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O/NSO: 2018 preseason predictions review – Part 2 edition

The Obvious: While you’re nervously awaiting former Texas Tech head coach and consensus offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury’s final decision whether to become the new offensive coordinator for Clay Helton, now would be a good time to pause between hirings and firings to scrutinize Part 2 of the O/NSO 2018 preseason game-by-game predictions.

The Not So Obvious: In Part 1 of our preseason predictions review, which was posted in early October, we took a look of what we pre-predicted game-by-game in the first six outings and how those games actually played out. Now, we’ll scrutinize Part 2 of our preseason game-by-game predictions and look at the final six games and see what the realities brought us. For those readers that missed Part 1 of our preseason predictions, The O/NSO predicted the 2018 Trojans would go 4-2 in its first six games and did. Because the Part 1 edition of the O/NSO ran during the bye week, we even had a prediction on the Colorado game of USC 34, Colorado 17 with the real time final score being 31-20. So, let’s bare our soul again and see how what we predicted the last six games of the season and how things actually finished.

The Obvious: In Game 7 at Utah, the Trojans traveled to Rice-Eccles Stadium and a hostile Utes Homecoming uprising. The O/NSO wrote, “This game figures to be very tight throughout all four quarters, and Daniels’ poise will be tested every which way but up as will the physicality of both Trojans’ lines. The home field advantage for Utah is real, and the Utes will really get cranked up in the final quarter especially if the game is close. The O/NSO expects a similar game the last time the Trojans visited Salt Lake City in 2016, but this is a game that both Clancy Pendergast’s defense and placekicker McGrath help decide the outcome…in overtime.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 27, Utah 24 OT

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – Utah 41, USC 28. The Utes didn’t need an overtime to take it to the Trojans. The O/NSO was pretty close in what the Trojans would score, but the Trojans’ defense couldn’t handle couldn’t help us out at all, and the O/NSO never really thought the Men of Troy would win. So why did we pick the Trojans? Well, overtime was our way of saying we didn’t get a good vibe on this game to begin with. Once again, the Trojans couldn’t handle a dual-threat quarterback. Utah QB Tyler Huntley threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-29 passing to lead the victory. Utes tailback Zack Moss added 136 yards on 25 carries, as the Utes defeated the Trojans for the third straight time in Salt Lake City.

The Obvious: In Game 8 and returning to Coliseum to host upstart Arizona State, the O/NSO wrote, “Sorry Herm (Edwards), you don’t have enough talent to do it this season to pull the upset, but the O/NSO is not so sure that this coaching “experiment” is going to end up a failure. On the contrary, it could be one of the best surprise hires in the history of the university. No upset this time, but maybe next season in Tempe, my extroverted friend.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, ASU 20

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – ASU 38, USC 35. Well, the Sun Devils scored 15 more points than we predicted, but the Trojans’ offense was close to our prediction – six points separation. The message here is that the Trojans’ defense and, in this case, special teams caved. ASU superstar wide receiver and special teams demon N’Keal Harry scored on a 92-yard punt return and also caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from QB Manny Wilkins, ending the Trojans’ 19-game Coliseum winning streak. ASU tailback Eno Benjamin rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns, as ASU won at the Coliseum for the second time in their past 10 visits dating back to 2001. Wasted was a fine Trojans quarterback performance by redshirt freshman backup Jack Sears who threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.

The Obvious: With a 4-4 overall record and 3-3 in Pac-12 South play, the Trojans traveled to Corvallis to play the Oregon State Beavers and we wrote, “This will be a feel-good game for Helton and his program. If not, there needs to be a congressional investigation.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 48, Oregon State 13.

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – USC 38, Oregon State 21. The O/NSO was 10 points off of the Trojans’ offensive output, but close in what the Beavers would score. Trojans’ senior tailback Aca’Cedric Ware rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns, including 57-yard and 62-yard scoring sprints while quarterback JT Daniels threw for 177 yards and a touchdown. Trojans’ tailback Vavae Malepeai contributed 101 yards rushing, as the Men of Troy broke a two-game losing streak.

