become full-time football USC coaches in due time. Both have the potential to be excellent recruiters. Give credit to Clay Helton for pursuing both Chris and Hayes, a decision that will pay dividends over and over as we go forward.    

Former Trojans team captain and linebacker Hayes Pullard lll (photo above) is also returning to Troy as a defensive quality control analyst.

A giant has been lost: It was stunning to me when I learned last week that former Los Angeles Times college football columnist Chris Dufresne had passed at the age of 62. I had known Chris for decades and as big as he rose in the world of professional sports writing, he remained just a great, great guy. We talked every time I saw him in a press box, and he would ask, “So, Greg, what’s going on with the Trojans?” As big as he got nationally, Chris remained the same down-to-earth guy I had known over the years. Chris never big-timed anybody.

A giant has been lost – Part 2: Chris Dufresne was never about Chris Dufresne. He never had a problem admitting he was wrong in a viewpoint, but that was few and far between. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody in this profession that wanted to make sure he had all the facts straight before he expressed his own point of view. He was the consummate professional, and yet he could do it with wit, humor, and sarcasm, as well.

 A giant has been lost – Part 3: Nobody ever loved college and USC football more than Chris Dufresne. He knew what USC football meant to Southern California. During the Pete Carroll era, Chris enjoyed completely covering the Trojans and so admired what Carroll had built. By the same token, he would lament to me how, after Carroll had left and the NCAA sanctions were coming to an end, the USC athletic department could be so inept and how disappointed he was to see the USC football product sink to such depths. He would say, “Greg, are they doing this on purpose?” Chris found it inconceivable that an athletic brand that was so iconic could be so incompetent.

A giant has been lost – Part 4: So, it’s ironic that as college football’s future is in the air as much as everything else due to the coronavirus, Chris would leave us without one more standout column, giving us his perspective to where college football is today and what he thinks would be the right direction for it to go. Chris, my friend, you will be missed as a college football writing guru, but you will be missed even greater as the kind and wonderful person you were.

College and USC football mourns the loss and writing talents of Chris Dufresne (photo above), who sadly passed this past week.

The post-game show…

The unexpected: If the Trojans have a season, how will it affect the media? Will only one representative from each news entity be allowed up in the press box? Will only one member at a time from each news entity be allowed to go up the Coliseum elevator? Will the media be tested for the coronavirus before entering the press box? How will post-game interviews take place? Maybe Zoom? So many questions.

Taking the year off: The University of Arizona is telling its season ticket holders that due to the current state of affairs, they will allow those season ticket holders to take a sabbatical for a year if they so wish. Sending out notices, UofA said, “Season-ticket holders concerned about their well-being could keep their seats for the 2021 football and/or ’21-22 men’s basketball seasons by putting down a minimum 25% deposit toward renewal for those campaigns.”

Will the Trojans follow the lead of the University of Arizona (photo above) and allow 2020 season tickets a refund or be placed on a one-year sabbatical if there is no or partial 2020 season?

Taking the year off – Part 2: Arizona also informed its fans of the following ticket policies and options: “First steps included offering baseball and softball ticket holders the ability to use the money already spent on canceled games for future UA sporting events; extending the deadlines for football and basketball season-ticket renewals from May 1 to June 1; and extending and expanding payment-plan options.

“Refunds also are available. Season-ticket holders seeking them must submit their requests in writing by Aug. 7 for football or Sept. 7 for basketball.”

IMHO: So, after reading what the University of Arizona is doing in providing fans some options due to the coronavirus, it will be interesting to see if the Trojans allow their season tickets holders the same courtesy as the Wildcats.

Numbers count:
It’s not likely to be released, but wouldn’t you like to know from a curiosity standpoint just what the current season ticket numbers are for the 2020 football season?

Given the situation, how many season tickets have been sold for 2020 Trojans home game season in the Coliseum (photo above)?

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, so now that college teams have been given the okay to begin voluntary workouts, are you more optimistic about having a college football season? I still think it’s one step at a time. Does this signal that there will be a college football season? I suppose this is an initial step, but there is a long way to go and so many directions it all could go. I don’t think that just because there are voluntary workouts it’s a clear signal that there will be a season as we know it. It’s a complicated issue. We shall see what we shall see.   

Caller No. 2: Sir, are you concerned that the SEC is putting pressure on other conferences to follow their lead and play football on time? I think the Pac-12 should do what’s best for its member institutions and not pay attention to the SEC or any other conference for that matter. There will be all sorts of pressures to have a season or a partial season and money is the driving vehicle. In the end, this should be a health discussion based on what’s best for the student-athletes and not what somebody wants to be football normal in a world that is no longer normal. And I’ll repeat, money is the root of all evil.  

How much pressure does Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (photo above) feel from the SEC and other conferences across the country to play a full or a partial schedule of games in 2020?

Caller No. 3: Greg, with JT leaving for Georgia, have you heard about the Trojans looking at bringing in a JC quarterback or somebody from the NCAA Transfer Portal. Nothing official, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if there is some serious consideration to the idea. With Kedon Slovis and his past concussions a concern and Matt Fink figuring to see plenty of action this season, finding a legit No. 3 quarterback is, no doubt, now a major priority.

Caller No. 4: Katzie, did you think that offensive coordinator Graham Harrell will emphasize running the football this season? It would be my hope that with the running backs the Trojans have, Harrell would utilize that offensive unit’s strength. Then again, Harrell wants to put the ball in the air and does a leopard change its spots? The OC is at the crossroads in developing as a young coach. If the Trojans are going to contend for championships, especially at the national level, they won’t get there without a physical running game.

Caller No. 5: Mr. Meow, the beach or the desert? That’s an easy one. I’ll take the beach any day – especially Maui or Kauai at night. I don’t enjoy being at the beach during the day, but I just love beach evenings. To be honest, I can’t stand the heat, so Palm Springs is not on my vacation calendar. To me, Palm Springs is like watching paint dry; it’s Las Vegas without the type of casinos I enjoy. I am probably in the minority about Palm Springs, but I couldn’t stand it even when my parents, who loved it, took me on vacation there when I was a kid. Boring! I guess to each his own.    

There is nothing more romantic, comfortable, and pleasureable than a beach evening in Maui (photo above).

The final word: Stay safe, be well, and keep the faith!

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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