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O/NSO: Positive signs edition

The Obvious: As the Trojans begin to turn their attention to Spring Practice, which begins on Tuesday, March 10, the Cardinal and Gold are ready to move on from it’s tumultuous past four months, which consisted of a decisive Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa, two separate but disappointing recruiting signing periods, firings and hirings of personnel on the defensive side of the ball and the firing and hiring of a  new special teams coach. 

The Not So Obvious: However, spring comes along, and it’s a season for positive renewal and a chance to clear out the past point to the future. That’s what USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn tells us. So, with that in mind, let the O/NSO cheer you up a bit with some hidden and not so hidden gems of positive news for 2020 and beyond.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that after the Trojans season opener against Alabama, the Men of Troy will open their Coliseum home schedule with the lowly University of New Mexico Lobos, who finished the 2019 season at 2-10. If that’s not positive, nothing is.

The Not So Obvious: Dreadful New Mexico, under first-year head coach Danny Gonzalez, in the Coli is the perfect tonic for the Trojans to rebound if they are shellacked by Alabama in the 2020 season opener in Arlington, Texas. Coliseum attendance against New Mexico could be an issue. Could be an issue…duh? Maybe festival seating for the New Mexico game could make the Grand Old Lady look like a sellout, or maybe there could be an off-season Coli renovation from a capacity of 77,500 to 55,000. However, imagine what that Coli attendance could be in the 77,500 configuration… if somehow the Trojans actually upset the Crimson Tide.      

The Trojans will host New Mexico (photo above) in the Coliseum home opener immediately following their season opener against Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

The Obvious: It’s a positive the Trojans won’t be hosting FCS UC Davis to open the 2021 season.

The Not So Obvious: Aside from the fact that Trojans fans are relieved their heroes won’t be playing an FCS school, probably the most disappointed university in the local area is Occidental, which was hoping to fill the next opening season game void in the Trojans’ future scheduling. BTW, San Jose State, the Trojans’ replacement for UC Davis, lost to UCD in 2018, 44-38, in San Jose, so the Trojans may have actually dodged a bullet here. FYI, UC Davis has filled their opening left by the Trojans with a trip to play at Tulsa.  

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell didn’t leave Troy for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles or any other university that his name was associated.

The Not So Obvious: Can you imagine the chaos that would ensued if Harrell left the Trojans before spring ball? Who would run the Air Raid offense? Clay Helton? RB coach Mike Jinks?Or would a new offense be put in place by Helton? Let’s not go there.

The Trojans are relieved that offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above) is returning for his second season as the brains behind the offense.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Steve Sarkisian withdrew his name from the Colorado job.

The Not So Obvious: Yeah, Karl Dorrell filled the coaching void in Boulder, but can you imagine if Sark had taken the Colorado job and upset Clay Helton and the Trojans in the Coli this season? Oy Veh.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that all four running backs – Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, Markese Stepp, Kenan Christon – are again healthy and figure to compete in the spring ball.

The Not So Obvious: For running back coach Mike Jinks, while its positive to have all four backs returning, how will there be enough carries for his pigskin carriers when the offensive emphasis in on the passing game? It’s a positive problem to have because of the quality of backs, but it will be tough to get carries in the Air Raid offense. Against Iowa, the Trojans rushed the ball only 18 times compared to Iowa’s 35 times.

It will be a positive challenge for running backs coach Mike Jinks to decide the pecking order of four quality tailbacks like Markese Stepp (photo above) to fit into the Air Raid offense.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Trojans’ All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele and stellar wide receiver Tyler Vaughns didn’t apply for this spring’s NFL draft.

The Not So Obvious: Nobody is happier that both are returning than Trojans’ new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, respectively, and no explanation necessary.

The Trojans’ offense is pumped with the return of senior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns (photo above).

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Notre Dame will be coming to the Coliseum in late November, continuing that great Thanksgiving Weekend tradition.

The Not So Obvious: Regardless of their records, USC hosting ND on Thanksgiving Weekend in Los Angeles is better than a turkey dinner with the in-laws. And, BTW, it would be nice if the Trojans could snap the Irish three-game winning streak against our guys.

The Obvious: It’s a 2020 positive that nobody has yet suggested that the Trojans tinker with their flawless home and away uniforms.  

