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O/NSO: Decision time edition

The Obvious: USC head coach Clay Helton (photo above) made it official this week when he said that Saturday’s “mock game” would not decide the quarterbacking competition, but the decision to formally name a quarterback would probably announced sometime after Sunday.

The Not So Obvious: It was apparent after last Saturday’s vanilla Scrimmage No. 2 that Helton would probably wait until after this Saturday’s “mock game” to name his starter for next Saturday’s UNLV season opener. While many are still predicting that true freshman J.T. Daniels will get the nod for the home opener against UNLV, a case could be made for the other two QB competitors, sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears. If you talk to three different people who have watched practice, you might get three different starter names, and each observer could support their choice with logical arguments.

The Obvious: Clay Helton said after Thursday’s practice that he’ll release the depth chart on Sunday.

The Not So Obvious: However, the actual naming of the Trojans’ starting quarterback will be announced through a separate statement. The O/NSO will go out on a limb and predict the formal announcement will be sometime Monday and certainly no later than Tuesday when the team returns to Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields for game-week preparation for UNLV.

The Obvious: One of the byproduct topics heading into this weekend is if Clay Helton selects J.T. Daniels, would either Matt Fink or Jack Sears consider transferring out?

The Not So Obvious: The transfer scenario was addressed this week by the media to both Fink and Sears. Convincingly, Fink said he was a Trojan for life and going nowhere, but Sears said that he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

The Obvious: Originally, the school of thought was that if Clay Helton couldn’t come to a quarterback decision after last Saturday’s Scrimmage No. 2, then this Saturday’s “Mock Game” could possibly be the deciding factor.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the impact that the “Mock Game: would have in deciding the quarterback situation, quarterback coach Bryan Ellis  said, “It (mock game) will have very little, very little. You know it’s more of a mental day. It’s more about trying to get substitutions and working on certain situation stuff. There won’t be as many full speed routes run. That day will probably play very little in who we decide to name as quarterback.”

The Obvious: Clay Helton would like to avoid any major 2018 quarterback second guessing – probably unavoidable if he doesn’t select J.T. Daniels – an issue that manifested itself in 2016 when Helton named loyal veteran Max Browne over talented redshirt freshman Sam Darnold.

The Not So Obvious: This week, Helton said, I wanted to continue the process (this week) because I want the guys to continue to compete. They all need to progress. And I want to make sure that I’m right, too. Another week does not hurt to be able to put us in that situation. We’re getting plenty of work with all three, and I think it makes all three of them better players if called upon in the season.”

The Obvious: This practice week has been mentally challenging because this USC team can’t wait to get into next week’s UNLV game week.

The Not So Obvious: Asked if the Trojans were somewhat antsy this past week knowing that next week is game week, senior center Toa Lobendahn said, “Definitely. We definitely are there, and game week is coming so close. We’re trying to make sure the intensity is high, the physicality is there, and the assignments and communication are at a good level.”

The Obvious: The Trojans’ defense was pleased to see the return of senior All-America candidate Cameron Smith.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the defense’s potential compared to others that he has played on at Troy, Cameron said, “Potential is potential, but we’re just living day by day. There’s a lot of older guys out there, but there are other guys filling in new roles. Right now, we can be as good as we want to be, but right now we’re taking strides and getting better every day. We’re holding ourselves accountable. Like you said, we can be as good as we want to be, but it’s all about getting better. Talent is potential.”

The Obvious: A key to the defense’s success will be leadership.

The Not So Obvious: According to Cameron Smith, “We have a lot of good leaders and seniors, and older guys that have played a lot of football. It’s our job to hold the guys with talent to a higher standard.”

The Obvious: This week, linebacker Cameron Smith was named an Associated Press preseason second-team All-American.

The Not So Obvious: So, who was the last USC linebacker to be named a consensus All-American? Have you already forgotten consensus All-America linebacker Rey Maualuga (2008)?

The Obvious: Trojans head coach Clay Helton announced early this week that the 2018 USC team captains would include linebackers Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, safety Marvell Tell lll, and center Toa Lobendahn.

The Not So Obvious: While all are certainly deserving of their new responsibilities as team captains, it should be noted that there’s a heavy defensive presence, which reflects the strength of the team. Also noteworthy is the fact that all four are seniors, which is not the expectation it once was thanks to early entries into the NFL.

The Obvious: By a vote of his fellow teammates, center Toa Lobendahn, was named one of the four team captains.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about being voted as a captain by his teammates, Toa said, “We have leaders all over the team, it’s not just me. I am just one of them and it happened to be a captain. We have leaders on every level, and we kind of worked this summer and during the off-season with everybody being a leader. At some level, everybody has to help each other and build up each other.”   

The Obvious: Being a team captain in almost any team sport brings an extra level of responsibility.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the responsibilities of being a team captain, Toa Lobendahn said, “If I feel I have something to say, I’ll say it, but I am not going to talk just to talk just because I am a captain. There will be times when I have to, or they’ll ask me to. I am going to do just what I do.”

The Obvious: Over the seasons, selected Trojans’ team captains have passed down their work ethic and virtues to future captains.

The Not So Obvious: For Toa Lobendahn, he recalls the best captain he’s has been around while at USC. The senior said, “Max Tuerk (2015). When he was the captain, I always looked how he worked and how he did stuff at the highest level no matter what it was. He had a pre-practice routine that he’d do every day, and it was always intense the way he practiced and how he played.”

The Obvious: And finally, the Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School Monarchs have been a longtime traditional feeder of talent to the USC Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: If you’re looking to watch a potentially great high school football game on Friday night, then you’ll want to watch ESPNU at 6 p.m. PDT, as nationally ranked Mater Dei challenges another national ranked powerhouse, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. The game will feature Trojans’ 2020 junior quarterback commit Bryce Young and highly recruited Monarchs’ senior receiver/linebacker Bru McCoy. The field will be littered with D-1 commits and prospects on both teams, and this is must-see viewing.

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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