The Obvious: The Pac-12 held its annual football media day on Wednesday at the Loews Hollywood, and in a vote by the media, the USC Trojans were picked second in the Pac-12 South Division behind Utah.
The Not So Obvious: The result was not necessarily a shocking prediction, but the media’s perception of the Trojans’ fortunes in the south division was the reality of the current state of Troy and was in concert with the earlier WeAreSC Roundtable. Of course, what did you really expect given the Trojans are coming off a 5-7 season, no bowl game, a controversial retention of Clay Helton (photo above) as head football coach, and the assessment of the returning talent conducive to Helton’s coaching changes. The silver lining to it all is that games are not won or lost because of preseason predictions but on the field of play and the Trojans in media day attendance – WR Michael Pittman Jr and DE Christian Rector – showed no lack of confidence and determination to prove the pundits wrong.
The Obvious: Clay Helton made some significant off-season changes and evaluations, hoping that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s lackluster 5-7 season.
The Not So Obvious: Asked to pinpoint in one word how this season would be different, Helton told the Pac-12 media gathering, “If I had to say it in one word, I’d say accountability. Accountability to each other, accountability to our fundamentals, accountability to protecting the ball, taking the ball away and the accountability of not having penalties. Those are the things that cost us games last year. So, if there’s one word, I would say accountability.”
The Obvious: One of the areas of criticism of Clay Helton teams is that they are not physical.
The Not So Obvious: Asked about the physicality issue with his teams, Helton said, “Well, I thought the 15 practices we had in the spring, if everybody was out there, we went to the letter of the law as far as full-pad practices, as far as tackle practices, and we’ll do the same in training camp. If you ask our players, I think they’ll tell you it was a very physical practice. It’s been an extremely tough off-season, and it’ll be a very physical training camp. We will go to the letter of the law.”
The Obvious: One of the major questions asked of Clay Helton early was the status of true freshmen CB Chris Steele and WR Bru McCoy.
The Not So Obvious: Addressing Steele and McCoy’s situation, Helton said, “You know, right now we’re going through the waiver process with the NCAA as far as whether they’ll be eligible to play or not. It’s not been finalized. I don’t have a timetable for it because it’s not on — it’s an NCAA decision. Hopefully, we’ll know something before Game 1. I anticipate that, but we’re in that process right now.”
The Obvious: The Utah Utes and the Oregon Ducks were picked by the media to win the Pac-12 South and North Divisions, respectively, with Utah winning the conference championship game.
The Not So Obvious: Perhaps the biggest game in the early part of the Trojans’ 2019 schedule is the Coliseum home game against Utah on Friday night, Sept. 20, which will be the Utes conference opener. The winner figures to have the inside track to the Pac-12 South Division title. Asked about opening the conference for his club in the Coliseum, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “Yeah, at a place we haven’t won for, like, 100 years or something. I know they’re always loaded with talent. And even though they’re picked No. 2 in the South right now, their talent level is as good as — in my estimation, as good as it’s ever been. So, it’s going to be a tough match-up for us.”
The Obvious: Two of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 are the Trojans’ Christian Rector and Utah’s Bradlee Anae.
The Not So Obvious: Asked about the Utes’ defensive line, Anae, a native Hawaiian, said, “I think we’ve got the best defensive line in the country and we all have a motor. We’re looking forward to playing at USC. To play in the Coliseum, it’s such an historical site and so many great players and teams have played there. Last season, our offense really clicked against them (at Utah).”
The Obvious: Because of scheduling, the Trojans will open Pac-12 Conference play against the Stanford Cardinal for the sixth season in a row.
The Not So Obvious: Regarding the recent annual conference openers for both teams, at media day Cardinal coach David Shaw said, “Personally, I love it. I think it’s a rivalry. It’s funny, you ask our team who our biggest rival is, and some will say Cal and some will say USC and some will say Oregon and some will say Washington and some will say Notre Dame. But USC is one of those games I think that they — the USC fan base – loves the rivalry, we love the rivalry. When we were becoming the Pac-12 North and South and deciding how we were going to schedule, and the four of us –Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA — said, you know what, we think it would be great to continue to play each other.”
