With the UCLA game on tap, readers this week wanted to know about the potential for USC’s running game against the Bruins, as well as the scenarios that could play out for the Pac-12 championship game, and several different aspects of recruiting.
With this being a crazy season due to COVID-19 for everyone, which of these jobs do you see opening up after the season?
1. Texas (Firing Herman)
2. Michigan (Harbaugh heading back to the NFL)
3. Notre Dame (Kelly heading to the NFL)
4. USC (Helton and/or Harrell heading ANYWHERE)
5. Oregon (Cristobal heading somewhere else)
6. Iowa State (Campbell heading somewhere else)
7. Cincinnati (Fickell heading somewhere else)
A: I think Texas is the most likely to make a change on that list. It’s not a major job like the ones listed there, but I don’t know how Arizona continues on with Kevin Sumlin after that game last night and the lack of development anywhere in that program. I’d be surprised if Brian Kelly left Notre Dame and it feels like the Harbaugh to the NFL talk happens every year without anything serious.
I’ve have to imagine that Campbell and Fickell would take a long look if bigger programs or NFL jobs became available. You just can’t bet that you can stay relevant for long at places like that (not impossible, just not as likely). I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Graham Harrell wound up listening seriously to offers again, but I can’t imagine USC having a head coach next season that isn’t Clay Helton. I don’t have a great read on Cristobal’s situation at Oregon. It seems like he’d want another go at it based on what he was expecting to have this season and what he actually had.
But every year there are a few surprises, and even with this crazy season, I’d bet on there being some yet again.
And isn’t it about time for Tennessee to open up again? I feel like that’s become an every-few-years event.
Q: Hi Erik, If Foreman commits to USC, do you expect any other top recruits to follow and join him in this class? Are there any must get top flight Olinemen still left on the board and if yes, do we have a shot at any of them under the above assumption? Thanks
A: I don’t see Foreman having a huge impact on the 2021 class because he’s announcing his decision after the early signing period and there won’t be many recruits left to sway for the February period, but I definitely think it’ll catch the attention of a lot of 2022 prospects. The top two linemen on the board out here in this class were Kingsley Suamataia and Bram Walden and both seem pretty locked in with Oregon. As for offensive linemen left in this class, four-star tackle Austin Uke (Dallas/Parish Episcopal School) is still uncommitted and things just got interesting with him, as Texas offered on Friday.
Q: UCLA sux
But they do bring a high pressure defense. Will USC be able to establish the run to counter the pressure.
A: I think USC will have more success running the ball against UCLA than it did against Washington State. How’s that for confidence?
If this USC offensive line is ever going to play with its hair on fire and a chip on its shoulder, it has to be in this game against UCLA, right? They absolutely want to prove that last week was about the circumstances they faced and not about their talent level, so I’d expect them to do well against UCLA. But do I expect USC to fully commit to trying to establish the running game from the beginning and going to it often for 60 minutes? I do not.
Q: What’s going on with Jason Rodriguez? Is he sick or injured? I’m very surprised that two true freshmen played and he didn’t. Please shed some light on the subject. Thanks.
A: Not being at practice, it’s tough to get a first-hand read on how the younger guys are developing, which is by far the most disappointing thing about not getting to watch entire practices (or any part of it this year). I was a little surprised that both true freshmen went in before him against Washington State, but he’s still just a redshirt freshman and there’s plenty of time for him to continue developing.
Q: My guess is that Tuipolotu, St. Brown, Vera-Tucker, and Hufanga leave early for the NFL draft. Any others that you think might go early (CB Griffin, Pola-Mao?) . And do you think any seniors that are eligible to come back next year decide they’ve had enough with school and opt for NFL free agency or just move on?
A: Those four would be my guess, and I’m curious what kind of grade Olaijah Griffin will get from the NFL and if he does think about leaving. One of the big questions facing this program (and literally every program in the country) is what to do with this senior class if guys want to come back.
I haven’t spoken to players about it at this point, but maybe Matt Fink doesn’t want another go at being Kedon Slovis’ backup. I could see Connor Murphy maybe giving it a go for one year somewhere else to see if he could get on the field consistently. A couple of intriguing ones to me would be Tyler Vaughns (how much does he want the USC career receptions record?) and the two tailbacks (do they risk another yet and potential injuries or just see what they can do in the draft or free agency?).
Q: Erik, assuming that you answer these questions prior to the crosstown rivalry game Saturday, do you think that the SC running game comes back strong in this game and makes a statement, not only to the team and the fans, but to commit Brandon Campbell and prospects like Alton McCaskill and Cardwell? I worry about totally losing our ability to land the players to make us a more dangerous offense that can get the big plays, but also pound the ball when it needs to.
