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O/NSO: 2019 USC game-by-game predictions edition –Part 2

The Obvious: As the Trojans head into the second half of the season and the final six games, the three biggest questions are: Is Clay Helton still coaching the Men of Troy, and if not, who is the interim coach? And did the O/NSO finally have an epiphany and come to his senses by changing his first 6 games prediction of 2-4? 

The Not So Obvious: Well, we’re still sticking with our first 6 games predictions of 2-4, but we did order a truckload of crow in case we’re made to eventually look like a fool, which wouldn’t be the first time an event of such magnitude has taken place. The O/NSO says it reasonable to assume that yet another interim coach could be in place for the final half dozen or so regular season games, but who might it be? Then again, would you be blown away if Clay Helton shocked the college football world and survives another season and actually turns the program around? Well, enough of the conjecture, let’s get the O/NSO’s second half of the season predictions.

The Obvious Game 7 – Arizona (2018 record – 5-7, 4-5 Pac-12)/ Ret. 6 off., 6 def./ SPT. Placekicker 1, punter 0): The Trojans return to the Coliseum to host the Arizona Wildcats in another big Pac-12 South Division game on Oct. 19 (Kick-off time and TV TBA).

As the Trojans begin the second half of the season, the big question: Will it be Clay Helton be leading his team down the Coliseum tunnel against Arizona?

The Not So Obvious Arizona game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: Even if there is an interim coach, the Trojans can’t lose to the Wildcats in the Coliseum, can they? The Wildcats return local product Khalil Tate at quarterback, but they seem to know how to control him for at least a half. Hopefully, Wildcats’ head coach Kevin Sumlin will play better defense on his own quarterback by constricting Tate’s talents rather than the Trojans’ defense. Having played against Tate before, the Trojans defense won’t be surprised by what this standout athlete can do, so he will be neutralized. Speaking of defense, the UofA defense returns six starters, but they have to replace half their secondary. It’s possible that Jack Sears is now the Trojans’ quarterback, and we know what happened the last time Sears played an Arizona school in the Coli. San Clemente Jack had one heckeva game.  

As the Trojans begin the second half of the season, another question: Will Jack Sears be the Trojans starting quarterback when his team faces Arizona in the Coliseum on Oct. 19?

The O/NSO pessimist: Please, if the Trojans have a new coach and a new quarterback, you really think that’s not going to have an effect on the game? Seriously? Of course, it is. Tate will drive Clancy Pendergast and his defense crazy, and as long as Khalil stays healthy, the Trojans’ defense won’t be. It’s not a question if Tate gets off but when. And let’s face it, with a Trojans’ coaching change there will be rumors, which means yet another distraction for the Men of Troy. Then again, let’s not forget that Arizona also brings home many Southland players who will be overly excited to perform before their families, friends, and former high school teammates and coaches.   

When the Trojans face the Wildcats, will Clancy Pendergast’s defense be able to contain Arizona’s dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate?

The O/NSO realist: The Trojans will be ready to play because they won’t want to have a repeat of last season when the saddle came completely off Traveler. Sure, current Trojans assistant coaches could be worried about their tenure and will, like the players, be distracted by the rumors and innuendos, but that is part of the gig and it goes with the territory. However, there is no debate that the Trojans have so much more talent than the Wildcats; USC will have to work overtime not to get a lopsided victory. If the Cardinal and Gold get off to a get start, they should be fine. Repeat after me, if the Cardinal and Gold get off to a get start, they should be fine.  

The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Arizona 27

The Obvious Game 8 – At Colorado (2018 record – 5-7,2-7 Pac-12)/Ret. Off. 6., Def. 5, SPT.  Placekicker 1, Punter 1): The Trojans travel to play Pac-12 South Division rival Colorado on Friday night, Oct. 25 (7 p.m. MT/ 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET/ ESPN2).

Colorado’s Folsom Field will be the site when the Trojans battle the Buffaloes on a Friday night game on Oct. 25.

The Not So Obvious Colorado game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: After a much-needed win against Arizona, the Trojans will feel some momentum going into this Friday night game. Colorado has a new coach in Mel Tucker from the SEC’s Georgia Bulldogs, but one small problem: he doesn’t have the Bulldogs’ ultra-talented roster. If Tucker thinks that coaching in the SEC will be enough to beat the Trojans on a Friday night, he’s wrong. Yeah, Colorado has six starters back on defense, but this is the Cardinal and Gold’s eighth game running Graham Harrell’s Air Raid, and things should be clicking, especially with receivers like Tyler Vaughns, against a Buffaloes defense, which returns just five starters and is missing a lot of talent. The safeties are new and so are two linebackers and D-liners. They are vulnerable. Offensively, the Trojans will shut down All-Conference receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., and they’ve have had success in the past against the Buff’s veteran QB Steven Montez.  

