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WeAreSC Mailbag

USC’s game against Colorado scheduled for today was canceled, so we took a look at reader questions from this week, including ones about recruiting, the rest of the Pac-12 schedule and USC’s chances at being eligible for the conference championship game.


Q: With the struggles our running game has shown so far this year, any thoughts to running out of the shotgun using 2 or 3 TE sets, 2 RB sets or even the Wildcat?

A: Clay Helton and Graham Harrell talked about running some two-back sets, but we’ve only seen it a handful of times to this point. We’ve seen two tight ends in there together at times, but Jude Wolfe has been dealing with an injury and he came out of the Utah game. The tight ends have had some good moments in the run game, but neither has been a dominant force there where getting them both on the field allows you to run the ball at will. And up until now, the Trojans have only had two tight ends available this season. I’d be all for looking for some new wrinkles with the running game, but it feels like there might not be all that much more tucked away back there in this offense. The two-back sets might be the one thing still available that they could go to at some point.


Q: I am really impressed with the talents of London, McCoy, and St Brown when they are on the field together. All three have NFL ready physiques as college players and are only getting bigger and better. Can you recall another trio of college receivers, USC or otherwise, as physical as these three?

A: It’s a great group, and not a fun matchup for opposing defensive backs. I’m certainly not going to pretend I can rattle off every great trio in college football history that could match up physically. I do know that Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss were on the same Miami team and that probably could have been Kate Moss as the third option and they’d still be in this discussion.

I think McCoy and London next year will have a chance put together one of the great seasons for a receiving duo in USC and maybe college football history. If St. Brown decides to leave and Tyler Vaughns doesn’t return, those are the clear first and second options for a third-year Kedon Slovis.


Q: I’ve been really impressed with Marlon’s kid brother, Tuli, on the defensive line as a true freshman. He was not a heavily recruited 3-star from Lawndale HS, and some people thought he was only offered at SC because he was Marlon’s brother. Why did top football powers and recruiting services miss so badly on Tuli?

A: There were different opinions on Tuli, but 247 Sports had him as a four-star prospect, top-200 player and top-20 defensive tackle in the country. So there were definitely some that saw him as a big-time recruit. Tuipulotu was pretty quiet throughout the recruiting process, and it’s always easy to lose those guys in the cracks when you have bigger and more visible recruiting battles going on. He had offers from Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Utah in the Pac-12, as well as Nebraska, Tennessee and Wisconsin nationally. But sometimes it’s tough as a younger brother to get a lot of recruiting attention when it’s pretty much a common belief that you’re going to follow your older brother.


Q: Is there a reason why USC isn’t recruiting Maalik Murphy harder? This feels like DJ Uiagalelei all over again. A generational talent right in our backyard getting ready to take his talents out of town.

A: I think Maalik Murphy is talented, but I wouldn’t put him in the same conversation as DJ Uiagalelei or Bryce Young in that 2020 class, yet. I was really surprised how quickly the USC coaches moved on Devin Brown as the 2022 quarterback, having a few local guys still uncommitted.


Q: As we get closer to the first NSD when most kids sign, what are your predictions as to who we keep, who we lose, and any surprise commitments?

A: I think USC winds up with four offensive linemen in this class, and with the Trojans chasing at least one more and already with four commitments, it makes me think there could be someone that falls out there — maybe Saia Mapakaitolo, as he’s moved back to Arizona for this season. I also think we could see movement at wide receiver, as USC has extended a late offer there despite already having three commitments. I’d bet on USC holding onto both quarterback commits at this point, but I understand the thought that Jake Garcia could wind up at Miami.

It’s so tough to call surprise commitments this year because you just don’t have anything to go on in terms of official or unofficial visits. I would be surprised to see any major splashes out of nowhere with the way things are set up right now — a guy like J.T. Tuimoloau or someone like that coming on board. But a guy like wide receiver Joseph Manjack (Tomball, Tex./Memorial) might qualify, as he got a late offer from USC and recently decommitted from Washington State.


Q: Can you provide us with stats on where Ben Griffiths Punting stands right now nationally?

A: USC ranks 19th in the country in net punting yards, averaging 41.5 net yards per punt. Griffiths would rank 14th in the country in individual punting with his 45.6 yard average, but he hasn’t hit the minimum of 3.6 punts per game to be listed among the leaders. You saw the national leader in punting in the first game of the season, as Arizona State’s Michael Turk has a 51.6 yard average with his five punts in that one game.


Q: While we fans are always harping on Clay Helton and his inability to lock up/secure 5* and 4* players in the local area, isn’t this also an indictment on the position coaches who will truly have more direct contact and influence on these players and ultimately their careers? For example, as the Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, how much blame/responsibility does Todd Orlando have for not securing Raesjon Davis or Ethan Calvert? How much blame/responsibility does Vic So’Oto have for losing Aaron Armitage and Korey Foreman IF Korey Foreman chooses to play football somewhere else? Etc. I understand that Clay Helton is the Head Coach and the CEO of his Program but it seems to me that Clay Helton himself has very little to do with the development of each individual player and their ability to some day play on Sunday in the NFL. I feel like the position coaches and Coordinators have a lot more ability to mold these young men into professional athletes than Clay Helton does. Am I wrong?

