10 min Read

Musings from Arledge: Waiting for Opening Day, QB Conundrum, Talented Talanoa, and Quoting Swann

In the words of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka (the only Willy Wonka worth anything): “The suspense is terrible.”

I feel a little like that when you get this close to opening day. Here’s the thing: it’s hard to tell much from intra-squad scrimmages. Is the running game bad because the O line is bad or the D line is so good? I think the D line is good, but they certainly got run on last year, so we don’t really know. Is the secondary susceptible to the big play because the secondary is inexperienced or because the receivers are great? Okay, we do know the receivers are great. But we still don’t know what to make of the secondary.

The truth is that we just don’t know what kind of team USC will put on the field. You can judge the progress of individual players, but it’s hard to judge the makeup of the team as a whole. Part of that is because until we face other teams – that don’t know the personnel or the plays, that are going 100% in live action – you can’t know for sure what you have. But it’s also impossible to know because we don’t know how the team will react when adversity strikes, as it inevitably will, and this may be the most important thing. Some of Clay Helton’s teams reacted very well; think of that Rose Bowl fourth quarter or the end of that Texas game in 2017. But last year’s team completely fell apart at the first sign of adversity. Until we know what this year’s team will do, we just can’t tell what we have. This could be a 10-2 team; it could be a 6-6 team.

I’ve been a skeptic for some time now; that’s no secret. I’m not alone. The AP voters are skeptics. Vegas oddsmakers are skeptics. But Clay and his guys can prove everybody wrong beginning in less than two weeks. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Don’t you think that Clay Helton must be at least a little frustrated that JT Daniels hasn’t locked up this quarterback competition yet? Players tend to grow the most between their freshman and sophomore years, and Daniels now brings a whole year of experience to this season. He’s playing in a very quarterback-friendly offense. Helton must have expected him to take charge … and he hasn’t. I bet Clay is frustrated, and probably a little bit nervous. I know I am.

The frustration is not necessarily that Daniels hasn’t separated himself from Sears, although that would have been nice. But it doesn’t appear that he’s put much daylight between himself and Fink or even Slovis. That’s troubling. And let me save you the trouble: USC does not have four excellent quarterbacks. Nobody does. USC does not have four guys that could lead a team to the Rose Bowl. They just don’t.

I’m still cautiously optimistic about the QB situation. These guys still have time to grow into the role, and I think Graham Harrell and the new offense will really help whoever starts. But, geez, if USC has a good QB, shouldn’t he be clearly outplaying Slovis right now? Slovis may be a diamond in the rough, but he’s still a true freshmen who all the other big programs passed on. Is that too much to ask that a five-star recruit with a year of starting experience would clearly be outplaying him? I sure wouldn’t have thought so.

Talanoa Hufanga is going to be a monster over the next couple of years if he can only…. I don’t need to finish the sentence, as you know what comes next. I love this kid so much that I’d like to name my son after him. Being that I won’t have any more sons, I’ve actually started the legal process to have my 13-year-old son’s name legally changed to Talanoa Hufanga Arledge. That’s how much I love this young safety. Please, please just stay — you know. I don’t even want to say it. (You know, just in case my words have the power attributed to them by my critics, who sometimes act as if the pessimism of Musings is what stands between this football program and gridiron glory.) 

So now everybody loves Big Brother, I mean the Scholarship Tower? Even Greg Katz? Good for Greg; that shows an open-mindedness and an honesty that we should celebrate. Of course, for most of us, the issue was never the quality of the experience in the tower itself. That is, I never doubted that if USC threw hundreds of millions of dollars at a structure, they could make it nice inside for all the major donors.

My issue has always been other things — shrinking the stadium’s capacity, displacing long-time season ticket holders, and the strange, asymmetrical appearance of the stadium as a whole. With that giant structure on only one side, it looks like it might capsize just like the Island of Guam. (If you don’t know the reference, look it up. It will renew your faith in Congress.)