A: I touched on the running game a bit above. I think it’s improved from Washington State, but I don’t think it’ll be a truly potent ground game (and I very much hope to be wrong about that). Right now I’d imagine it’s tough to sell this offense to a back who wants to carry the ball 15-20 times a game behind a dominant offensive line. There are a lot more backs out there who can be dangerous with just 8-10 carries and some touches in the passing game, but it feels like those two guys you mention would want to see a more traditional rushing attack.
Can you please clarify who gets to go to the PAC-12 Champs?
I know we go if we beat the Bruins or if Colorado loses and we lose. What if we lose, Colorado wins and UDUB and Oregon don’t play? Would we be next highest after Colorado?
If Colorado beats Utah on Friday and we take care of business against UCLA on Saturday, do you see a scenario in which Larry Scott and the PAC-12 Administration tells Washington that they can’t just back into the Conference Championship and has USC play Colorado for the PAC-12 Title instead?
A: I’m combining these two questions.
It doesn’t sound like there is any chance that USC and Colorado will play for the conference championship. It seems as though whatever happens with Colorado and USC (you’re correct that if both lose or both win, USC wins the South, and if Colorado wins and USC loses, Colorado wins the South) they would play Washington the following Friday. But now that game for Washington is very much in doubt, so it sounds like Oregon would be the next team up. It’s still all up in the air as to how it will all play out, but the one thing we can all agree on is that we fully expect the Pac-12 to make a decision that upsets the most people.
Q: As the years wore on Joe Paterno was arguably more and more of a figurehead that relied on his assistants to run the show and Penn St generally fielded above average but not elite teams. How likely is it that a scenario similar to this, where if Bohn opened up the budget to several top-flight assistants (think the next Norm Chow as O Coordinator), would play out at USC? Is HCCH well-received enough by parents and recruits to pull this off?
A: So now the range that USC fans want Clay Helton to stay on as head coach ranges from four minutes to four decades.
Only kidding, but this is pretty much what USC is already doing. USC is letting Graham Harrell completely run his offense, Todd Orlando is in total control of the defense and Sean Snyder runs the special teams. Where this plan as far as USC is concerned seems to have an issue is that if Harrell leaves, where does USC go for an offensive coordinator? It seems like you’d need to get someone pretty close to Harrell, or else you’re going to spend an entire offseason (and probably that first season) adjusting to a new offense. And the same goes on defense if Orlando moves on. Obviously no head coach in college football runs both the offense and defense of his team, but it feels like you’re setting yourself up for a lot of rebuilding/transition years unless you can actually get two coordinators to also set up shop for years and years without looking anywhere else — and that just doesn’t feel like a reality in college football anymore.
I do think that if USC was able to find coordinators who delivered great offenses and defenses, Helton would be a great figurehead at the top of a program. He’s very well-liked by parents and recruits as a person, but his inability to consistently deliver conference championships and big-game wins has had a negative effect on USC’s ability to land some big-name recruits in this and previous classes. I’d much rather have a head coach who is more of a CEO than a guy who is micromanaging every aspect of an offense or defense, or trying to do both. You just lose too many things through the cracks when you’re trying to do that. But you have to be able to get a lot of things right all around that guy if that’s your plan, and ultimately the coach’s overall vision for the program is what’s going to manifest itself on the field.
Q: With Sopsher now in the fold.
Does the staff have their eyes on anyone else in the portal?
A: I could see USC going after another defensive tackle, even with Alabama transfer Ishmael Sopsher having committed. Former LSU tackle Siaki Ika and Florida State tackle Cory Durden are interesting prospects.
I would think a running back would be towards the top of the list depending on how the depth chart looks for next year and whether Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr plan to return for another season. I was surprised that USC didn’t go after Jaiden Lars-Woodbey after he announced he would leave Florida State. It would surprise me if Isaiah Pola-Mao were to leave early for the draft, but I don’t know if the Trojans have someone right now who could step in for Talanoa Hufanga if he leaves early.
Q: If Sopsher couldn’t even get on the field for Alabama, how confident are we that he will contribute at USC?
A: He’ll contribute just by being a somewhat experienced body at defensive tackle. I don’t think there’s any shame in not seeing the field through a season and a half at Alabama considering how loaded that roster is and how many four and five-star guys are coming in right behind you at any position. Sopsher was clearly out of shape as a true freshman, as he cut around 25 pounds between his first and second seasons. The talent is obviously there, as he was a top-50 recruit in the 2019 class. I don’t think there’s a guarantee that Sopsher will work out, but USC had to find some other options at the position if they lose Marlon Tuipulotu early to the draft. Brandon Pili will have the option to return, but there are only inexperienced players behind him. So in that way, bringing in a guy with Sopher’s ceiling who has experienced the Alabama culture feels like a pretty good idea. Some players just need a change of scenery and a chance to make a new impression on a new coaching staff. We’ll see if that’s the case here.