USC football projected for a third place finish in the Pac-12 South

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football is projected to finish in third place in the Pac-12 South in 2019 by Athlon Sports, who take a dim view of the Trojans potential for improvement.

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Where will USC football finish in the Pac-12 in 2019? If you buy the predictions of Athlon Sports, it won’t be pretty for the Trojans.

Steve Lassan published the magazine’s Pac-12 predictions on Tuesday, slotting USC with a 4-5 record in conference and a third place finish in the South behind Utah at 7-2 and UCLA at 6-3.

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USC’s overall record is predicted at 6-6, tied with Arizona State and Arizona.

That’s technically an improvement for the Trojans, who went 5-7 in 2018, but such a showing would almost certainly result in a coaching change.

For that reason, it’s no surprise Clay Helton features as Athlon’s unanimous pick for “Coach on the Hot Seat” in the conference.

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Does Athlon have it right?

To be sure, 6-6 is a possible outcome. USC has major questions on the offensive line and in the secondary. They also have the baggage of last year’s failure to weight them down and a very difficult schedule to navigate.

However, the Trojans also have more talent than pretty much anyone in the conference and coaching adjustments, like bringing in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, could yield major results.

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Athlon themselves seems to recognize that USC isn’t far from competing at a much higher level than they predict.

The Trojans feature in the top half of the conference’s positional rankings in three of the six units considered: No. 1 for wide receivers, No. 2 for defensive line and No. 6 for linebackers.

By comparison, UCLA is No. 5 at running back and No. 6 at defensive back.

USC missed the cut in both of those positions. For the secondary, that’s no surprise. The Trojans are replacing five defensive back starters. There are players with potential coming up, but few sure things.

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However, Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai and Markese Stepp may have something to say about six other Pac-12 units outranking them going into 2019. If the Trojans plan to use those horses properly, they could certainly make a case for surging up the charts this season.

As for the offense line, the only other unit USC failed to place in Athlon’s Top 6, it’s very much wait and see. New offensive line coach Tim Drevno has some intriguing players to work with. The likes of Austin Jackson, Alijah-Vera Tucker and Brett Neilon are serious prospects, while the addition of Tennessee transfer Drew Richmond could further solidify the group.

Given their extreme underperformance in 2018, the offensive line has no right to call for preseason acclaim. Their play will have to do the talking.

That statement pretty much applies to USC as a whole too.

As much as a 6-6 prediction may sting in the offseason, it’s up to the Trojan coaches and players to prove preseason predictions wrong.