Of course, as I’ve said from the beginning, my unhappiness with the tower ends the day somebody asks me to join them for a game in it.

Does anybody else ever get the impression that Lynn Swann is just trolling us sometimes?

I didn’t really want to talk about Lynn Swann anymore, but there are some things you just have to address. Swann went on Dan Patrick and said USC struggled last year because of recruiting:

“It takes a little while to get there if you haven’t had good recruiting years.”

Yes, he blamed 5-7 on bad recruiting. (And on overconfidence and complacency, which was weird in itself and raises all kinds of other questions….) I mean, I know USC often struggles to compete with all of those recruiting juggernauts in the Pac 12. How is USC supposed to keep pace with Wazzu and Utah when it comes to recruiting?

But here’s the thing: everybody else in the world thinks that USC recruited pretty well, certainly good enough to be competitive in the worst major conference.  

All the pundits thought we were doing okay. In case you’re interested, USC was third behind Ohio State and Georgia and fifth behind those two, Alabama, and Florida State in the two-year and five-year recruiting rankings before last season. Top five is pretty good, right? Certainly that should give you enough talent to beat Cal and ASU and maybe even compete with Utah.

Clay Helton also thought we recruited pretty well. Remember, before 2018 he said USC was knocking on the doorstep of a national title. He wasn’t telling the fan base that we’re a few recruiting classes from being able to compete.

And you know who else thought USC had been recruiting pretty well? Lynn Swann did. He told all of us just eight months ago that he was retaining Helton in part because of his recruiting:

“He runs a clean program, he graduates his players, he recruits well, he produces NFL players.”

I actually agree that Clay Helton was recruiting well. But if Clay was recruiting well, and USC tanked last year because of bad recruiting classes, who was it that did all that bad recruiting? The guy before Clay? The guy who left Clay with Darnold, JuJu, Adoree, RoJo, Uchenna, etc.? Maybe, although his recruiting rankings were pretty good, too. But maybe that guy screwed it all up.

But doesn’t that raise some questions? The previous guy left three recruiting classes before the 5-7 season? That’s a long time to start building a roster. Couldn’t something have been done in the meantime? Can we really blame the previous guy’s recruiting for doing us in after all those years? And if it weren’t for the names listed above – brought in by that other guy – I’m not sure Helton ever gets that extension in the first place.

Maybe Swann’s just talking about recruiting in the trenches. And that, I concede, has been a problem. But whose fault is it that USC regularly recruits an all-star 7-on-7 team instead of a full roster? Clay Helton was the head coach for three recruiting classes before last year’s disaster, and he was the offensive coordinator before that.

So what, exactly, is Lynn Swann trying to tell us? And did he actually prepare that talking point before he delivered it or was that some sort of stream-of-consciousness game that he likes to play on the radio?

Look, I don’t want to talk anymore about 2018. I really don’t. And I don’t want to talk about Lynn Swann. It’s not fun, and I’m not sure what there to talk about, because I’m not entirely sure what he does.

Still, I’d like the leader of USC’s athletic department to think before he speaks. And no, because I know the comments will come rushing in, I don’t expect Lynn Swann to trash Clay Helton or the program on a radio show. Of course not. He should be positive. He should say that he thinks the changes Clay made will lead to a successful season. He should talk about graduation rates. He should do all these things.

But I have one simple request for Mr. Swann: just don’t say things that are plainly silly — like, for example, saying USC lost to Cal, got crushed by Utah, and finished near the bottom of the conference standings because of recruiting. And please, please, don’t say that sort of thing just months after telling USC fans you’re keeping the head coach, at least in part, because of his great recruiting. That’s all I ask. It’s admittedly a low bar, and intentionally so. Yet even that minuscule hurdle seems too high much of the time.

So, Lynn, if you’re just trolling us, you got me again. Enjoy the laugh at my expense.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

More Articles By Chris