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O/NSO: So, it begins edition

The Obvious: Yeah, so “it” begins, but what “it” do you start with? Do you begin with the expected announcement that Bryan Ellis will be the Trojans’ new quarterback coach, or the rumblings that offensive coordinator/receivers coach Tee Martin received a “second” interview with the Oakland Raiders as possibly Jon Gruden’s wide receiver coach, or the loss Thursday of running back coach Deland McCullough for the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs, or the reported addition of an Australian punter, or the flow of announcements of Trojans either heading, still deciding, or turning down the 2018 NFL draft, or maybe the official commencement of the controversial Coliseum renovation project?

The Not So Obvious: Whew, there’s a lot of “it” to digest from this week’s cardinal and gold musings, and if you’ve seen the recently released pictures of the early stages of the Coliseum’s renovation project, it either gets your head spinning or your blood boiling. So much to grasp like who replaces Deland McCullough as the Trojans’ running backs coach? What if Tee Martin does go to the Raiders? Who becomes the offensive coordinator and/or wide receivers coach? Would Clay Helton be bold enough to name inexperienced Bryan Ellis as the new OC, or a Keary Colbert, already in the administrative end of the USC football program, as Tee’s logical wide receiver replacement? And about this 26-year-old Australian punter named Ben Griffiths of the Australian Football League?  And, with the current Coliseum renovation in full progress, the Trojans have announced that they will put up for sale the extracted Coliseum seats, which would make a cool addition to any Trojan fan’s memorabilia room.

The Obvious: Last season, “current” interim quarterback coach Bryan Ellis was listed in the Trojans’ coaching directory as offensive administrative assistant.

The Not So Obvious: As for some further background, Ellis, 29, was an offensive quality control coach in his first year at Western Kentucky in 2014, assisting quarterbacks coach (and former USC assistant) Tyson Helton as WKU played in the Bahamas Bowl. FYI, Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty led the nation in passing yards (4,380) and touchdowns (49) in 2014 while winning the Sammy Baugh Award as the nation’s top quarterback. FYI, Ellis had an injury-plagued career as a quarterback at Alabama-Birmingham (2007-11), playing for head coach Neil Callaway, who just happens to be the USC offensive line coach. Get the connections or just call it “All in the Family”?

The Obvious: It was expected that quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Ronald Jones ll would announce early entry into this spring’s NFL draft, but it was mildly surprising that junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett decided to join his offensive teammates in the draft.

The Not So Obvious: The beauty or curse of college football, especially in this era of “three and done,” is that when one doors closes on the depth chart, another door opens for others. No incoming Trojan freshman will have greater opportunity to play early than wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is so advanced physically and mentally, well beyond his years. St. Brown should transition to the college game without missing much of a beat.

The Obvious: It was a poignant announcement by wide receiver Deontay Burnett that he was heading for the NFL.

The Not So Obvious: No question that Burnett’s signature USC play will his 27-yard touchdown reception from Sam Darnold in the 2017 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. If that touchdown in the final quarter was a signature play, don’t forget that Deontay also caught 13 passes, with a Rose Bowl record-tying three touchdowns. Good luck in the pros, kid!

The Obvious: In QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones 11, and WR Deontay Burnett, the Trojans have lost the core of their offense to the NFL.

The Not So Obvious: The departing trio will need to be replaced, and you can visualize sophomore RB Stephen Carr replacing RoJo and you can see incoming freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown having a real shot to replace Burnett. What does come to mind is whether Clay Helton will play go with returning experienced receivers or go with the best player if that happens to be St. Brown. However, for the offense to truly go, it still gets down to the quarterback running the Trojans’ offense, and that QB decision by Helton may not be decided until the first game of 2018 against UNLV.

The Obvious: The deadline to announce going to the NFL early is Monday, January 15.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans received good news on Wednesday when junior linebacker Cameron Smith, a 2017 team captain, and offensive tackle Toa Lobendahn announced they would be returning for a final season in cardinal and gold. And thanks to this Monday’s NFL draft deadline, we’ll also find out if defensive lineman Rasheem Green, safety Marvell Tell lll, and/or corner Iman Marshall head to the NFL (UPDATE: Marshall announced on Friday afternoon that he will be returning for his senior season). All would be highly valued defensive players if they return for the Trojans’ 2018 season.

The Obvious: With center Nico Falah graduating, it would appear that his likely replacement would be Toa Lobendahn, who spent the 2017 season at left tackle but has some previous center experience.

The Not So Obvious: If the anticipated move of Lobendahn to center reveals itself in spring ball, the natural insert at left tackle will be sophomore-to-be Austin Jackson, who has future all-star written all over him. A Trojan legacy, Jackson could become one of the USC greats.

The Obvious: In a pulsating CFP National Championship Game on Monday night, Alabama defeated Georgia 26-23 in overtime, a championship victory that validated Alabama’s controversial entrance into the four-team tournament.

The Not So Obvious: Obviously, the game came down to a quarterback change by Alabama coach Nick Saban at halftime, replacing non-throwing quarterback Jalen Hurts for dual-threat and true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who was named the CFP MVP. However, don’t discount the insertion by Saban of true freshman running back Nagee Harris, a native Californian. The difference in the game, however, was the move of Tagovailoa, whose parents, BTW, moved from Honolulu to Tuscaloosa to follow their son’s Crimson Tide career.

The Obvious: Tua Tagovailoa and Nagee Harris were once highly recruited by the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: Tagovailoa (Honolulu, Hawaii/St. Louis HS) and Harris (Antioch, Calif./Antioch HS) are both West Coast guys. You can bet at some level there was some wistful thoughts by Clay Helton and his staff about the ones that got away. The O/NSO remembers seeing both at local football camps before their senior seasons. Harris, who we saw on USC’s campus, immediately reminded us Marshawn Lynch.

The Obvious: With its national championship victory, Alabama has proven you can win the whole thing with a true freshman quarterback like Tua Tagovailoa. 

The Not So Obvious: You can bet that Trojan fans have already began the comparisons between Tagovailoa and USC’s incoming true freshman quarterback JT Daniels. Daniels’ pedigree is top of the line, but the question is whether Clay Helton is willing to do what Alabama did with Tagovailoa and Georgia did with true freshman QB Jake Fromm, which was play them.

The Obvious: At the conclusion of the ESPN telecast of Monday night’s national championship game, there was the traditional video reflection of the 2017 college football season.

The Not So Obvious: It was poignant to see that as part of the seasonal review, there was the highlight of Trojans’ blind snapper Jake Olson making his flawless snap against Western Michigan in the Coliseum.

The Obvious: In the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, the Trojans finished No. 12 in the nation.

The Not So Obvious: The top 10 of the final AP Top 25 were Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, UCF, Wisconsin, Penn State, TCU, and Auburn.

The Obvious: And finally, the Trojans finished No. 10 in the country in the final Coaches’ Poll.

The Not So Obvious: In the Coaches Poll, the Trojans (No.10) were ranked one spot ahead of Notre Dame (No.11), which clubbed the Men of Troy 49-14 at Notre Dame Stadium in October. Ya think that might put a bee in the Irish bonnet?

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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