Clay Helton’s job isn’t on the line yet, the Pac-12 South is

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Clay Helton’s job isn’t on the line just yet, but a strong end to the season is required to reach USC Football’s minimum goal of a Pac-12 South title.

USC Football has four crucial Pac-12 South games on the horizon. Clay Helton’s Trojans can, and should, win all four. Anything less is failure.

Despite the calls on Twitter and message boards for Helton to be fired, his job is not, and should not be, on the line over the final month of the season.

The head coach has a 16-5 record as a permanent head coach at USC, including a Rose Bowl win. The Trojans have undeniably disappointed in 2017, but disappointing in Year 2 is not a fire-able offense.

All the same, it is now critical for Helton to prove that he can once again instill the character necessary to bounce back after a demoralizing loss.

He has done it before. As an interim in 2015, his Trojans rallied to finish the regular season with five wins in six. Last year, Helton’s team ripped off nine-straight victories following a 1-3 start.

USC just needs four-straight to begin to salvage this season.

If Helton had been able to lead USC to the College Football Playoff in Year 2, it would have been an impressive feat. He has fallen short of that marker and deserves major criticism, for an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame and, particularly, for the season-long underachievement of a talent-laden offense.

Helton is not a championship-level head coach at this point. Few second-year head coaches are. That’s what USC signed up for when the university promoted him from his interim role despite his thin resume. Growing pains were a certainty. Helton is entitled to the time to work through them and succeed, or stagnate and fail.

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He didn’t need to answer the question of whether he can win a national championship at USC, not right now at least. For a program which hasn’t sniffed a conference championship in nearly a decade, melting down over national title dreams was always putting the cart before the horse.

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Is Helton capable of leading the Trojans to their first Pac-12 title since 2008? That’s the question to linger on at this stage.

Fans may tire of hearing that the Trojans control their own destiny. But they do. For the next four games, until USC loses another, that will remain true as the goal of winning the Pac-12 South becomes the focus.

The path will not be easy—nothing has been thus far—but the Trojans still hold the edge over their next group of division opponents. ASU and Arizona are playing great football right now while a mid-November trip to Colorado and a rivalry tilt with UCLA present problems of their own. A USC team which displays the same grit, determination and focus as last year’s squad should still win those games.

That’s the task for Helton, who must find a way to tap into those same qualities once again.

He wasn’t hired because of elite technical coaching ability. He was hired because he instilled the right mindset at USC, because his players fought for him.

If the Trojans don’t pick themselves up by their bootstraps and come through at the end of this season, that’s on Helton.

Even so, a slip up and failure to win the South shouldn’t cost the head coach his job right now, but it should officially start the clock on his tenure.

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The outcome of this season will frame the narrative for the head coach as he enters Year 3, when his job security really will be fair game.