The Trojans are hoping that junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns will find the Colorado secondary to his liking.

The O/NSO pessimist: Let’s calm down a bit. Montez now has another year year of experience under his belt, and he could be effective as long as Shenault stays healthy. Colorado figures to have its hands full dealing with Trojans’ linebacker Palaie Gaoteote. Most of the CU offensive line is back and that means better protection. As for the defense, coach Tucker is considered a real hardnose guy, and it figures that the players will be a reflection of the coach. And let’s remember one thing, Tucker was the defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that almost derailed Alabama. It seems here that if you can be that dominant on defense, just scheme will be enough to challenge the Trojans’ offense. 

The Trojans expect that linebacker Palaie Gaoteote will introduce himself a number of times to Colorado quarterback Steven Montez..

The O/NSO realist: This one will depend on the Trojans’ state of mind. It will depend on the wanting to play and win. Sounds negative, but this is where we are at this stage of the season. Much could depend on the senior leadership and whomever is the quarterback. This one won’t be easy, but a win should be attainable. Of course, there’s the weather factor for a night game in Boulder, and don’t forget the game is being played in late October.  

The O/NSO prediction: USC 31, Col 24

The Obvious Game 9 – Oregon (2018 record – 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12/ Ret. Off. 9, Def. 7, SPT.  Placekicker 0, punter 0): For the first time since 2016, the Trojans host Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 2 (Kick-off time and TV TBA).

It’s been awhile since the Trojans have played Oregon, who is picked by many in the media to not only win the Pac-12 North Division but win the conference title overall.

The Not So Obvious Oregon game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: Hey, look who’s coming to the Coliseum. Long time, no see, Duckies. It’s our little mallard friends from Eugene. Hey Duckies, how do you like our new intimidating Coliseum? Having not played Oregon since 2016, our guys will be up for it. The Ducks will come in as the likely favorite. Sure, they’ve got a great quarterback in Justin Herbert, maybe a Heisman winner, but playing in the big media market like L.A. will be too big for him, and he’s not playing in whacky Autzen Stadium. Expect that the once inexperienced Trojans’ secondary led by sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga and friends are no longer wet behind the ears. And honestly, Oregon’s defense doesn’t really have any big stars except maybe senior linebacker Trey Dye. And here’s also a little secret, their special teams (placekicker and punter) aren’t exceptional either.   

Safety Talanoa Hufanga (photo above) and his secondary will be asked to stop Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, considered by some the top NFL prospect in the 2020 draft.

The O/NSO pessimist: Excuse me, but aren’t you leaving out the fact that many believe they are the best team in the Pac-12 North, and their offensive line has like four guys that have been named to the preseason All-Pac-12 first or second team? Doesn’t that get your attention? And as far as Herbert at quarterback, this kid is in the Sam Darnold class and maybe better. He could be the first QB taken in next spring’s draft. Let’s also consider that Oregon’s coach Mario Cristobal is a former Alabama assistant coach (O-line). Speaking of The Tide, Coach Mario even took his Oregon staff last spring to Nick Saban’s Alabama practices just to show his Ducks’ assistants how the game is played under the now legendary Crimson Tide head coach.

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is being compared to former Trojans’ QB great Sam Darnold.

The O/NSO realist: This game could be one exciting gridiron clash, and it figures to draw a national television audience with bowl implications. If the Trojans are still in the Pac-12 South race, this may be the biggest game to date in conference play. However, it’s the Ducks that may have the Pac-12 MVP in QB Justin Herbert, and that will mean something. If the Trojans’ secondary allows Herbert’s receivers to get open and the USC D-line doesn’t put enough pressure and pursuit, Herbert will slice and dice the Trojans to the point of frustration and defeat.

The O/NSO prediction: Oregon 38, USC 31

The Obvious Game 10 – At Arizona State (2018 record – 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12)/Ret. Off. 7, Def. 6, 0 Placekicker 1, Punter 0):The Trojans head to Tempe for a game against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday, Nov. 9 (Kick-off time and TV TBA).

