Which coaches, units, games and recruits will stand out for USC football in this transitional season? Our weekly mailbag takes a crack at the answers.
Welcome to the Reign of Troy mailbag. This mailbag is a weekly feature, where we will answer your questions related to USC football.
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Let’s get started:
What position group do you think will be most/least impressive on both sides of the ball this year?— Justin Polk @Toptrojanfan
On the impressive side, look for the offensive line and the linebackers to stand out.
The offensive line is now legitimately three deep and has players who can play multiple positions well. Add in Neil Callaway, a well-respected disciplinarian and technician, and the sky is the limit for this group.
Same with the linebackers. Most of the linebackers now on campus and those coming in were recruited to play in Clancy Pendergast’s system (or at least suit it better than Justin Wilcox’s system).
Pendergast is known to be aggressive, which plays into the hands of this group well. Look for sacks to double under Pendergast’s style.
As for the least impressive, on the offense I would have to go with the wide receivers.
This is not to say that the wide receivers are not a talented group (nearly all of them were rated four stars or better coming in), it’s that for far too long we have seen one single receiver be dominant with maybe a solid number two and no discernible number three.
Breaking in a new QB, expect them to rely heavily on Juju Smith-Schuster and hopefully develop chemistry with the others down the line.
On defense, the defensive line may be the Trojans Achilles heel.
Like every other position on the team, this unit has talent. Unlike the other other positions, there is not nearly as much experience or depth.
The loss of Kenny Bigelow was significant not only in terms of talent, but in terms of leadership. True sophomores Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson, and RS sophomore Malik Dorton will have to step and lead.
Who is the position coach that shines this year and you can’t take the easy road and say Clancy. That’s cheating.— Justin Polk @Toptrojanfan
I was not planning on going with Pendergast.
Actually, the assistant who can really shine this year who has not been talked about much is John Baxter, who is the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
The reason is twofold. First, USC’s special teams after Baxter’s departure were undisciplined and tended to not stay in their lanes. This was not a problem when Baxter was here in 2013, nor was it a problem for Michigan last year.
Second, it seemed in the spring game that the tight ends were more involved in the game-plan. Expect that to continue under Baxter.
If you could only see three USC games this year, which would they be and why?— Justin Polk @Toptrojanfan
I would choose the Alabama game, the Stanford game, and the Notre Dame game.
These will be the three toughest games the Trojans will play this year: Alabama was the national champion last year and cannot be counted out to repeat, Stanford rolled the Trojans twice last year and is the now-perennial Pac-12 champion, Notre Dame defeated USC last year and was a few seconds away from a playoff berth with the Stanford loss.
If Clay Helton wants to avoid the hot seat in the 2017 season, he has to win 2 of these three games.
Recruiting seems very slow this year, can anyone explain this beyond a new set of coaches?— Retired728 @retired728
It is true that USC is low on commitments right now, but that has been the case a few times in the past few years.
For awhile, the 2014 class had just five or six commitments, then after the defeat of Stanford and the hiring of Steve Sarkisian things picked up. It is very early right now, so there is not much to worry about.
One thing to note is that recruits are going to watch how Clay Helton does his first year before making a commitment to him.
Last year was decent, but Helton has to prove that he can win the Pac-12 and beat the big name teams. He has to prove that he will be there for the long term. If he starts the season off well and finishes well, the 2017 class can be as good as classes in recent memory.
Do the Trojans have a real shot at flipping Tua and Harris from Bama?— Luke McCord
Yes on both Tua Tagovailoa and Najee Harris.
Tagovailoa will take all five official visits, and sources have said in the end he may not be a good fit for Alabama.
USC is still recruiting him hard and should be in the mix for a visit.
Harris has been committed to Alabama for some time, but sources have said he likes the west coast and may prefer to stay here (as a former LDS missionary in Alabama, I can tell you it is a different world there).
How is BKU doing with the defensive line?— Luke McCord
Coach BKU, aka Kenechi Udeze, seemed to have a solid spring and we will watch him closely in the fall. He seems to be a good recruiter, with several top recruits mentioning him by name and saying that they would be happy to play for him in the future.
Udeze is also a strict disciplinarian, so don’t expect drama to be tolerated under his tenure.
I know Clancy helped recruit Murphy but is he on the recruiting trail for the 2017 class? Which freshmen have a chance of starting or contributing big time snaps? I’m guessing it’s between Jones and Wole.— Luke McCord
Clancy Pendergast’s strengths as a coach are teaching and scheming; he is not a big fan of recruiting.
On one hand this doesn’t matter much because coordinators do less recruiting than position coaches do (Tee Martin will be an exception).
On the other hand, this can turn some recruits away because it makes it seem like Clancy doesn’t care about them (former Trojan commits Jalen Ramsey and Eddie Vanderdoes mentioned this specifically in 2013).
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It seems Clancy is more apt to recruit now than before, so this may no longer be a problem.
As far as freshman earning starting roles, Michael Pittman figures to get a good look opposite Juju Smith-Schuster.
It is possible Connor Murphy, Jack Jones, and Wole Betiku earn starting jobs as well at some point during the season; expect all three to play a lot.
Jamal Cook could also be a solid contributor, as could Keyshawn “Pie” Young.
Cary Angeline, who is pro-style tight end, should factor in with them using the tight ends in variety of ways.