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O/NSO: Not shocking but shocking edition

The Obvious: To the surprise of virtually no one except maybe those that were touring somewhere up within the clouds of the Himalayas, USC football head coach Clay Helton announced on Tuesday that returning sophomore quarterback JT Daniels (photo above – No. 18) would be the 2019 USC Trojans opening day quarterback when the Men of Troy host the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday evening, Aug. 31, on United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

The Not So Obvious: No smelling salts or 911 calls needed, the Daniels announcement by Helton coming after Tuesday’s practice confirmed what most insiders, outsiders, and betweeners have been speculating since last spring, which is JT Daniels would be – for the second consecutive season, the starter in a USC season opener.From their prospective, both Gentleman Clay and OC Graham Harrell apparently agreed that the signal caller that puts the Trojans in the best position to win their first game is JT. And make no mistake about it, Helton needs wins ASAP to retain his job, and they won’t be easy to come by at least in the early going with four of the first six opponents ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. The real shocker was a depth chart that had sophomore Jack Sears as the No. 4 quarterback behind No. 2 true freshman Kedon Slovis and junior No. 3 Matt Fink

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above) was in agreement with Clay Helton and the balance of the USC coaching staff that JT Daniels should be the starter and true freshman Kedon Slovis should be Daniels backup.

The Obvious: Clay Helton’s announcement also immediately drew intense scrutiny by naming Kedon Slovis as No. 2 behind JT Daniels and then Matt Fink and Jack Sears in that order.

The Not So Obvious: For the O/NSO, it mattered little who was named the starter as much as the Daniels backup. Why? Because insight into the thought process of Clay Helton and OC Graham Harrell could very well play into team morale for those players that thought Sears should have been the starter or at least No. 2. In a normal progression, true freshman Slovis would be fourth string and be redshirted, but Helton said at the outset of the competition last spring that age and grade level would not be be a criteria. With Slovis jumped to No. 2 behind Daniels, imagine how this affects Sears and Fink and the rest of the team with no disrespect to Kedon. It would seem the writing is on the wall for both Fink and Sears. Then again, who knows how this season will play out?

The Obvious: The selection of true freshman Kedon Slovis as the No. 2 quarterback behind JT Daniels, true or untrue, will almost certainly create a climate that will spawn charges of rigged system or pigskin conspiracy from some of the cardinal and gold masses.

OC Graham Harrell calls No. 2 true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) “a special talent. Talent-wise, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen.”

The Not So Obvious: If you are a theorist of Helton playing politics, you are probably saying to yourself the following: Helton is thinking that Jack Sears will get his degree in December and since Sears now sees the writing on the wall will take his valued SC degree and enter the NCAA Transfer Portal for a greener pasture. Matt Fink will be a senior next season and will have his degree and would figure to depart after this season for a chance to play quarterback elsewhere, as well. So, right there, half the older quarterbacks will have departed. Now, this leaves a No. 3 QB opening for current Mater Dei QB commit Bryce Young to enter in the spring and compete for a spot in the Air Raid system. This, of course, is a plausible hypothetical scenario. However, it’s all predicated that Helton is still the coach after this season, which is certainly no given.  

The Obvious: On Wednesday, the quarterbacks and OC Graham Harrell spoke to the media.

The Not So Obvious: As you are probably aware, Jack Sears declined to speak to the media after Wednesday’s practice. Normally, the O/NSO would hold Sears accountable for a misguided action. However, we cut Jack some slack because there was no way he could see this coming, and it was more painful for him than the others because he performed well enough in practice to at least be either No. 2 or No. 3. Apparently, all the criteria talk about “leadership” and “mobility” was not a priority in the selection process, and let’s not forget about Sears proven experience against ASU last season. Right now, Jack needs time to process it all, and you can bet that the Sears family isn’t exactly excited about the recent turn of events. One does, however, wonder what Sam Darnold must be thinking and whether he has gotten in touch with his former San Clemente teammate. Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on that wall?  

More than a few experts and fans and some of the USC players were shocked that sophomore quarterback Jack Sears (photo above) was listed as No. 4 on the first quarterback depth chart, which brought up Sears future as a Trojan. Sears did not speak to the media on Wednesday, obviously stinging from his unexpected position on the depth chart.

