Nevertheless, if you consider how much and how far the Trojans program has changed since they lost to Arizona State 62-41 on the last Saturday of September, well, if the Men of Troy are on your list of frequent college football picks, you have to like the direction they are headed.
USC Seeking Stability
From the time Peter Carroll left for Seattle, words that easily roll out of one’s mouth are tumultuous and upheaval. Lane Kiffin was a lightening rod for negative attention before he became the Trojans head coach and nothing changed in his tenure. When USC was ambushed in the desert by the Sun Devils, athletic director Pat Haden went with is gut and fired Kiffin, which he said was "the best decision for USC."
Ed Orgeron was named interim coach and did a fantastic job at stabilizing an impossible situation, leading the Trojans on a six-game winning streak. In the latter stages of the streak Orgeron openly campaigned for the job, but Haden had other ideas. In early December he hired former USC assistant and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian to run his team, which meant assistant Clay Helton would be coaching the Las Vegas Bowl.
Four head coaches in just over nine weeks, USC has to hope they found the right person.
Trojans Have to Overcome Recruiting Shortages
Kiffin and Sarkisian were both very aware of what they were walking into at USC. The NCAA came down hard on the football program for “lack of institutional control” and limited scholarships dramatically.
College football handicappers for years have watched USC injury reports because the number of available scholarship players has been no more than 70, leaving the Trojans to serious depth issues.
This will be the last year of the sanctions, but even Sarkisian acknowledges "We'll probably feel the effects of those sanctions for two more seasons, quite honestly,"
He understands no matter how many 5* recruits he brings in this year, he has a way to go to develop quality at all positions.
Next USC Quarterback
Cody Kessler finished the season as “the guy’ under center for the Trojans but with a brand new coaching staff and redshirt freshman sensation Max Browne, the competition will be fierce.
Whoever is quarterback, wide receiver Nelson Agholor will be No. 1 target. With Sarkisian, expect the use of the tight end to be more a factor.
The college football odds might not be stacked against USC, but having to replace three starters from what was already a thin group will not be easy. The presumption is the Men of Troy hope to put together a semblance of a good offensive line and let talented backs like Javorius Allen, Tre Madden and Ty Isaac earn their way to playing time.
Defense will be Fine, without Injuries
USC had a few losses on the other side of the ball when safety Dion Bailey and lineman George Uko left early for the NFL Draft. But the rest of the defense returns largely intact, including DE Leonard Williams, LB Hayes Pullard and S Su’a Cravens. The real question here is the continuity and how quickly everything comes together. While the talent is in place, the defense will be susceptible to wearing down in the second half of the season and injures would cause major issues.
Schedule Will Still Be Rugged
In an unusual twist, USC faced Fresno State in their bowl game and will play them again in their first contest of the year. This will be followed by a very early Pac-12 matchup at Stanford and the very next week they will fly cross-country to Boston College. Those making college football picks will no doubt be focused on those two games.
After a bye week Oregon State and Arizona State will be L.A. the latter a big payback encounter. The rest of the schedule is home and away until the last two weeks when the Trojans have to prepare for cross-town rival UCLA at their place and back home for the season finale with Notre Dame.
On national signing day, USC addressed their top need, with five offensive linemen and four were rated as 4* studs. Rivals.com rated this as the No. 10 class, but the signings of Adoree' Jackson, Juju Smith and Damien Mama gave the Trojans the elite talent only LSU and Florida State could match as first-year players.
Way Too Early Conclusion
At this juncture, Sark’s squad figures to be underdogs at Stanford and at UCLA. A victory in either location could set up at least a 10-win.However, at Arizona and battle with the Fighting Irish are not guaranteed and my guess is the sportsbooks will post a win total on the Trojans of 8.5 or 9 wins.