ASU’s Sun Devils Stadium has always been a tough place for USC to come out with a victory.

The Not So Obvious Arizona State game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: This will be a Trojans’ revenge game after the Sun Devils won last season at the Coliseum 38-35.There’s no way that Clay Helton – if he is still the coach – is going to lose to Herm Edwards two seasons in a row. It just ain’t happening. Got that? By now, the Trojans’ offense should be humming, and the right guy will be the quarterback. It’s about time that the Trojans’ running backs become a major offensive threat, and it looks like this can be the type of game – even with a good Sun Devils’ defense – that a physical back like SC sophomore Markese Stepp makes a difference. And, BTW, ASU has a new quarterback who has never faced the “real” Trojans. Just wait until the new guy gets greeted by USC true freshman DE phenom Drake Jackson, who is now playing more like a sophomore. Also, let’s see the Sun Devils’ defense try and stop WR Michael Pittman Jr., who had 90 yards receiving and two TD receptions last time against ASU.

A potential difference-maker against the Sun Devils could be redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp.

The O/NSO pessimist: Still laughing that ASU selected Herm Edwards as its head coach. Perhaps you didn’t notice or have forgotten that ASU has one of the nation’s best running backs in Eno Benjamin? Last season, Benjamin ran for 185 yards on 29 carries against the Trojans and looked more like a Tailback U. carrier! Yeah, perhaps you forget Benjamin’s 49-yard TD run against Clancy’s defense, the second of two rushing touchdowns in that game. And, pssst, have you also forgotten that ASU returns its whole left side of the offensive line? Last season, the Sun Devils played with the youngest defense in all of college football. These guys are now experienced and babies no more. Their top two linebackers, sophomores Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler, are back.The ASU secondary, once a joke, could be much improved by the time they play the Men of Troy.

The Trojans’ defense will be challenged by ASU tailback standout Eno Benjamin (No. 3), whom many consider the Pac-12’s premier running back.

The O/NSO realist: The Trojans are in tough against ASU. There will be no Trojans’ intimation factor regarding the Sun Devils. This is a big Pac-12 South Division game, and since the game is in November, the heat shouldn’t be a factor. If it is a night kickoff, however, it could get chilly once the Tempe sun goes down. ASU’s Edwards and his staff proved last season that coaching does make a difference. If the Trojans win, it will be a hard-fought game like last season’s game in the Coliseum.

The O/NSO prediction: ASU 34, USC 31

The Obvious Game 11 – At Cal (2018 record – 7-6, 4-5 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 4, 7 Def. 7, SPT. Place kicker 1, Punter 1): It’s the Bay Area Weekender, as the Trojans play in Berkeley against the California Bears on Saturday, Nov. 16, in Memorial Stadium (Kick-off time and TV TBA).

Cal’s Memorial Stadium is always a great place to watch a game, and when the Trojans play the Golden Bears in November, the home team once again will be paying tribute to the late Joe Roth, the former Bears quarterback..

The Not So Obvious Cal game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans aren’t going to score only 14 points on offense this time around against the Bears, and there’ll be no snap over the quarterback’s head for a safety. We’ll concede that head coach Justin Wilcox is a sharp defensive mind. Unfortunately for the Bears, their offense isn’t the Chicago Bears. As mentioned, the Trojans should be able to score more than 14 points, and it will take the Berkeley Boys more than 15 points to defeat the Trojans, no doubt. And let’s not forget that Cal’s best runner, Patrick Laird, has graduated, and there are only four offensive returning starters. That right there in a nutshell is the game, my friends.

One of the reasons that Trojans’ offense is expected to give Cal’s defensive line a serous challenge is NCAA Portal Transfer OT Drew Richmond, who started at Tennessee and has faced top-notch SEC defensive lines.

The O/NSO pessimist: My oh my, how we’ve forgotten how bad the Trojans looked last season against Cal. Jump to this season and we guarantee you’re going to see a better Cal offense. They will score more than 15 points this time around. However, it’s almost the same Bear’s defense, as seven starters are back from the team that upset the Trojans last time in Los Angeles. Remember the Bears last season? Cal even upset Washington, 12-10, in Strawberry Canyon, so the coaching appears to be there. So, what’s that got to do with this season’s game? This Bears team will be another Pac-12 school that will come to play Troy oozing with plenty of confidence, especially if the Cardinal and Gold are floating from a coaching change and seem more interested in the future than the present.