The Not So Obvious: Now if we can just get the team to wear their sock colors consistently from week to week and wear them in a uniformed style. Enough with the one sock up and one sock down. And, no, we don’t need the last names of the players on the back of their jerseys either.  

In their traditional home jerseys, Trojans head coach Clay Helton (photo above) leads his team down the famous Coli tunnel.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that reports indicate that quarterback Kedon Slovis has recovered from his arm injury in the Holiday Bowl and ready to throw in spring ball.  

The Not So Obvious: Now all Kedon needs to do is to remain healthy and vertical in 2020 after he throws the ball 52 times a game in the face of a maniacal pass rush.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that future Trojans’ recruiting fortunes seem to be headed in the right direction, thanks to hiring coaches that actually like to recruit.  

The Not So Obvious: An obvious example of coaches that like to recruit and coach is newly-hired defensive backs coach Donte Williams, formerly of Oregon. You can bet that with former Trojans D-back and grad assistant Chris Hawkins now at ASU, those recruiting wars between the Sun Devils and the Trojans, especially for defensive backs, could be white hot. After looking at some of the twitter exchanges between the coaches, is there anything hotter than white hot?

There was immediate positive news when the Trojans got ace recruiter and defensive back coach Donte Williams (Photo above) to leave Oregon and become part of Clay Helton’s 2020 staff.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that USC hired a new defensive line coach like Vic So’oto, formerly of Virginia.

The Not So Obvious: So’oto has made quite clear that he doesn’t like to coach “soft” players. It appears that the Trojans have hired a winner not only in his coaching, but Vic’s recruiting credentials are pretty impressive, as well.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Clay Helton has apparently upgraded his entire defensive coaching staff. 

The Not So Obvious: It really doesn’t matter if it was Helton or AD Mike Bohn that called the shots regarding the personnel staff changes. What is important is that the staff has made major upgrades. And, BTW, with Todd Orlando in charge of the defense, Graham Harrell in charge of the offense, and Sean Snyder directing special teams, please remind the O/NSO what are Clay Helton’s responsibilities again? Did someone just yell out discipline?

It was considered a positive when the Trojans hired new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above).

The Obvious: It’s a positive that neither Trojans’ back-up quarterbacks, JT Daniels or Matt Fink, decided to place their names in the NCAA Transfer Portal.

The Not So Obvious: It’s probable that both Daniels and Fink have confidence that at some point during the season one or both will be pressed into action. Under normal circumstances, you need three quarterbacks, but in the Air Raid offense you may need more than that considering the physical wear and tear on a signal caller, who functions without much of a consistent running game.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that the Trojans have hired secondary coach Craig Naivar, who worked the safeties under DC Todd Orlando at Texas.

The Not So Obvious: It was Naivar, as an interim defensive coordinator for Texas last season during the Alamo Bowl, shut down the Utah Utes offense, 38-10.

The Trojans made another positive hire when former Texas Longhorns safety coach Craig Naivar (photo above) signed on with Clay Helton’s 2020 Trojans.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Pat Haden and Lynn Swann are no longer the athletic directors at the University of Southern California.   

The Not So Obvious: Does there really need to be an explanation here? Combined, Haden and Swann may have done more damage to the University than the Reggie Bush NCAA sanctions.

The Obvious: Speaking of Reggie Bush, it’s a positive that the USC admin is looking into allowing Bush to again be part of the University when his penalty statute from the NCAA runs out this June.    

The Not So Obvious: As long as Reggie shows some sort of public contrition for his misdeeds, the O/NSO is good with his return. However, getting his Heisman Trophy back is discussion for another day.

Many would consider it a positive if former Trojans All-America tailback Reggie Bush (photo above) was allowed back on campus after serving a 10-year NCAA penalty that banned the legendary back from having an affiliation with the USC football program.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn took ownership of his big misstep in proclaiming that this past recruiting signing period was going to really surprise Trojans fans.

The Not So Obvious: No question that Bohn deservedly felt the full brunt of his failed recruiting prediction and its ensuing consequences. However, Mike said he needed to put forth something publicly positive in recruiting and took a chance that he could eat it, which he did. However, give him credit for admitting his blunder and giving a rationale for it, which the O/NSO found acceptable and refreshing.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that USC President Carol Folt is willing to tour the country to address alumni, boosters, and friends of the university, knowing that football and the athletic department in general is going to be questioned.    