The Obvious: The Trojans are expected to hold one more full evening scrimmage on Saturday at an off-campus location.

The Not So Obvious: Many fans will be excited or cautious to see how the team performs on offense knowing that JT Daniels is now the announced starter. Well, so will the O/NSO, but as you are now probably aware, the media is not only persona non grata to the scrimmage, we are also now in the weekly practice phase of a new rule that only allows the media to attend the first 20 minutes or so of stretching on Tuesday and Wednesday. At the conclusion of those full practices, the media can return to Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields for selected interviews. Offensive interviews will be on Tuesdays with defense on Wednesdays.

Under a new policy by head coach Clay Helton (photo above), the media is allowed to watch 20 minutes of stretching at the beginning of practice but must leave full practice after the opening stretching until approximately 6 p.m. when they can return for post-practice interviews on Tuesday and Wednesdays with players and coaches. Clay Helton will be available for interviews on selected days.

The Obvious: The Trojans have opened as a 13 ½-point favorite to defeat Fresno State.

The Not So Obvious: For Trojans fans looking for some good news, the professionals that lay odds have enough confidence to make the Cardinal and Gold relatively heavy favorites over Fresno State, which says that they believe the Men of Troy have too much talent over a rebuilding Bulldogs team offensive unit, which lost nine starters from last season’s Mountain West Champions.

The Obvious: If there is a legitimate reason for worry among the USC faithful, it’s when a Clay Helton coached team has been tabbed an underdog. 

The Not So Obvious: Clay Helton is 1-12 as an underdog as USC’s coach. Oy veh!

Trojans’ head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) is 1-12 as an underdog, although the Trojans opened a 13 1/2 favorite to defeat Fresno State in the season opener for both team on Saturday evening, Aug. 31, in the Coliseum.

The Obvious: Much has been discussed and written regarding the difficulty of the Trojans’ first six games of the 2019 season, and in this week’s just released preseason AP Top 25 national Poll, half of the Trojans’ 2019 opponents are ranked in the AP Top 25.

The Not So Obvious: Those first 6 games of 2019 include, of course, Fresno State, Stanford (AP-25), at BYU, Utah (AP-14), at Washington (AP-13), and at Notre Dame (AP-9). If you go by Clay Helton’s record as an underdog, which games will the Trojans be named as an underdog? The O/NSO says when it’s all said and done, USC will be “dogs” against Notre Dame, Washington, Utah, and possibly Stanford. FYI, before BYU hosts the Trojans in a Sept. 14 day game in Provo, the Cougars play at Tennessee. If BYU pulls the upset in Knoxville, it’s conceivable they will be the favorites when the Cardinal and Gold come to Provo. And BTW, BYU opens the season against Pac-12 South favorite Utah on Aug. 29 in Provo. It’s conceivable – though not likely – the Trojans could be underdogs in five of their first six games, and you can draw your own conclusions. 

The Obvious: Popular national radio personality Coach Harvey Hyde hosts a number of broadcasts devoted entirely to USC football.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO recently was on the Coach’s Thursday night “Trojans Talk” show from Settebello’s Pizzeria in Pasadena, and he brought up an interesting perspective as a former Division 1 head coach at UNLV. The Coach believes that the Trojans have perhaps as good a receiving unit as there is in the country, but he is concerned that with so many outstanding receivers will they all be happy being in a rotation of as many as eight players and still get enough receptions without reverting to being jealous of other receivers? We see Coach’s point. With the Graham Harrell offense, this will be a test of the team concept, and hopefully all the receivers will be dedicated to team success and not individual glory.  

The O/NSO was recently on Coach Harvey Hyde’s (photo above) popular Thursday night Trojans Talk broadcast from Settebello Pizzeria in Pasadena. Trojans Talk (Thursday nights at 7 p.m./KSHP 1400 AM and Saturday morning at 11 am on KMET 1490 AM ) shows are one of a number of USC football shows the Coach is a host or co-host.

The Obvious: Even before a game has been played, intense scrutiny is continuing as it pertains to the 2019 Trojans’ offensive line.