A: I agree with a lot of the thought behind this. The issue with applying it to the 2021 class is that those assistants just got here at the beginning of this year and the recruitment of those players has been going on for months and even years before that. So I have a hard time putting all the blame at the feet of those assistants for not getting players in this 2021 class. If they’re still not getting guys in the 2022 and 2023 classes, then that’s a different story.

But recruits want a combination of a position coach and a head coach they’re comfortable with, as well a program they see that can get them to play for championships and to the NFL. USC doesn’t have a great argument based on the last few years that they’re even the best team in the Pac-12 South that can do those things. The direction of the program is much more a reflection of the head coach than a position coach, especially in a year where the recruit doesn’t have as long of a connection with that position coach.

Gold Trojan

Q: In the light that Utah’s defense went to a 7 – 8 man zone vs USCs passing attack, why didn’t we attack their 3 man front with more runs between the tackles?

In light of this, our lack of success when we reach deep into the opponents side of the field is abysmal. Not sure of the scoring percentage inside the other teams 30 yard line, but it can’t be good.

A: USC ranks 100th in red zone scoring this season, and has scored 15 times (11 touchdowns) in 20 possessions. Colorado, meanwhile, is tied for first at 100% and has scored nine touchdowns (eight rushing) in 10 red zone possessions.

USC simply doesn’t have a great power running game, whether it’s because they don’t have the individual pieces or the mentality for it. It’s clear that Clay Helton and Graham Harrell want the running game to be a part of this offense, but it’s also fairly clear they don’t see the running game as ever being the No. 1 option for it. USC has had a number of opportunities now to face defenses that throw that same three or four man rush at them with seven or eight defenders deep and the Trojans haven’t been consistent in their ability to run teams out of that look.


Q: I have noticed this season that any kickoff that is not deeper than one yard into the end zone is returned. Almost always, the return is stopped inside the 25 yard line and usually inside the 20 yard line. I have watched other teams do a fair catch at or inside the 5 yard line and get the ball at the 25. Why don’t we take the percentage fair catch like others do?

A: Special teams coach Sean Snyder believes in creating touchdowns on special teams and you can’t do that by calling fair catches. At this point, it sure feels like USC has lost yards by returning kickoffs rather than taking the ball at the 25-yard line. But Snyder clearly has faith in his and the return unit’s ability to create big plays and it feels like the trade off between starting just inside the 20 or 25-yard lines on most possessions is worth the chance for a big play.


Q: First and foremost Happy Thanksgiving to you and the rest of the board. Hope this message find you and the Trojan family in good health. My question is what is the reasoning behind NCAA CFP not expanding to more teams and conferences instead of four teams — that only seem to be from SEC, BIG10, ACC or if lucky from PAC12?

With the Colorado game now canceled, is there a possibility for a make-up game in the near future and which teams do you think we may have a chance to schedule for this game? If both USC. and Colorado end up with identical records, then how is the South champion selected? Thanks

A: There is no chance for a make up game against Colorado unless there are more cancelations on the schedule. The Pac-12 waited an extra week to get started and in doing so, gave itself no open weeks to get game rescheduled. There are two weekends between now and the conference championship game and USC has Washington State and UCLA scheduled for those weeks. Obviously it would be more important for USC to play Colorado than Washington State, but Colorado has games against Arizona and Utah the next two weeks and there’s no way they’d give up one of those in order to get a game against USC.

As for the division champion, here are the tiebreakers:

  1. Head-to-head results
  2. Record in games played within the division
  3. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on record in all games played within the Conference), proceeding through the division
  4. Record in common Conference games
  5. Team with the highest College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking
  6. Cumulative winning percentage of each tied team’s Conference opponents
  7. Highest ranking by SportSource Analytics (Team Rating Score metric) following the last weekend of regular-season games
  8. Coin toss


Q: If California high school football is canceled this season, what impact will that have on the Pac 12?

A: I don’t think it will have a huge, lasting impact because the Pac-12 played football this fall. Had the Pac-12 not played this season, I think that would have had a major recruiting impact. But obviously I can’t say for certain because it’s not anything that anybody has experienced before. It might be a boost to some of the Mountain West teams that get guys who were poised to have a massive senior season but hadn’t bloomed enough yet for Pac-12 programs to go on. There are some of those guys every year and it’s tough to expect the Pac-12 programs to find them without a senior season.

But I expect so much player movement in the way of transfers for the foreseeable future once this one-time transfer rule goes into effect, that good programs should be able to cover up any recruiting misses or mistakes fairly easily.


Q: Erik, who has been your most pleasant surprise so far?

