The Obvious: The 2019 USC Trojans finished the season in November with an 8-5 winning record but did not win the Pac-12 South Division despite going undefeated within the division and then got manhandled by Iowa in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl in late December.
The Not So Obvious: So, were the 2019 results what was expected by all those preseason prognosticators that included the O/NSO? As you are probably aware, the O/NSO believes if you’re man enough to make those uncharted preseason predictions, you have to be Clay Helton enough to accept the reality of what really transpired game-by-game and take ownership of your predictions. Therefore, here’s what the O/NSO predicted seasonally prior to the first game against Fresno State, and then what really happened. And since the O/NSO was willing to put our foot in our mouth, we’re also entitled to added “copouts,” as well. Copouts are a perk of the job.
The Obvious Game 1 – Fresno State: The O/NSO wrote, “The Trojans will score because not only do they have a new passing offense and the skill players to run it, they have the offensive coordinator of this version of the Air Raid to run it. We know if the Trojans can score in the second half of a game, a real offensive coordinator can really make a difference. For the Bulldogs to win, they’ll have to keep the score close going into the final quarter. The Trojans have too many weapons on offense, and the Bulldogs have too much rebuilding and inexperience on offense to keep the game close.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 31, FRESNO STATE 17
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 31, Fresno State 23. Vavae Malepeai rushed for a career-high 134 yards, Velus Jones returned a kickoff 101 yards for a score and USC overcame the loss of starting quarterback JT Daniels to a right leg injury in the victory over Fresno State. Daniels passed for 215 yards before getting hurt on a blitz 27 seconds before halftime. Freshman backup Kedon Slovis passed for 57 yards in his debut for the Trojans.
The O/NSO copout: Well, give the O/NSO credit for nailing the number of points the Trojans scored against the Bulldogs, although Fresno State did tack on six more points on the scoreboard than we predicted. All in all, the game went about how we expected, and the prediction was a victory. Not exactly going out on a limb in the opener.
The Obvious Game 2 – Stanford: The O/NSO wrote: “This is the first Pac-12 game for both teams, and there is a lot on the line so early in the season. Both teams will come to play and whoever wins this one will out-physical the other, outthink the other, and limit the turnovers. Time of possession will play a big factor in the outcome, and the Trojans have a major weapon in Australian punter Ben Griffiths, who has NFL written all over him. However, when it’s all said and done, the stability of the Cardinal program in doing what they’ve done for so many years before and the Trojans’ secondary is so vulnerable, especially at the corners, one has to give the nod to the Cardinal. It’s not that the Trojans can’t beat The Farm, but they’re going to have to prove it on both sides of the ball and it won’t be easy at all.” The O/NSO prediction: STANFORD 31, USC 27
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 45, Stanford 20. Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a commanding performance, and the Trojans rolled to a 45-20 victory over the No. 23 Cardinal. Slovis went 28 of 33 and set the school record for yards passing in the freshman’s first start as the Trojans rallied from an early 14-point deficit to beat the Cardinal for the third time in the California private schools’ last four meetings. The Trojans scored 18 more points on offense than we predicted, and Stanford scored 11 points less than we thought.
The O/NSO copout: Okay, so how the heck did the O/NSO know that Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello wasn’t going to play, and Trojans’ true freshman QB Kedon Slovis was going to look like Tom Brady? How the heck did the O/NSO know that Stanford would prove what kind of team it really was and would finish the season with a 4-8 overall record, 3-6 in the Pac-12 North Division, and come in last place in their division with no bowl game? In hindsight, the victory over Stanford did not really mean the Trojans were going to be that good but was a foreshadowing that the Cardinal were going to be that bad. Nonetheless, the O/NSO was wrong in our game prediction.
The Obvious Game 3 – At BYU: The O/NSO wrote, “BYU is a tough place to play, and the Cougars are very physical and mature. This one could be classified as a “trap game.” Don’t underestimate the home field advantage. The first road game of the season will test the Trojans under extreme adversity. We’ll find out about their mental toughness in this rare afternoon game.” The O/NSO prediction: USC 30, BYU 27 in OT by field goal.
