USC head coach Clay Helton leaped into the Top 25 of Sporting News’ ranking of all 130 head coaches in college football for 2017.
There aren’t a lot of publications climbing over themselves to give Clay Helton too much praise for USC’s 2016 turn around and Rose Bowl victory, but Sporting News went out on a limb by naming the Trojan head coach among the best in the country.
In their ranking of all 130 head coaches in college football going into the 2017 season, Sporting News listed Helton at No. 24, a sharp rise from last year’s No. 45 rank.
With a place in the Top 25, Helton is rated as the fourth-best head coach in the Pac-12, behind No. 20 Kyle Whittingham of Utah, No. 7 David Shaw of Stanford and No. 6 Chris Petersen of Washington.
Helton is also outranked by 2017 opponents Tom Herman, ranked 18th at Texas, and Brian Kelly, down to 14th at Notre Dame.
The eight Pac-12 coaches who trail Helton include Washington State’s Mike Leach at No. 26, Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre at No. 31, UCLA’s Jim Mora at No. 33, ASU’s Todd Graham at No. 40, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez at No. 42, Oregon’s Willie Taggert at No. 46, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen at No. 64 and Cal’s Justin Wilcox at No. 82.
Sporting News gives Helton by far his highest rating from a major publication this offseason. Earlier this year, Athlon ranked the second-year head coach 10th among Pac-12 managers. CBS placed him at No. 45 nationally, which also rates 10th in the conference.
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With a 16-7 career record, Helton has had his ups and downs as the Trojan head coach. He got USC to the Pac-12 title game in 2015 as an interim with great wins over Utah and UCLA, but was embarrassed by Stanford in Santa Clara. The humiliation only got worse when he lost to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl and was trounced by Alabama at AT&T Stadium to open the 2016 season.
As much of a black mark as that stretch might have been for Helton’s resume, he rebuilt confidence by keeping his team together and compiling nine-consecutive wins to end the season. After a spectacular Rose Bowl win over Penn State, Helton’s USC finished the year ranked No. 3 in the final AP poll.
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Helton won’t be able to shake the idea that his success has come courtesy of quarterback Sam Darnold propping him up, but he’ll be able to climb even higher up the rankings with a good showing in 2017.