The Not So Obvious: Okay, so Dr. Folt is dodging the issue while touring by apparently telling her audiences that any questions regarding football and the athletic department should be referred to AD Mike Bohn. Now whether Folt truly gets it as it pertains to her tunnel vision of the Clay Helton coaching situation or she poorly did her USC football coaching homework, here’s hoping she will handle the 2020 season results in a more informed and businesslike manner. 

USC President Carol L. Folt (photo above) has been given positive reviews during her nationwide tour of alumni, boosters, and friends of the University, although she has deflected all questions regarding the football program and athletic department to athletic director Mike Bohn.(USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

The Obvious: It’s a positive that Spring Practice will be open to the public.  

The Not So Obvious: Was there a choice? Last spring ball saw attendance decline in a major way, and there could be even lower numbers this upcoming session. However, the coaching changes have brought back some curiosity and any increase in fan numbers from 2019 Spring Practice would be viewed as a positive.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that former Trojans’ two-time All-America safety Troy Polamalu was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.      

The Not So Obvious: Another positive would be if former USC All-America offensive Tony Boselli is elected in the next balloting. Come to think of it, it would also be nice and long overdue if two-time All-America Trojans tackle Marvin Powell was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. After all these years, how the hell is Powell – in the College Football Hall of Fame (1994) – not in the Trojans Hall of Fame? Powell’s All-America plaque is actually displayed leading out to the practice field from the John McKay Center locker room.  

It would be a positive if USC would finally elect and induct two-time All-America offensive tackle Marvin Powell (photo above) into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. Powell is already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that USC has named John David Baker as its new tight end coach.  

The Not So Obvious: Now if only the Trojans’ will throw to the tight ends as part of its offense.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that in the February signing class, tight end Jack Yary signed with the Trojans.   

The Not So Obvious: Come on, if Jack didn’t sign with the Trojans following in the legacy footsteps of his legendary offensive tackle father, Ron Yary, there should be a number of federal and state investigations.

It was considered a real positive when tight end Jack Yary (photo above), son of the Trojans’ legendary offensive tackle Ron Yary, signed with the Trojans during the February signing period.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando seems so dedicated to playing violent and physical football.  

The Not So Obvious: If Orlando can bring both an attitude and a change in practice behavior – like actually hitting and tackling like championship USC teams in the past, his hiring will be well worth it.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that the Trojans have what appears to be an outstanding new special teams coach in Sean Snyder.  

The Not So Obvious: The scary part is if Snyder improves the Trojans’ special teams as expected, what does that say about the job that John Baxter did during his tenure?

It was considered a positive step when the Trojans hired Sean Snyder (photo above) as special teams coach.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that we’ll probably get to see this spring highly anticipated wide receiver Bru McCoy.

The Not So Obvious: How good is McCoy after a year off to sort out his physical and personnel issues? If he still has 5-star ability, watch out. And, BTW, the O/NSO still thinks as good as Bru can be on offense, he could be greater on defense as an outside linebacker.   

The Obvious: It’s a positive that we may also finally get to see heralded linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu in some sort of contact after missing the last two seasons.

The Not So Obvious: It seems like “Solo” is more myth than reality, but he is another intriguing aspect to spring ball under DC Todd Orlando, who will also coach the linebackers. If Tuliaupupu can rise to his high school “Butkus Award” form, the Trojans defense could take a giant step as the season progresses.  

The Trojans are hoping that injuries to linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu (photo above) are a thing of the past, and the former Mater Dei HS All-American can finally begin a positive career.

The Obvious: It’s a positive that only WR Velus Jones, Clayton Bradley, and safety CJ Pollard entered the NCAA Transfer Portal since last season.   

The Not So Obvious: Well, the number is holding at three, but let’s see what happens after spring ball.  

The Obvious: It’s a positive that only offensive tackle Austin Jackson from the O-line applied for early entry into the NFL draft for this spring.  

The Not So Obvious: You can bet that Clay Helton, Graham Harrell, and O-line coach Tim Drevno are relieved that all-star offensive guard candidate Alijah Vera-Tucker has returned for another campaign. The kid could be really good.

It was a real positive sign that standout offensive guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (photo above) decided to return for another season instead of heading off to the NFL.

The Obvious: And finally, it’s a positive that we won’t be going into the 2020 season concerned about Coliseum renovation or seat relocations.   

The Not So Obvious: Or will we?  

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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