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USC Football: Clay Helton Has Chance to Do What Orgeron Couldn’t

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This is Clay Helton’s shot to prove himself. And USC’s.

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The USC football program suffered yet another apparent set back when it was announced that head coach Steve Sarkisian would be taking a leave of absence. Athletic director Pat Haden determined that Sarkisian was “not healthy” before practice Sunday and reports now indicate that the coach will be entering rehab.

What better time than this for Helton to prove that he is head coaching material?

Now, a 3-2 Trojan team with three of their toughest opponents coming in the next three weeks faces an uphill battle.

What better time than this for Helton to prove that he is head coaching material?

If that sounds familiar then it is no surprise. This time in 2013 something similar was said about USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron after Lane Kiffin was unceremoniously released by the Trojans in September after a similar 3-2 start.

Orgeron passed that test in the eyes of many Trojan fans, but a less-than-stellar record as the head coach at Ole Miss combined with losses to Notre Dame and UCLA saw Coach O passed over for Sarkisian in the end.

Helton does not have the same myth-like history with the program that Orgeron enjoyed with his Cajun accent and motivational tactics. He does however, have a team stock piled with talent even greater than the one that Orgeron led to nine wins in 2013.

It was Helton who secured the tenth victory for USC that season when stepped in as head coach for the Trojans before they dominated Fresno State in the Vegas Bowl following Orgeron’s resignation.

With Sarkisian’s future in doubt, USC’s immediate and long-term future now hang in the balance.

Nov 9, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; USC Trojans interim head coach Ed Orgeron claps on the sideline in the final moments of the game against the California Golden Bears during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium. The USC Trojans defeated the California Golden Bears 62-28. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In the short-term, Helton has a mountain to climb as he attempts to keep the Trojans motivated and focused enough to face Notre Dame in South Bend, then surprise-contender Utah in the Coliseum and Cal at Berkley on Halloween. Only then will USC have a chance to breath before an equally difficult November slate looms.

If, and this is a big IF, Helton navigates the Trojans to a 3-0 record for the rest of October, he would have Orgeron-like momentum going into November.

Even if Helton manages just a winning record, the accomplishment should be enough to get his name thrown into the pile of potential replacements for Sarkisian.

To put it simply, Helton is now auditioning for a head coaching job, whether it is at USC or one of the many spots that will inevitably open by the offseason.

The good news is that in almost all sports, teams which fire a head coach experience a boost as players and assistants alike take on the mentality of playing or coaching for their jobs.

USC saw that in 2013 when they ripped off five wins in a row from the end of October to the end of November. Helton, who remains a well-regarded offensive coordinator, was a big part of that, getting the most out of Cody Kessler, Buck Allen and the Trojan offense.

Adding more optimism to the pot, the Trojans have a redshirt senior quarterback this time around, rather than a raw first-year starter in Kessler. They also have a full class of talented freshmen who are coming into their own rapidly and plenty of pieces to build on.

Helton need only unlock their potential.

The race for the Pac-12 title is still very much alive.

Win, and Helton could be in.

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