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IMHO Sunday: Future USC expectations – euphoric hope or an unabashed predicament?

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

Hope or predicament: As recently as the conclusion of this past COVID 2020 season and in this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Q&A, USC head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) said that success of a Trojans football coach is evaluated in championships – like Pac-12 and national championships. Heading into what is expected to be Helton’s 6th full season at the helm, the coach has one conference title (2017), a 1-2 bowl record, no College Football Playoffs appearances in CFP format’s seven-year existence, and a combined 18-13 record the past three seasons. Does that translate into euphoric hope or an unabashed predicament?

Hope or predicament – Part 2: In the Times Q&A, Gentleman Clay said, “I see a program that just went to a championship game, that has made some investments in key areas. I actually see this program trending upward, if you look at it correctly.” One could question if Helton is looking at the program correctly based on no championships the past three seasons, which includes the aforementioned 18-13 record. Then again, you could look at the current Trojans recruiting effort and make a case for a positive future personnel wise…especially if the Trojans recruiting Class of 2022 can match this season’s recruiting efforts. Does that translate into hope or a predicament?

Hope or predicament – Part 3: The recruiting Class of 2021 is arguably a Top 10 class with many of the headliners on the defensive side of the ball. In the Times Q&A with beat writer Ryan Kartje, when asked about the current USC offense and philosophy, Coach Helton said, “When you look at what this offense can be and what it can do, I believe in this offense. I believe in Graham Harrell and what he’s about and how talented he is at what he does. We’ll continue to make the improvements needed to be the best offense in the country.”

Trojans head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) believes that the best is yet to come for the USC future and has given high praise and support to offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. The coach is also feeling very good about the Trojans recent recruiting efforts.

Hope or predicament – Part 4: It should be assumed, IMHO, that when the coach is talking about being the best offense in the country, he is taking into consideration the proven balanced offensive powerhouse levels of an Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson. That’s a a real challenge when you were last in 2020 Pac-12 team rushing, which reflects poorly on offensive line recruiting, coaching, and a glaring lack of obvious offensive balance and philosophy. Hopefully, Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn is in agreement with the goal of having the best offense in the country. Does that translate into hope or a predicament?

Hope or predicament – Part 5: With so much scrutiny on offensive line recruiting and the recent firing of O-line coach Tim Drevno, Helton still feels positive about the future. The coach told the Times, “When you look at the list of what’s coming back on that offensive line, you feel pretty darn good.” Does that translate into hope or a predicament?

Hope or predicament – Part 6: The question before Trojans fans and the athletic administration is should a head football coach who doesn’t consistently win championships be retained because of past, present, or future recruiting success? Is the fear of losing a potential or signed recruiting class inoculate a head football coach from getting fired? IMHO, especially at USC, it shouldn’t. Traditionally, USC has always had very good to great recruiting classes with the exceptions being few and far between like the Class of 2020. Does that translate into hope or a predicament?

Thanks to the official announcement by the nation’s No. 1 2020 prospect, defensive end Korey Foreman (photo above), that he had signed with the Trojans, Clay Helton and his staff have every reason to be optimistic thanks to their Top 10 national class.

Hope or predicament – Part 7: Clay Helton should be judged on the results on the field and not because replacing him would hurt a superior recruiting class. After all, does winning the recruiting war championships supersede winning championships on the field? Let’s be clear, winning on the field is the bottom line, which should then translate to high recruiting achievement. Does that translate into hope or a predicament? 

Class of 2021 still rising: By all accounts, the recent announcement by the nation’s top recruit for the Class of 2021, defensive end Korey Foreman, inserted the Trojans into the nation’s top 10 recruiting rankings with the prospects of climbing higher if Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei linebacker Raesjon Davis signs with the Trojans in February. Davis has narrowed his final four choices to LSU, Ohio State, Oregon, and the Trojans.

The Trojans are looking to rise higher in the final 2021 Top 10 recruiting rankings with the potential signing of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above).