A: It’s Tuli Tuipulotu for me. USC signed just three defensive linemen in this class and really needed to hit on all three since there was a good chance of losing a lot of the veterans after this or next season. Tuipulotu has been very good already and has shown flashes of potentially becoming great. I didn’t expect things to click so quickly for him.

Trojan Forever

Q: Is there a minimum number of games a team must play to qualify for the PAC-12 Championship game? If we don’t play anymore would we qualify at 3-0?

A: Yes. A team needs to play only one fewer conference game than the average number of games played by the rest of the conference. So if the average number of games played by the rest of the conference is 4.4, that would round down to 4 and USC would be eligible for the division championship with its 3-0 record. So in that situation, Colorado playing San Diego State this weekend helps keep USC in the running for the division championship because this does not count as a conference game.

Right now Arizona can only play five, Arizona State can only play three, Cal can play five, Colorado can play four, Oregon can play six, Oregon State can play six, Stanford can play five, UCLA can play six, Utah can play four, Washington can play five and Washington State can play four. So right now, if no other games are missed, the number of average games played would round up to five (although we’re not many cancellations away from dropping down to four) and USC at 3-0 would not be eligible. If there are a few more cancellations and that number drops below 4.5 (it would be 4.8 right now if every game left on the schedule gets played) then it would round down to 4 and USC would be eligible at 3-0.


Q: Now that the CU game has been cancelled, what are the odds of next week’s game being cancelled as well? Given the 14 day quarantine protocols, if the players currently isolated (not counting the 3 positive cases) due to contact tracing continue to test negative for Covid each day, do they have to be quarantined for the full 10-14 days? Wouldn’t they test positive in the first 3-6 days after contact if they had contracted Covid? Also…If they quarantined the 5 close-contact players on Tuesday, I think day 10 would be next Friday…the week USC is actually scheduled to play on a Friday….so, depending on what numbers they use, would those players be allowed to play on that Friday or even Saturday – if those players remain negative and the PAC12 allows the teams to move the game back a day rather than cancel? I might have the timeline wrong or interpreted the 10 day rule I read on the PAC12 website incorrectly…but help us understand how this affects next week’s game….what scenarios do we face?

A: I think the probability of next week’s game being canceled is fairly high, just because we’ve typically seen it take teams out for two weeks this season. But It’s unknown exactly what happened on Thursday in terms of the positive test and any additional contact tracing. If that affected a large number, I don’t see those players being available for a Friday game (and no matter what happened, I’d imagine USC would at least think about asking to move the game from Friday into the weekend now).

The way I understand the isolation/quarantine procedures is that a player who tests positive must isolate for 10 days following that test (if asymptomatic). If it’s symptomatic, as Monday’s test was, the player still only needs to isolate for 10 days from that test, provided symptoms are gone by then.

And there’s a difference between isolation and quarantine. In this case, those players deemed to be close contacts with the player who tested positive will actually need to be quarantined for 14 days from the date of that contact. So anybody who was deemed a close contact (those five players who did not test positive but were accounted for in contact tracing) will need to be out for 14 days regardless of whether they test negative during that time. This is the new discussion point with the CDC regarding whether that timeline should be cut down to 7-10 days rather than left at 14. Obviously if the Pac-12 keeps it at 14 days, that entire group of players in quarantine (not the ones who tested positive) would miss two full weeks. The ones who test positive and don’t show symptoms can return in 10 days following that positive test and (I believe) do not need to be tested again, because those who test positive could continue to test positive for months despite not being contagious.

So ultimately with that 14-day quarantine for close contacts, those players could be held out for a longer period of time than the 10-day isolation for those who actually do test positive. But the issue for the ones who test positive is the cardiac testing required by the conference. There doesn’t seem to be a set amount of time that takes and can extend the return process potentially by a few days.


Q: If Jaxson Dart commits to SC, do the Trojans really take 3 QBs in this class or does Jake go the U. I am guessing that Miller Moss is a Trojan to the bone, so would not decommit. How do you think this all plays out Erik?

A: It seems like three quarterbacks in this class could be a plan. I honestly don’t have much of a problem with it. You clearly aren’t going to keep all three quarterbacks on the roster for 3-5 years, but there are zero long-terms options behind Kedon Slovis right now and I’d rather have three pitches in an at-bat than just one. And I think the quarterbacks understand that just because you start at one school doesn’t mean you’ll finish your career there. They’ve seen the success guys have had when they transfer, but starting your career at USC isn’t a bad option. I think Moss is as locked in as a recruit can get, and I still think Garcia is saying the right things and is on the path to start at USC. UCLA is going to be a real player for Dart, but he seems intrigued enough by USC to believe the Trojans are going to be in the mix. In the end, I’d be mildly surprised if he commits to USC. But after not taking a quarterback in 2020 and now absolutely needing two in this class, USC sure is walking that tightrope of chasing Dart and trying to hold onto two others, when the possibility exists that Dart goes elsewhere and the chase makes Garcia look hard at Miami.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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