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was BYU 30, USC 27 2OT. The wrong team won on an overtime field goal. BYU’s Dayan Ghanwoloku intercepted a tipped pass in overtime after Jake Oldroyd kicked a 43-yard field to give the Cougars the lead, and BYU beat No. 24 USC 30-27, their second straight OT victory over a traditional power program. BYU QB Zach Wilson threw for 280 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score for BYU, which won at Tennessee the previous week. BYU RB Ty’Son Williams added 99 yards on 19 carries. Trojans’ QB Kedon Slovis threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns for USC but was picked off three times, including on the final play of the game.
The O/NSO copout: : Hey, I did predict an overtime game in Provo and a field goal would be the difference, didn’t I? It was just, unfortunately, the wrong outcome of teams. Was it my fault that the Trojans blew it in double overtime? BYU scored three points more than we predicted, but the Trojans scored three less points than anticipated. Was it my fault that Slovis was intercepted three times, which included the one on the final play of the game? Yet, it was still a defeat, but I did get us into overtime, will you concede that?
The Obvious Game 4 – Utah: The O/NSO wrote, “The Trojans figure to be the underdog at home. As singing great Kenny Loggin’s song “This is it” bellows, this probably is “this is it” and the Men of Troy have to come through – especially with the next two games at Washington and Notre Dame. Get the picture or should we say scenario?” The O/NSO prediction: UTAH 34, USC 24.
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 30, Utah 23. Trojans’ backup quarterback Matt Fink, starting in place of injured QB Kedon Slovis (concussion), found himself passing for 351 yards, leading a victory over No. 10 Utah at the roaring Coliseum. Trojans’ wide receiver Michael Pittmans Jr. caught 10 passes for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown from Fink in USC’s 30-23 victory over the Utes on a Friday night. Fink went 21 of 30 with three touchdown passes.
The O/NSO copout: Let’s get to the point. The Utes have issues when they play at the Coliseum. What’s the losing streak at in L.A.? Seriously, how do you explain that Trojans backup quarterback Matt Fink turned into Sam Darnold for the biggest game of the season to this point, and that Utah’s great running back Zack Moss would be knocked out of the game so early? Who could have predicted either of those unexpected scenarios? Give both teams credit for playing out of character, but that’s how it rolled. The Trojans did “hit” with Utah on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and there was some optimism for the balance of the season.
The Obvious Game 5 – At Washington: The O/NSO wrote, “Then, of course, one has to take into account the Husky Stadium volume intimidator and the potential for inclement weather. The Trojans will be a sizeable underdog and if this turns out to be the third conference loss in three tries, will Clay Helton even be coaching against Notre Dame in two weeks?” The O/NSO prediction: UW 34, USC 24
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was UW 28, USC 14. Washington tailback Salvon Ahmed rushed for a career-high 153 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. With the Trojans trailing 20-7 and driving, Trojans’ QB Matt Fink had a pass intercepted by UW’s Elijah Molden at the Washington 1, as he tried to hit Michael Pittman Jr. Two plays later, Ahmed waited for the hole to open, then burst into the open field, and ran away from the defense. Fink was intercepted three times, the first two leading to Washington touchdowns. More importantly, the Trojans found nothing open downfield. Pittman caught a 44-yard touchdown on a blown UW coverage late in the third quarter. It was the Trojans’ first pass play of more than eight yards. Troy’s last hope ended when the Husky’s Myles Bryant broke up a fourth-and-goal pass in the end zone with 4:47 left.
The O/NSO copout: The O/NSO won’t quibble with the outcome, since we predicted a Huskies victory anyway. The game went according to our thoughts. Matt Fink played like an inexperienced backup quarterback after the week before performance of playing out of his mind. The Trojans scored 10 points less than predicted, as the Huskies again proved they have the answers against anybody’s air raid offense. The Huskies, by far the more disciplined team, scored six points less than we expected, but the bottom-line final was in the ballpark to our prediction in terms of how the game would play out.