A defensive plan:
Most folks I know are excited with the recruiting Class of 2021, which looks more like a “typical” class. However, you would be justified in your recruiting concern that the quality players signed, with the exception of the quarterbacks signed on offense, is heavily slanted on the defensive side of the ball. This recruiting cycle was focused on restocking the defensive side of the ball.  

Offensive linemen still an issue: To jog your memory, in the recruiting cycle for the Class of 2020, one of the worst USC recruiting classes in memory, it was the offensive side of the ball and the offensive linemen signed that drew intense scrutiny. By all accounts, the quantity of quality brought tremendous concern for the future since there were no 5-star linemen, one 4-star, and the balance 3-star linemen. This lack of recruiting highly ranked offensive linemen is part of the reason that Tim Drevno is no longer the O-line coach and another reason that Helton remains under intense scrutiny.

Although Clay Helton is very positive about the future of his offensive line, the Trojans need to recruit high quality offensive linemen and have a dominant offensive line (photo above) if they plan on making consistent appearances in the College Football Playoffs. (photo by Jose/MarinMedia.org Pool for USC Athletics)

A bottom line: All of which returns to the original question: Should Clay Helton be retained on the success of the recruiting Class of 2021 or should he be retained so not to lose a recruiting class in spite of the record on the field, which is not a passing grade if things are truly judged by Pac-12 and national championships.  

From the press box…

Mr. Consensus: Congrats to Trojans strong safety Talanoa Hufanga on being named a first team Walter Camp All-American, which gave Talanoa the honor of being a consensus All-American, the last consensus Trojans AA being Adoree’ Jackson in 2016. For a Trojan to become a consensus All-American, he must be named a first team All-American by at least three of the five official selectors recognized by the NCAA. Talanoa had previously been named first team All-America teams of the Associated Press and the Sporting News. If No. 15 is named a first team AA by two more recognized entities, Hufanga would be the first Trojan since wide receiver Marquis Lee (2012) to be a unanimous All-American.

Former Trojans safety Talanoa Hufanga (photo above) has achieved consensus All-American status and looks to be a unanimous All-American when all the various AA teams are announced. (photo by John McGillen via USC Athletics)

The Bohnmeister:  In a recent Los Angeles Times column by J. Brady McCullough, it was suggested that maybe – if he is restricted from changing his current head football coach – Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn is building a positive infrastructure to surround Clay Helton or is continually laying plans for the next USC football coach.

The Hall: The NFF will announce the 2021 College Football Hall of Fame Class on Monday, the morning of the College Football Playoff National Championship.

The Hall – Part 2: Trojans on this year’s College Hall of Fame ballot include former Trojans All-American guard Jeff Bregel, former All-American linebacker Jack Del Rio, and former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer.

Heisman Trophy winner and former Trojans’ All-America quarterback Carson Palmer (photo above) is on this year’s College Football Hall of Fame ballot.

Ground 0: In what appears to be a USC first, incoming Trojan defensive end Korey Foreman will apparently wear jersey No. 0, thanks to a spring move approved by the NCAA to cut down on players on the same team wearing the same number.

The post-game show…

Remembering Alex: All-America Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood was named the recipient of the 75th Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman, and the relevance for USC fans is that at one time Alex was on the USC campus for the Rising Stars Camp during his high school days. I saw Leatherwood on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields, and he was one of the most physically mature high school players I have ever seen.   

2020 Outland Trophy winner and Alabama All-America offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood (photo above) while in high school attended the Trojans Rising Stars Camp.

Famous last words: The Trojans recently announced that Aaron Ausmus will not return in 2021 as USC’s strength and conditioning coach. When Clay Helton hired Ausmus in 2019, the coach said, “I’m very excited to bring Aaron Ausmus back to USC. Aaron has won a national championship here under Pete Carroll in 2003.”

Famous last words – Part 2: Adding to his thoughts on hiring Aaron Ausmus as strength coach in 2019, Clay Helton also said, “I’ve watched him lead two SEC programs. I watched him take a 2010 team when he came back to USC and in a year create one of the better teams in college football with that 2011 team. Great to have him back and with the staff that he’s putting together, I know we will produce a great football team in 2019.”

When former USC strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus (photo above) was hired by Clay Helton, the Trojans head coach gave Ausmus glowing comments.

