The 2017 USC football team is one of the biggest storylines in college football, and for good reason. Their chances might never be as good as they are right now.
Few things are as annual as preseason hype surrounding USC Football. This season is no different, because it’s easy to see why the time is now for Clay Helton’s program.
The team is fresh off their first Rose Bowl win in eight years, return a healthy amount of starters, are a Vegas coin-flip for the College Football Playoff and boast the nation’s most acclaimed quarterback.
The Trojans’ title window stands agape, forced open by the might of the 2015 recruiting class, with former head coach Steve Sarkisian’s fingerprints smudging every inch.
This season’s hype was built when he and his coaching staff assembled the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class more than two years ago. Armed with the likes of Sam Darnold, Iman Marshall, Ronald Jones, Porter Gustin, Cameron Smith and Rasheem Green, the 2015 class was a gauntlet-dropping moment for USC.
It’s the only time in the six years Alabama didn’t take the recruiting crown, setting the stage for the Trojans’ best opportunity to finish ahead of the Crimson Tide at season’s end.
“I believe our future is ridiculously bright,” Sarkisian said on Signing Day.
But the irony of college football is the brightness of the future often hints toward a dimming, putting the onus on the present.
For USC, that means winning now on the back of the 2015 class, before their departure cinches up the window.
Darnold’s time is short because he’s projected as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft. Jones is in an almost must-go situation given the brief lifespan of running backs. Marshall, Gustin, Smith and Green all could find themselves with first or second round grades.
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Then there’s a senior class that includes three starters on the offensive line (Viane Talamaivao, Nico Falah and Toa Lobendahn), the team’s most veteran receiver (Steven Mitchell) and defensive back (Chris Hawkins), and a star in the making at outside linebacker (Uchenna Nwosu).
If all goes according to plan and the Trojans are good in 2017, a mass exodus next January is practically inevitable.
Given that head coach Clay Helton hasn’t proven to win much of anything without Darnold, USC’s chances of winning are peaking. Especially because the Trojans’ assemblage of talent also finds themselves with a pathway to the title that couldn’t be more advantageous.
They won’t play defending Pac-12 champion Washington in the regular season, while UCLA, Utah and Colorado aren’t so lucky. They get Utah at the Coliseum where the Utes have never beaten USC, while both the Bruins and Buffaloes have to go to Salt Lake City in November.
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They get national brands Texas and Notre Dame coming off a combined nine wins, and with the uncertainty of Tom Herman’s first season and Brian Kelly’s hot seat.
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Should they get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, they’ll have an unprecedented bye week beforehand. Should they get to College Football Playoff, they’ll have an opportunity for home-field advantage at the Rose Bowl.
The stars can’t possibly have aligned better.
That’s not to say it’ll be easy. Winning a national championship requires consistency against teams a smattering of quality teams and a great deal of luck to avoid season-ending injuries.
It requires winning games games in which you aren’t sharp and not letting late leads slip away. It requires starting just as strong as you finish, all of which USC fell victim to last season.
But this is the time to conquer those beasts, as the Trojans won’t find a better opportunity going forward.
Win now, and USC can break in a new quarterback to regroup in 2018 without the pressures of a title-or-bust cloud hanging over.
Serenity now, before the fallout of talent brings insanity later.