The Obvious Game 6 – At Notre Dame: The O/NSO wrote, “The Trojans will fight like mad, but the Irish will be too physical, too talented, too motivated, and head coach Brian Kelly will have ND ready to ball. As for the Trojans, the thought that this might be Clay Helton’s last game as a Trojan – if he already hasn’t been replaced – could very well be in the offering. We suspect the Trojans will battle like hell, and the offense will go as far as its turnover ratio. Defensively, the Irish offensive line will wear down the Trojans defense in the second half. This isn’t negative, but let’s be realistic. You know it, the O/NSO knows it, and so do the respective rooting interests.” The O/NSO prediction: ND 41, USC 24
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was ND 30, USC 27. No. 9 Notre Dame survived upset-minded USC by staying grounded in chilly Notre Dame Stadium. ND’s Tony Jones Jr. rushed for a career-high 176 yards, QB Ian Book scored on an 8-yard run with 3:33 left and Jonathan Doerer kicked three long field goals as the Irish won 30-27 in the 91st meeting of the longtime rivals. It was the third straight victory for the Fighting Irish over the Trojans, and it wasn’t easy after the Men of Troy had drawn within 23-20 behind true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. ND’s Book’s touchdown in the final quarter ended a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:54 off the clock. The Irish quarterback, who rushed for 49 yards and added 165 yards through the air on 17-of-32 passing, was too much for the Trojans’ defense. Trojans’ running back Markese Stepp, who ran for 82 yards, scored from the two with 1:04 left to make it 30-27. Notre Dame’s Brock Wright recovered the onside kick, and the Irish ran out the clock.
The O/NSO copout: Just when it looked like the Irish would rout the Trojans in South Bend, Clay Helton’s team fought like crazy right down to the end. The Irish, however, proved in the final quarter that they were the better and more physical team, but let’s give the Trojans credit; they never gave up. The Trojans’ defense gave up 11 points less that we thought they’d give up, and the Trojans offense, which came alive in the second half, scored three more points than we anticipated. However, in terms of our prediction, the Irish won although the Trojans’ defense for much of the game kept the Cardinal and Gold in striking distance. At the halfway point of the season, the Trojans overall record was 3-3.
The Obvious Game 7 – Arizona: The O/NSO wrote: “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 will 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 good start, they should be fine. Repeat after me, if the Cardinal and Gold get off to a good start, they should be fine. The O/NSO prediction: USC 41, Arizona 27
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 41, UA 14. Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis threw touchdown passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns and the Trojans remained unbeaten at the Coliseum this season with the victory over Arizona. Trojans’ true freshman running back Kenan Christon rushed for 88 of his 103 yards in the fourth quarter and made two blazing TD runs to score his first career touchdowns for the Trojans. The Trojans beat Arizona for the seventh straight time.
The O/NSO copout: Perhaps the easiest game to predict, the O/NSO got the Trojans scoring right on the nose although the Arizona offense – or lack of it even with dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate – scored 13 points less than we predicted. This was also the beginning of Clay Helton telling all who would listen than his team was really going to be special in the second half of the season. Of course, he knew he was playing against weak Pac-12 South Division teams that were proving they were not the equal of the stronger North Division.
The Obvious Game 8 – At Colorado: The O/NSO wrote, “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 Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 35, Col 31. Trojans’ QB Kedon Slovis threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Michael Pittman Jr. with 2:15 left, and the Trojans escaped Folsom Field with a dramatic win on a Friday night. The Colorado Buffaloes nearly pulled off their first ever victory over the Trojans. Troy caught a couple of big breaks on their winning touchdown drive. The first came when Slovis was strip-sacked by outside linebacker Jamar Montgomery for a 10-yard loss but running back Kenan Christon recovered for the Trojans. Slovis then hit Drake London for 19 yards and on third-and-1 from the 50, RB Quincy Jountti looked like he was stuffed, but the officials spotted the ball for a first down, and four plays later Pittman took a short pass and weaved his way through the Colorado secondary for the go-ahead score.