The Not So Obvious: What’s interesting about the offensive line scrutiny is that in the very early going, the spotlight is not as bright on offensive line coach Tim Drevno. Talk with the players and they all like Drevno, who is in his first full season of coaching the Trojans offensive line after starting last season as running backs coach and later double duty as O-line coach when former OL coach Neil Callaway was fired during the 2018 season. Past players that have played for Drevno say he is an excellent coach, which then turns the focus of the Trojans offensive line to the players themselves and, of course, recruiting. It’s not exactly a state secret that the Trojans influx of O-line talent is not exactly at the Tony Boselli, Matt Kalil, or Brad Budde level. Can we also throw in Ron Yary?  

The Obvious: One of the new features on the WeAreSC front page is an opportunity for readers to vote on a variety of topical issues. This past week’s question: Should JT Daniels should be the Trojans’ starting quarterback – yes or no?

The Not So Obvious: Not long ago, WeAreSC asked readers to name their all-time Trojan players by position. When the question became the top offensive tackles in USC history, one name left out of the final vote tabulation was former All-American and Troy’s only Outland Trophy winner Ron Yary (1965-67). At the time, the O/NSO said that any all-time USC team that doesn’t list Yary was more an indication of the voters’ ages than anything else. For the record, CBS Sports recently named its All-Time College Football team, and Yary was one of the four linemen listed, as Ron should have been. FYI, the other O-linemen included Ohio State’s Orlando Pace (1994-96), UCLA’s Jonathan Ogden (1992-95), and Alabama’s John Hannah (1970-72).

Legendary offensive tackle Ron Yary (photo above) was recently named to College Football’s All-Time team. Yary was among four tackles selected.

The Obvious: It was reported late last week that Trojans’ redshirt freshman linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu would probably be lost for the season – again – after another foot surgery.

The Not So Obvious: It seems almost cruel that “Solo” would have to do a redo on the same foot. The kid is so talented that when he becomes healthy again, he’ll contend for a starting inside linebacker without a doubt. As they say, if Tuliaupupu didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Here’s hoping for a smooth and successful recovery.

The Obvious: Jim Hardy, the oldest living USC and Los Angeles Rams football player who was the MVP of the 1945 Rose Bowl, then set a still-standing unsought NFL passing record and served as the general manager of the Los Angeles Coliseum, died last Friday (Aug. 16) of natural causes at his home in La Quinta, Calif.  He was 96.

The Not So Obvious: This one really hits home. Not only was Jim a follower of WeAreSC.com, but he had a very special relationship with our late publisher Garry Paskwietz. It’s so ironic that in the same year, both have passed to glory. Last season, the O/NSO remembers routinely and specifically Garry leaving his Coliseum press box seat before kickoff to say hello to Jim and his wife, Henrietta (they met while students at USC), both of whom sat right below the press box to make sure they were comfortable or needed something. Until the previous two seasons, Gentleman Jim would drive the two hours from Palm Desert on a weekly basis to watch the Trojans practice. He never wavered until recently to be close to his beloved Cardinal and Gold. Needless to say, a true USC legend has passed. Fight On, Jim, you will be missed, but now you and Garry should have quite the football conversation for this season seating next to each other in the real City of Angels.  

Legendary USC quarterback Jim Hardy (photo above in center)recently passed away at the age of 96 and was a very close friend and confidant of late WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz. It was ironic that both would pass in the same year.

The Obvious: And finally, former Trojans’ All-America safety Troy Polamalu is considered one of college football’s all-time greats.

The Not So Obvious: Troy will be part of the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame Class, which will be officially inducted during the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner at the New York Hilton Midtown on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Along with the Trojans’ legendary safety, this year’s College Football Hall of Fame Class includes: Terrell Buckley (Florida State), Rickey Dixon (Oklahoma), London Fletcher (John Carroll [OH]), Jacob Green (Texas A&M), Torry Holt (North Carolina State), Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (Notre Dame), Darren McFadden (Arkansas), Jake Plummer (Arizona State), Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), Lorenzo White (Michigan State), Patrick Willis (Mississippi), Vince Young (Texas) and coaches Dennis Erickson (Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami [FL], Oregon State, Arizona State) and Joe Taylor (Howard, Virginia Union, Hampton, Florida A&M).

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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