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O/NSO: The long wait edition

The Obvious: The last time the USC Trojans played a football game was Nov. 24 at home against Notre Dame.

The Not So Obvious: It seems like forever and a day since the cardinal and gold were in action. So, it takes on greater interest that spring football is right around the corner, which brings guarded optimism, a new offensive system, a group of early enrollees, and some new coaches on staff. It will all be a welcome distraction from the 2018 past. For USC football, the hope is that last season was an anomaly, but Trojan fans got an unfortunate glimpse into what it must be like to be an Oregon State fan, who has grown accustomed to losing football where bowl games are a mirage.

The Obvious: Because the Trojans didn’t participate in a December/January bowl game, it almost feels like spring ball should have already taken place.

The Not So Obvious: As you may already know, spring ball has already started at Arizona State, and wasn’t it not that long ago that all the naysayers were saying that just-hired Sun Devils’ head coach Herm Edwards was going to be a major flop? Yeah, the same Herm Edwards once named in the rumor mill to be a USC head coaching candidate. The same Herm Edwards whose 2018 ASU Sun Devils defeated the Trojans 38-35 in the Coliseum. ASU appears to have made a good choice in selecting its head coach. The Trojans will have a chance to return the favor to Edwards and his Sun Devils when the Men of Troy travel to Tempe for a Nov. 9 payback in Sun Devils Stadium.

The Obvious: Spring practice will provide “open competition” for all positions, according to head coach Clay Helton.

The Not So Obvious: On the offensive side, the quarterback competition will generate a lot of attention, but the running back competition could be just as intense. In returners Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, and Markese Stepp, there’s really no guarantee who will emerge the starter bt the end of spring. There remains the question regarding Carr’s back, and whether he’s even the same ball carrier who came to Troy with such promise. Malepeai might be best suited to be a major threat running and catching the ball out of the backfield in Graham Harrell’s version of the Air Raid offense. The major spotlight, however, should be on redshirt freshman Stepp who looked very much like the second coming of LenDale White in his brief appearances. And remember that new RB coach Mike Jinks may see the value of each back different than previous RB coaches.

The Obvious: There has been some debate regarding how difficult the Trojans’ first six games of the 2019 season will be.

The Not So Obvious: As a reminder, those first half dozen games next season will be (in order) Fresno State and Stanford in the Coliseum, BYU in Provo, Utah at the Coliseum, Washington in Seattle, and Notre Dame in South Bend. The O/NSO supposes that the eternal optimist believes Trojans could go 5-1 or 4-2, or the eternal pessimist could visualize the opposite if things don’t bounce right. This much is certain, there is a lot of rope to be pulled in either direction. A sense in what direction the Trojans fate might be pointing could be revealed by the final result of the Trojans hosting Stanford in the Coliseum on Sept. 9.

The Obvious: Every old, historic seat in the Coliseum is now being removed, and new seats are being installed.

The Not So Obvious: If you’re a lover of memorabilia and a 2018 season ticket holder, you have to be getting a little excited – if eligible – to picking up your two “free” Coliseum extracted seats in the coming weeks. The specific “giveaway” process was revealed with an email, which gave the information for seat pickup. Have you already decided where in your house your two historical seats will be located?

The Obvious: The Trojans are still looking for a strength and conditioning coach.

The Not So Obvious: Maybe the Trojans have one, but it’s not yet been announced. On the other hand, maybe one hasn’t been announced because they either don’t have one or are being spurned by those that have been approached. Okay, the O/NSO will ask again: What’s the holdup? Is this considered part of the “change” in culture?

The Obvious: The “Transfer Portal” is rapidly becoming college football’s version of a swap meet.

The Not So Obvious: There a lot of rumors that the Trojans could be delving deep into the mysterious Transfer Portal looking for offensive and defensive linemen help along with an additional running back.

The Obvious: It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Trojan fans are craving to hear some positive news surrounding the football program.

The Not So Obvious: Well, here’s some good news. Senior-to-be quarterback Bryce Young (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), the nation’s acknowledged No. 1 dual-threat QB and a Trojans’ verbal for the Class of 2020, continues to insist he’s still good with his USC commitment. Bryce says he still loves the Trojans’ coaching staff and will continue to try and convince others that there is a rainbow at the end of the current Trojans’ storm.

The Obvious: Looking at the recruiting Class of 2020, you can get a strong argument that Upland inside linebacker Justin Flowe (6-2, 225) is not just the best inside linebacker in the nation but perhaps the best player in the country – certainly in the top 5 nationally.

The Not So Obvious: Upon watching Flowe, the O/NSO is prepared to say that despite their size differences, Justin is as good a hitting linebacker coming out of SoCal since former Trojans’ All-America linebacker Matt Grootegoed (5-11, 215), who was a launching pad when he came to making a tackle. Flowe has been compared favorably to the high school version of former All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.    

The Obvious: The name Trojan Athletic Fund has preceded the name of regional USC support groups.

The Not So Obvious: For example, the Trojan Club of Orange County is now called the TAF (Trojan Athletic Fund) Club of Orange County. Why the change? It sounds minor, but it certainly reminds the members it’s all about fundraising as though they didn’t know already.   

The Obvious: The Trojans have offered Class of 2020 offensive lineman Drake Metcalf (6-2, 270) of Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco.

The Not So Obvious: Drake was the offensive line MVP at The Opening Regional in Los Angeles and has been invited to attend next summer’s The Opening, which features the top players in the country. What makes Metcalf a recruit to follow is that he comes from a fanatical USC family, and it will be a major earthquake if he doesn’t attend Troy. Well, maybe not an earthquake but just a small atomic blast.

The Obvious: And finally, Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann made an appearance at the TAF Club of Orange County on Wednesday night in Costa Mesa.  

The Not So Obvious: According to reports, the Trojans’ former receiving legend said he still has confidence that Clay Helton is an exceptional coach, and things would be different this time around. Andrea Casaw, the president of the Trojan Athletic Fund Club of Orange County opened the program with this statement: “There’s a crisis of confidence at SC. That’s why we’re here tonight. We’re all worried.” Naturally, Lynn Swann did his best to alleviate the fears with comments regarding Clay Helton such as: “I think he’s got the football sense and IQ. He understands what he wants to get done and how he wants to get it done. Now he’s got to communicate that to everybody across the board.” As for Helton’s future, Swann said, “All I know is whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. And hopefully he’s extraordinarily successful because I want him to win, he wants to win, and everybody wants him to win.” Well, did those comments ease some of your worries?

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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