USC Football Mailbag: Where does Sam Darnold rank all-time? (1/18)

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

Reign of Troy’s USC Football mailbag dives into Sam Darnold’s all-time standing among Trojan QBs, expectations for the 2018 season and more.

The dust on USC Football’s 2017 season has yet to settle, less than one month out from the Cotton Bowl, but it’s never too early to look ahead to the future.

At least that’s the case with this week’s Reign of Troy mailbag, which takes a look back at Sam Darnold’s legacy, looks forward to the 2018 season and ponders the fate of a certain Trojan assistant coach.

Let’s dive in…

Q: Where does Darnold rank in terms of all-time USC quarterbacks? — Brian

A: Going into the 2017 season, Sam Darnold legitimately had the opportunity to leapfrog some USC legends to become the greatest USC quarterback of all time. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out quite that well.

USC still has two Heisman winning quarterbacks on the books, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, and those two remain ahead of Darnold in the pantheon of great Trojan signal callers. A Heisman season might have gotten Darnold past Palmer. A national championship would have been necessary to even discuss Darnold alongside Leinart.

Behind those two it gets complicated, with stylistic and generational debates to be had and recency-bias to battle.

When we ranked USC’s all-time QBs a couple years ago, we rated Rodney Peete third, Paul McDonald fourth and Matt Barkley fifth. I think it’s fair to place Darnold ahead of Barkley. He ultimately accomplished more in a shorter span in more spectacular style.

McDonald was an All-American and left USC as the university’s passing record holder. But Darnold holds records of his own. It’s an unfair generational comparison, but for now, Darnold gets the edge.

Does he outrank Peete though? The 1988 All-American, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner, Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and Pop Warner Award winner was a Heisman runner-up to Barry Sanders. Advantage, Peete.

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Q: Will USC’s 2018 football team be looked at as a potential playoff contender, or will they now be looked at as a team that has to rebuild their program since we will have a new qb. — Juni

A: When it comes to offseason hype, pretty much everything comes down to one question: Are you returning your starting quarterback? If the answer is yes, let the hype train roll. If the answer is no, skepticism prevails.

In that sense, I suspect USC won’t be picked to win the Pac-12 this time around (with Bryce Love and Myles Gaskin returning, that’ll be a debate between Stanford and Washington). Meanwhile, early Top 25 rankings seem to place the Trojans around the teens.

So no, playoff talk should be at a minimum this year. But does that mean it has to be seen as a rebuilding year?

USC returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, including four of five starters on the offensive line and Cameron Smith in the middle of the defense. Moreover, the Trojans have recruited so well over the years that the Pac-12 South should still be theirs to win.

Q: Will 8-4 [next season] be acceptable for you if we have a few blow out victories but fail to beat Stanford, Texas, Utah on the road and drop another game at home? — Zhyandy92

A: Acceptable is a complicated word, because so much of it depends on context. Would it be acceptable for largely healthy USC team which has ranked in the Top 10 of recruiting rankings for the last four years to go 8-4? Not really.

What about one which gets down to a third or fourth-string quarterback due to injury, loses a couple key starters on defense and drops at least two of those road games on last second field goals? I supposed there could be a conversation.

Taking best and worst case scenarios off the table, 8-4 feels like underachievement, even if it’s enough to win the Pac-12 South. Yes, those three road trips are tough, but what is the point of recruiting so well each and every year if you still drop all the tough games on the schedule.

And considering the extreme response to an 11-3 season, 8-4 with no Pac-12 Championship to fall back on might send the USC fanbase into nuclear territory.

Sure, the Trojans will be playing with a first-time starter at quarterback, but too many rookie QBs have had playoff success in recent years for that to justify 8-4.

Year 3 is critical year for any new coaching staff, especially one which has remained largely unchanged. Year 3 is when things should start really coming together. If Clay Helton’s Year 3 is 8-4, he’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

Q: With the pac getting blown out in the bowls does the pac champion have a less emphasis on the playoffs? — Bert

A: The Pac-12’s 1-8 record in bowl season certainly doesn’t help the perception of the conference, but it really shouldn’t get in the way of a Pac-12 squad’s ability to make it to the playoff.

More from Reign of Troy

It comes down to wins and losses. Why was Alabama preferred to Big Ten champion Ohio State this past season? Because the Buckeyes had two losses to Alabama’s one.

Why was Pac-12 Champion Washington and non-Big Ten winner Ohio State favored over two-loss Big Ten Champion Penn State in 2016? Because the Huskies and Buckeyes only had one loss each.

Sure, there may be special rules for the SEC, but the criteria has been pretty consistent for everyone else, regardless of conference perception. Remember, the Big Ten was fairly well-regarded in 2017. They still got left out.

It’s simple: If you’re in the Pac-12 (or Big Ten or Big 12 or ACC) don’t lose twice.

Q: Is anybody gonna go after Clancy for HC spot? After that performance against OSU don’t know why a Big 10 school wouldn’t be backing up the truck for him — Dave

A: Clany Pendergast has been a reasonably successful defensive coordinator for more than a decade. If he had aspirations to be a head coach, he probably would have made the attempt by now.

TRENDING: Can Ronnie Lott Vote for USC with CFP Committee?

And what a relief that should be for USC. The stability Pendgergast will bring to the defense coming back in 2018 is probably the most comforting part of the coming offseason.