USC football mailbag: Could blowouts lose Clay Helton his job even at 10-2?

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Would 10-2 be enough to save Clay Helton’s job, even if both losses were blowouts? Will USC football play in the new Los Angeles Stadium?

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It’s the offseason, so naturally all the talk around USC football is about Clay Helton’s job security and hypotheticals about the coming season.

At least, that’s what Reign of Troy readers are wondering about as June stretches on.

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Here’s this week’s mailbag:

Q: Let’s say theoretically USC goes 10-2 in the regular season but has two 17+ blow out loses to Notre Dame and Oregon. They then go on to lose by a last second field goal in the Pac-12 Championship: 1. Is this enough for Clay Helton to keep his job? 2. Would this be okay for your standards? — @michaelmadden08

A: As much as USC fans may not see 10-2 as a viable outcome for the season, it’s not actually outside the realm of possibility. The Trojans were just a few bounces of the ball away from wins over ASU, Cal and UCLA last year, without even factoring in how close an injury-plagued squad came to upsetting Notre Dame.

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If things go more right this time around, the hypothetical of USC achieving a largely unsatisfying 10-2 record, in the same vein as the 2017 season, feels like exactly how it would play out.

The answer to the first question is simple: Yes.

Athletic director Lynn Swann gave Helton a massive vote of confidence last year by keeping him on board. The idea then was that the 2018 season was a slip up that could be corrected. Achieving a third 10-win season in four seasons would be all the proof Swann would need to show he made the right decision.

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The argument could be made that Swann will be inclined to once again stick with Helton so long as he gets to the Pac-12 title game under any circumstances. He was willing to show patience through 5-7. We have to assume that same patience will extend to even marginal gains in 2019.

The second question is more tricky to answer.

I believed USC needed to move on from Helton last year. The reasoning behind that came down to one factor: Forget Rose Bowl victories, Pac-12 titles or 5-7 seasons, did I believe Clay Helton capable of winning a national title with USC? If no, then the Trojans needed to stop wasting time and find someone who could.

The answer then was no and frankly, a 10-2 season where USC failed to win the Pac-12 title and thus didn’t sniff the playoff, wouldn’t be enough to change my mind on the core question. That’s especially true if the theoretical season involves more blowout losses which would further undermine faith in Helton’s ability to be competitive on the top end.

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Having said that, my standards aren’t Lynn Swann’s standards. They don’t have to be. I’m not dealing with buyout clauses and real money. If Helton were to achieve 10-2 in 2019 and you put me in Swann’s shoes, I would be hard-pressed to fire him.

Q: I’m wondering if it is realistic for USC to kick off at the new Rams Stadium in the future considering they have difficulties to schedule home to home series with quality opponents. I think there will be good teams willing to play there although it’s like a home game for USC. — @zhyandy92

A: Not only is it realistic, it’s a guarantee.

USC won’t be able to play in the Coliseum when the Olympics come to Los Angeles in 2028, so the Trojans will play their home games at Los Angeles Stadium that fall.

Outside of that, the possibility of USC playing at LA Stadium remains high.

A new bowl game will be hosted there beginning in 2020, essentially taking over the tie-in from the Las Vegas Bowl, which will receive an upgrade with its own new venue of Raiders Stadium.

Trojan fans may not want to end up there, as it will pit the Pac-12’s No. 4 team against the Mountain West champion. Still, it’s a possibility.

Regular season contests are also on the table. The new trend of one-off exhibition games—like the Advocare Classic, which USC will participate in again in 2020—remains a lucrative endeavor for all involved. Expect LA Stadium to cash in with their own, along with Las Vegas.

USC is a national draw, so the Trojans will always be a viable candidate to be invited for one of those games.

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

Q: If Aaron Ausmus could improve any player on either side of the ball, who would you like to see come back stronger? — @dhcohen

A: Would you accept a cop-out answer like, every single offensive lineman?

The Trojans 5-7 season could be directly linked to underperformance in the trenches, so seeing someone like Andrew Vorhees bully people up front would certainly make a massive difference.

On the defensive side of the ball, a bigger, stronger John Houston would be a major boost to the defense, especially as he transitions to middle linebacker.

Q: What’s the timeline of when the Coliseum needs to be completed? — @SalvadorVieyra1

A: The Rams have a preseason game scheduled at the Coliseum on August 24, so the renovations better be done by then.

According to the folks over at, the annual Salute to Troy event will be held at the Coliseum this August as well. That’s another event which may hint at the completion date for construction.

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You can keep track with the live renovation camera. It looks like it’s coming together rather well.