This week’s USC football mailbag ponders the Trojans’ Pac-12 title defense, the likely team MVP and recruiting challenges from the South.
Speculation continues around USC football’s fate in 2018.
Will the Trojans be able to top the division and the conference despite breaking in a new quarterback and facing new challenges on the schedule?
That and more is at play in this week’s USC football mailbag…
Q: Do you think that USC repeat as south champions, PAC 12 champion? Who is your way too early MVP? — @grumpy_oso
A: Most preseason projections have USC as the favorites to win the division again in 2018, and for good reason. For all the concern around losing Sam Darnold and a host of other key figures, the Trojans still boast the most talented roster in the South, if not the conference.
With a senior-laden defense, an experienced offensive line and skill position players like Stephen Carr, Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman to lean on, USC should be strong enough to navigate the conference slate while sorting out the quarterback issue.
Moreover, the rest of the South division holds plenty of question marks. UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State have new head coaches to bed in. And the reasons for their coaching changes highlight issues on each roster, despite reasonable amounts of talent. Colorado wasn’t a contender last year and shouldn’t figure as one this year. Utah has lost a chunk of its front seven and still haven’t proven they can get over the hump with Kyle Whittingham.
As to whether or not USC will defend their conference championship, that’s anyone’s guess. If the Trojans get to the title game, they’ll have a 50-50 shot to repeat. Washington will be favored to get there opposite them, while Stanford or Oregon could also make an appearance. Are any of those three unbeatable? No.
The MVP question is tough as the field feels wide open. The most obvious pick is Cameron Smith, who will be at the middle of everything on defense. Since the defense should carry this team (more on that later), the man likely to carry the defense fits.
Porter Gustin or Marvell Tell could make their claim to it as well.
On the other side of the ball, an MVP season from the quarterback, either Matt Fink, Jack Sears or JT Daniels, would bode very well for the Trojans, but it’s far too early to bet on that.
Q: Alabama seems to be targeting more Poly players and got a big win with Tua [Tagovailoa] last season. They have Tosh [Lupoi] who is a great recruiter. Is this trouble for SC or not a big deal? — @MatthewxRamirez
A: My first reaction would be to say “not a big deal,” but that’s not entirely true. It’s a big deal that USC missed out on Tagovailoa, a former five-star prospect who would be the favorite to become the Trojans next starting quarterback.
But that was an instance of one player making a personal choice, not a wave of targets missed by the Trojans. That’s why calling Alabama’s push into Polynesian territory “trouble” feels like an overreaction.
Nick Saban and his staff are excellent recruiters and they will certainly make headway with certain prospects because of Lupoi’s influence. However, USC has deeper roots in the Polynesian community. Clay Helton’s mantra of “Faith, Family, Football” seems to have resonated. The roster has a strong core of players from Polynesian backgrounds. And culturally, the West will remain a better fit in general for players from that background than the South.
Just this year, the Trojans landed top-level Polynesian prospects like Palaie Gaoteote, Solomon Tuliaupupu, Talanoa Hufanga and Kana’i Mauga. The well isn’t exactly drying up for USC.
Q: Will the football team be offensive power or defensive power team? — @ishi_sanchez
More from Reign of Troy
- Markese Stepp enters transfer portal intending to leave USC football
- USC football’s Alijah Vera-Tucker declares for NFL Draft
- USC football adds Xavion Alford as transfer from Texas
- USC Podcast: RoT Radio Ep. 396 on the Football Season’s Fallout
- Talanoa Hufanga named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, USC football with five first-teamers
A: The defense will be the strength of USC’s squad in 2018, without question.
Part of that has to do with personnel. The defense returns a core group of veterans while the offense lost it’s quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher. It will take time for the new offense to find itself.
Plus, Clancy Pendergast is a seasoned defensive coordinator guiding a group of players who have been in his system now for three years.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin is still learning out to walk. Improvement on that front should be expected, but with a first time starter at quarterback, it will take time.
Q: Is having 2 Trojans drafted into the NBA, is this the starting of a decent basketball program? — @dgeske
A: On it’s own? Not really. O.J. Mayo and DeMar DeRozan being drafted highly didn’t reflect great things for the Trojan basketball program going forward.
Now, having the No. 1 recruiting class in the country is a much better sign of that.