Famous last words – Part 3: For the record, the 2019 Trojans finished with an 8-5 record, which included the forgettable 49-24 loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.

The Godfather: Longtime USC super supporter and WeAreSC.com contributor Bruce “The Godfather” Bagni recently submitted a poignant and truthful, IMHO, assessment of the Trojans current football program status. It is worth the read, and if you haven’t had a chance to read it, “When is enough, enough?”, here’s the link: https://wearesc.com/forum/index.php?threads/when-is-enough-enough-from-bruce-bagni.77099/#post-1170404 

Playfully referred to as “The Godfather” (photo above), Trojans and WeAreSC supporter Bruce Bagni posted a WeAreSC message board commentary regarding the USC football program and it was overwhelmingly supported by readers of the message board.

The surge:
The USC athletic ticket office is contacting fans regarding their interest in USC football tickets for next season. The response I am hearing is that loyal fans are bluntly telling those USC phone reps that they aren’t going to pursue tickets until they see a true commitment to the football program through a change in head coach and a bigger commitment from Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn. From what I am told, fans are being somewhat respectful to the phone reps regarding the situation. Bottom line: No money for tickets unless a head coaching change is made.

FYI: In case you missed it, former Trojans QB JT Daniels announced he would be returning to Georgia for the 2021 season.

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, are you confident the Trojans will hire a good offensive line coach?

Caller No. 1, I am confident the Trojans will hire an offensive line coach. How’s that for being specific? I do think that Clay Helton and Mike Bohn are in a difficult situation. How many good offensive line coaches will come to Troy not knowing the future of Clay Helton? How many good offensive line coaches are going to want to move their family to L.A. for possibly one season? It would seem logical that the new line coach will have some or a lot of familiarity with the Air Raid offense. Of course, what happens if Graham Harrell finds a job he wants this off-season? Will Clay Helton change his offensive current philosophy?   

Who will be the Trojans new offensive line coach for the departed Tim Drevno (photo above)?

Caller No. 2: Greg, do you expect that the Trojans will run the ball more and effectively in 2021?

Caller No. 2, well, I think we may be told that the Trojans are going to emphasize this spring of having a more productive running game (Aren’t we told that every Clay Helton spring?). However, I will see it to believe it when games are actually played. We’ve heard before that the Trojans are going to be physical on the offensive line and running the ball will be efficient. Didn’t we hear Graham Harrell sing the praises of the offensive line before and during this past season? The hard fact: The Trojans finished 2020 last in Pac-12 rushing.  

Caller No. 3: Katzman, what do you think of Korey Foreman wearing No. 0 for games?  

Caller No. 3, it makes no difference to me what number he wears as long as he lives up to the hype. It will be interesting, however, to see how Korey is used and how fast he starts by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.    

Caller No. 4: Sir, do you think the Trojans will dip deep into the NCAA Transfer Portal for offensive line help?   

Caller No. 4, I don’t think the Trojans have much choice. The Trojans have done it before in case you’ve forgotten former Tennessee grad transfer Drew Richmond, who started at right tackle in 2019. It figures the Trojans might be looking for help at both tackle spots, but who knows what movement will be made until Clay Helton names an offensive line coach, which may not come until after the college and NFL seasons are completed.   

Former Trojans offensive right tackle Drew Richmond (photo above) came to the Trojans through the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Caller No. 5: Greger, when this whole COVID situation is contained or everybody is vaccinated, where would you like to go for a vacation?  

Caller No. 5, I guess I can dream a little bit. I have three places I would like to go. I would like to return to New York City, Walt Disney World, or Maui. With those three destinations in mind, I would probably go to in order: Disney World, New York City, Maui. Ask me this same question next week and I might reverse the order.  

The last word: Monday night is the CFP Championship Game between Alabama and Ohio State. Right now, and not shocking the world, my pick is Alabama. The Crimson Tide are a beautiful blend of a balanced offense between passing and running – as is Ohio State – but the Crimson Tide has the better running attack. Both teams are a reminder of what the Trojans once were and hope to be.  

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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