The O/NSO copout: Give Helton’s team credit for that nerve-racking fourth quarter comeback.We predicted a victory on the road, but the Trojans were mighty fortunate that Colorado quarterback Stephen Montez was knocked silly in the second half and never returned to his effective first half form. Although it’s part of the game, if Montez hadn’t had his brain scrambled, the outcome might have been different. We predicted the Trojans would win by seven points, but they won by four thanks to a sterling final quarter comeback. Well, a win is a win.
The Obvious Game 9 – Oregon: The O/NSO wrote, “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, Herbert will slice and dice the Trojans to the point of frustration and defeat.” The O/NSO prediction: Oregon 38, USC 31.
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was Oregon 56, USC 24. Oregon QB Justin Herbert passed for 225 yards and threw three touchdown passes to Juwan Johnson in the second half, as No. 7 Oregon recovered from a slow start to dominate the Trojans. UO freshman Mykael Wright returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown shortly after the Ducks’ Brady Breeze returned an interception 32 yards for a score late in the second quarter for the Ducks. Oregon erased an early 10-0 deficit by scoring a touchdown after each of four turnovers by USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis during a 19-minute stretch spanning halftime. Slovis did throw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on a USC-record 57 pass attempts, but his three interceptions and a fumble erased the Trojans’ solid start. Slovis and air raid offensive coordinator Graham Harrell surpassed Todd Marinovich’s single-game record of 55 attempts for the Trojans, set in 1989.
The O/NSO copout: We all knew this would be Clay Helton’s team’s reality check. The O/NSO predicted a loss, but it was quite apparent that at the game’s end, there was no comparison between the two teams. The Ducks offense in the second half completely abused the Trojans’ defense by scoring 18 more points that we predicted, and the Ducks defense held the USC offense to seven points less than we forecasted. Some thought this would be the end of Clay Helton, but who knew what Dr. Carol Folt and her athletic director, Mike Bohn were really thinking? The O/NSO certainly didn’t know, and neither did the rest of you.
The Obvious Game 10 – At Arizona State: The O/NSO wrote, “The Trojans are in tough against ASU. There will be no Trojans’ intimidation 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. 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 Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 31, ASU 26. Trojans’ quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns, defensive lineman Christian Rector tipped the ball to himself for an interception with 25 seconds left, and Troy held on to beat Arizona State. The Trojans jumped on the Sun Devils with 28 points in the first quarter behind Slovis’ 297 yards and four TDs passing.
The O/NSO copout: You talk about a prediction gone wrong without knowing beforehand the change of circumstances? ASU’s fantastic true freshman starting quarterback Jayden Daniels did not play, and you don’t think that didn’t play a big part in the final outcome? And how about that dropped pass late in the fourth quarter by the Sun Devils’ tight end, who might have gone the distance? Yeah, part of the game, but the Trojans were mighty fortunate. The O/NSO was right on the mark that the Men of Troy would score 31 points, but we were wrong by eight points less than ASU would actually tack on the scoreboard. The Trojans dodged a bullet here.
The Obvious Game 11 – At Cal: The O/NSO wrote, “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 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 Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 41, Cal 17. The matchup between the Trojans’ dynamic passing game and California’s stingy pass defense was a mismatch and so was the game between the Trojans and Golden Bears. Trojans’ QB Kedon Slovis had his third 400-yard passing game in the past four weeks and threw four touchdown passes.
The O/NSO copout: Are you kidding me? Cal’s starting quarterback Chase Garbers, who had already missed part of the season due to injury, left the game early, and that completely let the air out of the Cal offense. However, let’s give the Trojans offense credit for carving up the vaunted Bears’ defense. The O/NSO got the victory right, but the Trojans scored 13 points more than we thought, but the Bear offensive predictably struggled without Garbers and scored exactly what we predicted, which was 17 points.
