Too-Early Top 25 Roundup: USC Football expectations lowered for 2018


Lowered expectations for USC Football’s 2018 season have the Trojans ranking outside the Top 10 of most Way-Too-Early Top 25 lists.

USC Football entered the 2017 season with playoff expectations, but they’ll face much less hype in 2018. That’s if the slate of Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings released after the national title game are to be believed.

The Trojans peaked at No. 11 in Sports Illustrated’s ranking, one spot ahead of No. 12 Notre Dame and outpacing No. 15 Washington and No. 16 Stanford. September opponent Texas also appears at No. 21.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports also sees USC as a Top 15 team, placing Clay Helton’s squad at No. 13. Though that’s relatively high compared to other early Top 25s, the Trojans aren’t the top-rated Pac-12 team. That distinction belongs to No. 12 Stanford. Washington trails at No. 17.

Other Top 25 rankings are more skeptical of the Trojans going forward.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach lists USC at No. 15, well behind No. 8 Washington, though ahead of No. 18 Stanford, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 24 Texas.

USA Today’s Paul Myerberg ranks the Trojans No. 17, behind No. 12 Stanford and No. 15 Notre Dame.

Stewart Mandel of the Athletic made the boldest ranking of them all, leaving USC out of his too-early Top 25 all-together.

Considering the strength of the Trojans’ recruiting over the past few years, with four consecutive Top 10 classes and another one arguably on the way, USC should expect to be a Top 25 team, even if Mandel doesn’t see it right now.

Still, these Way-Too-Early Top 25s are particularly too early for a true evaluation of USC’s 2018 prospects. So much hinges on NFL decisions throughout the lineup.

The Trojans already know they will be without offensive stars like quarterback Sam Darnold, running back Ronald Jones II and wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Yet, in a strange way those three also have the clearest replacements.

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The quarterback battle between Matt Fink, Jack Sears and newcomer JT Daniels will be the storyline of the offseason and its resolution will have the single biggest impact on USC’s future. However, Jones II’s heir apparent, Stephen Carr, established his exceptional abilities as a freshman. The late season emergence of receiver Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman should ease the sting of Burnett’s departure.

The real questions lay on defense, where early departures have yet to be decided for middle linebacker Cameron Smith, defensive end Rasheem Green, cornerback Iman Marshall and safety Marvell Tell.

If those four return, USC’s defense could be a force in the Pac-12, one capable of carrying the load while the offense eases into a new era without Darnold. But if they leave, it’ll be a heavy rebuilding year on both sides of the ball. A defense already adjusting to life without important graduating seniors like Uchenna Nwosu, Josh Fatu and Chris Hawkins will have new, inexperienced faces filling the lineup.

TRENDING: 5 Things USC Must Fix in 2018

Is USC a Top 20, Top 15, or maybe a Top 10 squad in 2018? It really is too early to tell.