The Obvious: The Trojans returned to the Coliseum to host Cal in the USC Homecoming Game. The O/NSO wrote, “No doubt that (Justin) Wilcox has the Bears headed in an upward direction; however, this season his club won’t be playing this game in NorCal but in L.A. There’s reason to believe that the Trojans won’t be caught unaware and will have greater respect for the Wilcox program this time around. The O/NSO prediction: USC 37, Cal 20

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – Cal 15, USC 14. Okay, who got this one right? With Clay Helton taking over the play calling from OC Tee Martin, the Trojans’ offense still struggled in the second half, so maybe Tee wasn’t the problem. The Trojans’ offense scored 22 points less than we predicted, but Cal scored just five more points than we forecasted. Cal QB Chase Garbers threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, and Calif snapped its 14-game losing streak against the Trojans. With this defeat, the Trojans record dropped to 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-12 South. Suddenly there was the thought leading into the UCLA that maybe – just maybe – the worst was yet to come. Part of that “worst” was that the Cardinal and Gold were still not bowl eligible.

The Obvious: In Game 10 and still not bowl eligible, the Trojans traveled to the Rose Bowl to battle crosstown rival UCLA. The O/NSO wrote, “The Trojans have more talent than the Bruins, but there is the lingering question about how much the Bruins have progressed this season under Kelly and his staff compared to the Trojans’ Clay Helton and his staff. Some answers should be revealed in this rivalry game. A big victory by the Trojans and it reestablishes not only superiority against their Westwood brethren, but also retards the progress of Chip Kelly overtures that the Bruins are closing the gap. No question, this is a real litmus test for both programs.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 34, UCLA 24

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score – UCLA 34, USC 27. The Trojans scored seven points less than the O/NSO forecasted while UCLA’s offense scored 10 more points than anticipated. Now officially out of any Pac-12 South Division title chase, the Trojans were starring at the daunting thought of trying to become bowl eligible against No. 3 Notre Dame who was trying to secure a slot in the CFP. No, we didn’t forget:  UCLA tailback Joshua Kelley rushed for 289 yards on 40 carries and scored two touchdowns, as the Trojans now have dropped four of their last five games.

The Obvious: In the 12th and final game of the season in the Coliseum, the Trojans entertained No. 3 Notre Dame, which was looking to go undefeated in the regular season (12-0) and lock up one of the four CFP semi-final spots. The O/NSO wrote, If the Trojans can’t match the Irish physically, this one could get very ugly again. Granted, the game is being played in the Coliseum, but at some point, the Trojan linemen on both sides of the ball have to put on their big boy pants and make it a war in the pit. If not, it doesn’t much matter what else happens. Until the O/NSO sees the Trojan linemen moving the ND linemen around both on offense and defense, the Irish have the upper hand.” The O/NSO prediction: Notre Dame 34, USC 27

The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was Notre Dame 24, USC 17. The Irish scored 10 more points than we predicted, and the Trojans scored 10 points less than we foreshadowed. Well, at least the Men of Troy came to play and stayed with the undefeated Irish for much of the game. The attendance was a reflection of the USC fan base that was absolutely angry with Clay Helton as the Trojans’ head football coach. As for the game, illusive ND quarterback Ian Book passed for 352 yards, tailback Dexter Williams went 52 yards on a go-ahead touchdown run, as No. 3 Notre Dame completed an unbeaten regular season and likely secured a spot in the College Football Playoff. Trojans’ QB JT Daniels passed for 349 yards and wide receiver Tyler Vaughns caught 12 passes for 120 yards against the Irish.

The Obvious: And finally, in looking at the 2018 before any kickoff or tackle, the O/NSO wrote, “Based on the O/NSO analysis and repeating the old Coach McKay saying, ‘If the Trojans play as well as they can play, and the opponents play as well as they can play, we’ll win.’ We see the Trojans finishing a best-case scenario 9-3. However, if the Trojans don’t play as well as they can play, and the opponents play as well as they can play, a reasonable worse-case scenario could be 7-5 (road losses at Stanford, Texas, Utah, and Arizona, and at home against Notre Dame). What say you, my friends?”

The Not So Obvious: As we all have come to know, the Trojans finished the season not 7-5 but 5-7 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12 season, so we were actually two games off of the actual final record based on our preseason predictions. What happened following the Notre Dame loss was perhaps another defining moment that best describes the season when last Sunday morning USC athletic director Lynn Swann announced that Clay Helton would be returning as the 2019 Trojans head coach. It means that not only will USC fans be running their fingernails down the chalkboard regarding the completion of the Coliseum renovation but will be confronted with another renovation project –   the renovation of Clay Helton’s USC football program.

Now… has Kliff Kingsbury finally signed to be a Trojan or is it indicative of what happened during the regular season – a continuing of the season of disappointment?

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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