The Obvious: When Stanford plays the Trojans, it will give the Cardinal their first look at the new USC offense under offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.
The Not So Obvious: Asked about the early schedule game against the Trojans and their new offense, Cardinal coach David Shaw said, “You know what, there are different versions of the air-raid, so it’ll be interesting to see their version that they bring to the table in the Pac-12. It’ll be different than what Mike Leach does up at Washington State. I know they have the talent, and they have guys that they get the ball to. That’s what’s going to be really interesting and a challenge for us. I really like our secondary, but that’s going to be a heck of a match-up early in the year between their passing game and our passing defense game.”
The Obvious: One of the Pac-12 Media Day guest players for Stanford was redshirt senior linebacker Casey Toohill.
The Not So Obvious: Asked about playing the Trojans early in the season, Toohill smiled and said, “I love playing USC. I grew up in San Diego (Cathedral Catholic). I always look forward to playing them. I also am looking forward to playing against their new offense and playing in the Coliseum.”
The Obvious: One of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 is Cal’s Evan Weaver, a senior, who was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference Preseason Team.
The Not So Obvious: Asked about what the Bears 15-14 upset of the Trojans last season meant to Cal and himself, Weaver said, “It meant a lot to beat USC in the Coliseum. Growing up watching Reggie Bush and that 2005 USC team, and then going out there (Coliseum) and winning last years, there is nothing better than that. But that was last season and it’s a new season.”
The Obvious: Washington center senior center Nick Harris was named to the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team.
The Not So Obvious: The sidebar interest in Harris was that he was coached by former Trojans’ All-Conference and former NFL tackle Pat Harlow at San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra HS. Asked if he was ever recruited by the Trojans, Harris was he was not, but he was told by Coach Harlowhe could play at the D-1 level although he was small at 6-feet-1, 301 pounds. Harris said, “Coach Harlow had a huge role in my career.”
The Obvious: A number of players that attended Pac-12 Media Day either played with each other or know each other from youth sports.
The Not So Obvious: Washington’s senior DB Myles Bryant, a former walk-on and another Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference selection, had an interesting tidbit. Bryant, who attended Los Angeles Loyola but grew up in Pasadena, said, “I played Pop Warner on the Pasadena Trojans and we wore near the exact USC uniforms with the logo on the helmet. I also played Little League baseball with (USC wide receiver) Tyler Vaughns.”
The Obvious: UCLA senior running back Joshua Kelley had a career setting rushing game against the Trojans last season in their victory in the Rose Bowl.
The Not So Obvious: Kelley said, “That win over USC was huge. I knew we were ready because when we came out everybody had a bounce in their step. Our offensive line was really moving people out.”
The Obvious: In the previous years, which will also include this season, the Pac-12 Championship has been played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Not So Obvious: The Pac-12 Conference on Wednesday announced that the 2020 and 2021 host site for the Pac-12 Football Championship Game will be in Las Vegas at the new home of the Raiders, one of the National Football League’s most state-of-the-art venues. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott made the announcement during the 2019 Pac-12 Football Media Day in partnership with Las Vegas Stadium and the Raiders, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and MGM Resorts International. The O/NSO sees this venue change as a real winner. It’s easy travel for teams in the South Division, which should ensure good attendance, and it doesn’t take much encouragement for folks to spend a weekend in Las Vegas.
The Obvious: And finally, the Pac-12 Conference announced on Wednesday the addition of the Los Angeles Bowl to its postseason lineup through 2025, beginning in 2020.
The Not So Obvious: The Los Angeles Bowl will make its debut following the 2020 regular season at the new LA Stadium and Entertainment District. In the matchup, a Pac-12 team will face a Mountain West Conference opponent. The excitement is building for this future confrontation.