USC Football: Clay Helton named finalist for Bryant Coach of the Year Award

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

USC Football head coach Clay Helton is one of seven finalists for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award for 2017.

With his first Pac-12 Championship trophy in the bag, Clay Helton is a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award for the second time as the USC Football head coach.

The American Heart Association announced this year’s finalists on Wednesday, listing Helton along with Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, UCF and now Nebraska’s Scott Frost, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Army’s Jeff Monken, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.

Helton was a finalist for last year’s Bryant Award, which ultimately went to Swinney for the second consecutive year.

With the award due to be announced on January 10, Helton has one big opportunity to make his case as the nation’s most impressive head coach this year: Besting Urban Meyer’s Ohio State.

The Buckeye’s are almost a touchdown favorite over USC in the 2017 Cotton Bowl, so a Trojan upset victory would certainly boost the head coach’s resume.

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As it stands, Helton can point to a Pac-12 title, USC’s first since 2008 under Pete Carroll.

Moreover, despite the talent gap for the Trojans in the conference, things have not been easy for the cardinal and gold. USC went through the regular season, playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, without a bye week.

During the course of the season, Helton and his staff dealt with major injury crises on both sides of the ball. USC’s narrow loss to Washington State, a game played on short rest following a road trip, featured a decimated Trojan offensive line. The Trojans more troublesome loss to Notre Dame was also marked by devastating injuries to the defensive line.

Despite the hurdles, Helton kept his squad focused on the goal of the season: a conference championship. When they got to the title game in Santa Clara, they took care of business, beating David Shaw’s Stanford for the second time in 2017.

Of course, Helton has not been without his critics. Given USC’s immense talent and expectations to start the season, tight contests against lesser opponents have raised questions about his ability to get the most out of his squad.

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Helton could mute those critics with a Cotton Bowl win.

No USC head coach has ever won the Bryant Award since it’s inaugural season in 1986.