USC football: Clay Helton has the hottest hot seat possible

USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

USC football head coach Clay Helton has one of the hottest seats in CFB.

The time has arrived for a college football offseason tradition: Dennis Dodd’s annual “Hot Seat Rankings” for CBS. Unfortunately, USC football fans have had plenty of reasons to pay attention over the last few years.

This year, as expected, Clay Helton is highlighted among the coaches with the hottest seats. He has a five rating, up from last year’s “start improving now” rating of four.

Along with Helton, college football head coaches who scored a five include Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason, UTEP’s Dana Dimel, UCONN’s Randy Edsall, UCLA’s Chip Kelly and Nebraska’s Scott Frost.

How hot is Clay Helton’s hot seat with USC football?

Just what would it take for Helton to lose his job during or after the 2020 season? That’s the big question.

Dodd mused that “the best outcome for Helton may be football not being played.”

Respectfully, that may be missing the mark. Afterall, Helton is set up in 2020 with a gifted quarterback and a roster that still possesses championship-caliber talent. Missing out on the season could mean losing another season with the likes of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jay Tufele and Talanoa Hufanga.

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The roster with those stars should be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South, with a realistic shot of taking the conference crown.

How many times has a head coach been fired after winning their conference?

With subpar recruiting classes in the 2019 and 2020 cycles, the quality of the Trojan depth chart is expected to dip (unless USC’s coaching staff proves more capable of evaluating and developing players than they’re getting credit for now). If Helton doesn’t win the Pac-12 this year, it will be harder to achieve that feat in 2021.

Of course, the Trojans face a tough schedule in 2020 and it could spell Helton’s doom just as easily. They face preseason ranked teams like Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame, Utah and ASU.

Is another eight-win campaign good enough? It shouldn’t be. If USC’s current talent isn’t capable of standing up to most of those teams, then that’s a coaching problem. A difficult schedule might excuse a loss or two. It doesn’t permit four.

Nine wins under the wrong circumstances could be a problem for Helton as well.

Athletic director Mike Bohn may have practiced patience when bringing Helton back last fall, but a couple of blowout losses (say, at the hands of Alabama, Notre Dame or Oregon) could be the ultimate proof he needs to rescind his faith.

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CBS is right to put Helton in the “win or be fired” category. It’s all about winning, especially because conventional wisdom would mean giving the head coach an extension if he is retained beyond this year.

If it’s “Pac-12 title/10 wins or bust” that’s a red-hot seat. But it’s also one Helton has been warming for a while.

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