Former Trojans’ maligned defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is now considered somewhat of a savior as Cal’s second-year head coach.

The O/NSO realist: When it’s all said and done, the Trojans offense will be more potent than the Cal Bears’ offense. You can have a great defense, but you still have to score points to win. Cal just doesn’t have the fire power yet on offense to stay with the Trojans, although a low-scoring game may be the order of the day or evening. FYI, if this November game is played at night, it will be downright cold with the wind blowing in from the San Francisco Bay. Bundle up, folks, but the cold and wind won’t be a reason the Trojans could lose to the Bears. However, we don’t see it happening. Again, too much USC talent and not enough Cal talent to allow the Trojans to be upset two seasons in a row.  

The O/NSO prediction: USC 28, Cal 17

The Obvious Game 12 – UCLA (2018 record – 3-9, 3-6 Pac-12)/ Ret. Off. 8, Def. 9, SPT. Placekicker 1, Punter 0): The Trojans’ regular season concludes with the nations’ greatest city rivalry – USC/UCLA – in the Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 23 (Kick-off time and TV TBA).

The Trojans will welcome UCLA to the Coliseum for the last regular season game of the year and hope to avenge last season’s embarrassing loss to the Bruins in the Rose Bowl.

The Not So Obvious UCLA game points of view:

The O/NSO optimist: There’s only one way to look at this game and that’s with a capital REVENGE. Plain and simple, the Trojans will win this year’s crosstown rival game because of the way they were embarrassed last season against the upstart Bruins. There is no way that the Trojans will get run over again by that UC Davis transfer Joshua Kelley. Stop that little sucker and UCLA is in a world of hurt. The Bruins won’t score 34 points this season. No way!

The Trojans’ defense will have to be on top of its game when they try again to stop UCLA running back Joshua Kelly, who ran for 289 yards and two touchdowns last season in the Rose Bowl.

The O/NSO pessimist: You’re right, UCLA won’t score 34 points this season. They could score more now that they are a year older in Chip Kelly’s system. If the Bruins can beat the Trojans up with a fledgling program, what the heck can they do when Kelly completely outcoaches the USC brain trust again? UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be a completely more advanced player than he was as a freshman. In fact, he could be the key to making it two in a row for the Bruins if Dorian is the quarterback. And the Bruins defense does have a star in Darnay Holmes, who is now a junior and thinking NFL. You remember Darnay, the kid the Trojans so desperately wanted as the next Adoree’ Jackson. And don’t get me started.

The Trojans’ heralded wide receivers are hoping to challenge heralded UCLA corner Darnay Holmes, once a high priority USC recruit.

The O/NSO realist: Based on last season and how much the Bruins improved from their first game to their domination of the Trojans in the Rose Bowl, you just know this will be another slugfest, and turnovers will be the key. Nobody knows what the USC coaching situation will be at this time of the year, but it shouldn’t matter because it’s the crosstown rivalry, right? The Trojans better come into the Coliseum with bad intentions or this could be just as embarrassing as last season. Here’s to believing the Trojans don’t want that taste of defeat again, and they certainly don’t want to listen about it another year either. They’ll find a way to make sure the powder blue and gold is not celebrating on the Coli turf after 60 minutes of football.

The O/NSO prediction: USC 38, UCLA 34

The Obvious: And finally, there are a whole lot of variables and question marks to the 2019 season, and it’s safe to say there is a lot of ways it could end up.  

The Not So Obvious: Overall,the final 2019 regular season record depends on your point of view.

The O/NSO optimist: The Trojans will finish the season 10-2. We’ll give you defeats at Washington and Notre Dame.

The O/NSO pessimist: The Trojans will finish the season 5-7. We’ll acccept the premise that this team will be better because there will be better coaching, but the schedule is not conducive to a winning record.

The O/NSO realist: The Trojans will finish the season 6-6. Yeah, that sounds about right. Then again, it take just one more win to be 7-5 or one more loss to be 5-7.

The O/NSO prediction: Based on the O/NSO analysis and repeating the old Coach John McKay saying, “If the Trojans play as well as they can play, and the opponent plays as well as they can play, we’ll win,” we see the Trojans finishing 6-6 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12 South. 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 5-7 (road losses at BYU, Notre Dame, ASU, and Washington, and at home defeats Stanford, Utah and Oregon). You may now begin to toss the tomatoes, but please one per reader only.

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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