The Obvious Game 12 – UCLA: The O/NSO wrote, “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 again 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 Not So Obvious: The actual final score was USC 52, UCLA 35. Trojans’ signal caller Kedon Slovis passed for a school-record 515 yards and threw four touchdown passes in Troy’s lopsided victory over UCLA in the schools’ 89th meeting. Slovis and four 100-yard receivers carried the Trojans to the Victory Bell with another landmark performance in the 18-year-old passer’s shockingly impressive debut season. During his fourth 400-yard performance in the last five games, Slovis surpassed Matt Barkley’s single-game USC record against UCLA and against any opponent in the fourth quarter while coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense racked up 643 yards.
The O/NSO copout: We got the winning team correct. We almost got the UCLA scoring correct, missing out by one point. The Trojans’ offense scored 14 more points than we forecasted. Give the Trojans credit for taking it to the Bruins, and how about the O/NSO for getting the score within that proverbial ballpark figure again.
The Obvious Game 13 – Iowa: Although we never predicted a score since this was a post-season bowl game, in the O/NSO Holiday Bowl edition, we did write, “The real weather report is whether the Iowa Hawkeyes are too physical for the Trojans or have “out-practiced them” in their respective coach’s bowl practice philosophy. The Trojans are again playing a Big Ten team and will be tested as it pertains to their manhood. We know what happened the last time the Trojans played a powerful Big Ten team, a major physical beating by Ohio State in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. Iowa is not as skilled as the Buckeyes, but they certainly can bring the wood. We’ll also find out whether this very disciplined Hawkeyes team takes advantage of a Trojans team that is – to be nice – consistently undisciplined.”
The Not So Obvious: The actual final score was Iowa 49, USC 24. Iowa’s all-purpose performer Ihmir Smith-Marsette scored on a 6-yard run, a 98-yard kickoff return and a 12-yard reception to lead No. 16 Iowa to a crushing victory over the No. 22 Trojans in the Holiday Bowl on a Friday night. Hawkeyes’ senior quarterback Nate Stanley threw two touchdown passes, and the Hawkeyes won their fourth straight game for their sixth 10-win season in coach Kirk Ferentz’s 21 years as Iowa’s head man. Trojans’ freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who threw two touchdown passes, was knocked out of the game with an elbow injury early in the third quarter, and the Trojans fell apart after Slovis left. The Trojans had their three-game winning streak snapped when they finally played another quality team.
The O/NSO copout: No cop-out needed, it was USC’s worst bowl loss since (gulp) 1948. If you needed a gridiron MRI on the 2019 Trojans under head coach Clay Helton, this was it. No more needs to be said.
The Obvious seasonal prediction: The O/NSO wrote, “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 4-5 in the Pac-12, and 3-2 in the South Division. 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, to Utah and Oregon). You may now begin to toss the tomatoes, but please one per reader only.”
The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO was wrong in terms of USC losses. We predicted six losses, and at the end of the day if you include the SDCCU Holiday Bowl, the Men of Troy had one less loss than we predicted (5 losses). There were points in the season where the Trojans were fortunate to have played teams whose starting quarterbacks weren’t playing, were knocked out of the game, or were playing hurt. However, the same could be said of the Trojans, who had to play with three different quarterbacks (JT Daniels, Kedon Slovis, Matt Fink), so it probably evened out.
The O/NSO copout: Give Clay Helton credit for a bounce-back season at 8-5. They weren’t 6-6 as the O/NSO predicted, but they flirted with it. However, bouncing back from the 2018 season (5-7 and no bowl game) to what was accomplished might have been acceptable at Oregon State or Arizona, but we ALL agree that is not the standard for a legendary program like the USC Trojans. And it was definitely unacceptable and embarrassng to get blown out by Iowa in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl. The biggest surprise of the season turned out to be not the preseason prediction of wins or losses, but the post-regular season announcement that Clay Helton would return in 2020, a preseason prediction that very few could say they got correct.