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2021 Pac-12 Football Previews: USC Trojans

Posted on July 12, 2021

  By Dane Miller, Sports activitiesPac12

This USC outlook is the sixth of 12 preseason previews to seem over as many weeks as we depend down the times to the beginning of the Pac-12 season on August twenty eighth.

Each preview is comprised of 9 sections: OverviewBest-Case ScenarioWorst-Case ScenarioWhat Should HappenWhat Must HappenGreatest StrengthBiggest ConcernDeciding Factors, and Schedule Analysis.

Nothing is ready in stone as rosters and depth charts proceed to evolve over the summer season. In the top, preseason prognostications typically show to be no higher than good guesses at greatest.


Entering the seventh season underneath Clay Helton, USC has but to succeed in the College Football Playoff and holds only a single look in a New Year’s Six Bowl.

The clock is ticking on the time to get it finished in Los Angeles, with the 2021 season a doable make-or-break 12 months for Helton.

Fortunately, one of many nation’s most touted recruiters has settled into his position with this system, serving to to safe the seventh-best recruiting class within the nation.


Donte Williams emerged as a celebrity recruiter at Oregon, garnering a repute as probably the greatest within the enterprise, earlier than returning house to USC.

His acumen helped him land defensive lineman Korey Foreman, the Trojans’ second-highest rated recruit because the rankings started. Listed by 247Sports because the No. 1 recruit within the Class of 2021, the freshman tasks to make an influence from the opening snap of the season.

And with the return of what is perhaps one of the best receiver within the Pac-12 in Drake London, the expectations in L.A. may lastly match actuality.

Best-Case Scenario

After taking part in by means of an obvious nagging shoulder harm through the 2020 season, Kedon Slovis returns to his 2019 kind. With weapons throughout him, the third 12 months underneath Graham Harrell’s Air-Raid is his best.

The 17-to-7 landing to interception ratio is considerably improved with higher resolution making and extra correct throws. London dominates opposing secondaries, whereas Bru McCoy and Colorado switch Ok.D. Nixon exploit defenses for chunk positive factors.


Texas working again switch and former four-Star recruit Keaontay Ingram ignites a Trojan speeding assault that has faltered underneath Harrell’s system, easing the strain on Slovis when throwing the ball.

The improved speeding menace forces defenses out of the zone appears opponents, so typically employed final 12 months, leading to extra open lanes for Slovis to cross into.

The barely extra balanced assault paves the best way to an 11-win, Pac-12 South Championship season, with a New Year’s Six bowl look on the road within the Championship Game.

Worst Case Scenario

Slovis can’t shake the harm bug, forcing Helton to play true freshman Jaxson Dart or Miller Moss. And whereas the second-string choice performs in addition to may very well be anticipated, the breadth of the playbook simply isn’t out there, leading to an offense that stumbles at occasions.

The incapability of Harrell’s system to run the ball successfully turns into extra pronounced, with Ingram and Vavae Malepeai unable to persistently take the burden off their true freshman quarterback.

Pac-12 USC football
Korey Foreman | USC Athletics

The saving grace is a powerful line of defense. Foreman combines with Alabama switch Ishmael Sopsher, Nick Figueroa, and lineman-linebacker hybrid Drake Jackson, because the 4 wreck havoc on opposing strains all 12 months.

Despite the inconsistent availability of Slovis, the Trojans put collectively an eight-win season.

What Should Happen

London, McCoy, and Nixon lead a reloaded receiving corps that’s boosted by Texas switch Jake Smith and four-Star freshman Kyron Ware-Hudson.

The USC passing assault places up greater than 400 yards per sport, whereas the working backs collectively exceed 150 yards on the bottom per evening.

The almost two turnovers per sport posted within the 2020 season is drastically lowered, as Slovis has a simpler run sport to depend on.

The expert USC secondary continues its tear, led by Isaiah Pola-Mao and Chris Steele. Texas security switch Xavion Alford and Auburn security switch Chris Thompson Jr. carve out outlined roles and grow to be a part of the rotation.

Pac-12 USC football
USC’s Isaiah Pola-Mao | Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

And within the linebacker room, Kana’I Mauga and Ralen Goforth paved the way because the protection improves on its 2.6 turnovers pressured per sport.

What Must Happen

Improving the nation’s eighth-worst speeding assault is a should for the Trojan offense to be at its handiest. Too many occasions opposing coordinators have been content material to play zone and sit again in cross protection with out even a semblance of a menace to run.

usc logoSlovis’ lack of mobility hampers what in any other case could be an efficient deterrent, placing the onus on Harrell to design higher performs for his backs.

Screen performs could also be utilized to drive defenses out of their zones, however the introduction of two tight finish units could also be essential to generate extra yards on the bottom.

Yet, there’s no query that 97.3 yards speeding per sport is simply not going to get it finished, irrespective of how potent the passing assault is that this season.

Greatest Strength

Securing the seventh-best recruiting class within the nation was a considerable win over the offseason. The class consists of 14 four-star freshmen, including depth that can be felt for years to come back.

And the Trojans hit the switch market with success.

Pac-12 USC football
CU switch KD Nixon | Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Seven former four-star prospects have been added by way of the portal, placing a complete of twenty-two new 4 or five-star recruits on the roster.

Depth like that may be the distinction between good groups and nice ones, because the accidents in a grueling 12-game season mount.

Highlighted by Foreman, the brand new faces ought to maintain the victories churning, because the “Next Man Up” philosophy stays entrance and heart.

Biggest Concern

The second-string quarterback in Los Angeles is an open query. In most seasons, the second choice at USC has the ability to start out at most Power 5 applications within the nation.


And whereas Dart seems more likely to have the backup job secured, the true freshman is but to play in a school sport. If one thing have been to occur to Slovis, the four-star expertise may very well be pressured to take the sphere.

History in L.A. has proven that may become a boon for the workforce, however that’s not at all times the case.

Vanderbilt graduate switch Mo Hasan suffered an ACL harm through the Spring Game, placing the approaching highlight even brighter on Dart.

Yet, if Dart is the actual deal, as some anticipate, the Trojans can be simply superb.

Deciding Factors

With an offensive system nearly completely centered on passing, defending the quarterback comes at a premium. Last season, the USC offensive line gave up a mean of two.5 sacks per sport.

That ranked the unit the 84th-best within the nation, although their place was arguably skewed by the variety of passes the Trojans try per sport.

Still, that have to be improved, particularly within the Red Zone the place USC ranked the same eighty fifth within the nation in effectivity.

Pac-12 USC football
Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Both issues may very well be solved with a stronger speeding assault. Pass-heavy offenses nearly at all times wrestle inside the opponents 20-yard line, whereas run-heavy programs shine in the identical space of the sphere.

Putting it collectively within the Red Zone at the next clip may become the distinction between a New Year’s Six Bowl and one other season perceived as a failure.

Schedule Analysis

USC’s nonconference slate consists of matchups with San Jose State, Norte Dame, and BYU, every of that are unfold out throughout the season.

The Spartans are a Week One cupcake, whereas the battle with the Fighting Irish is the seventh sport of the 12 months, and the take a look at towards the Cougars caps the season in late November.

USC ought to end no worse than 2-1 towards its nonconference opponents, with an opportunity for a particular season if this system comes away with a victory in South Bend.

Pac-12 play begins with winnable matchups towards Stanford, Washington State, Oregon State, and Colorado. Anything lower than a 5-0 begin to the 12 months and a Top 10 rating by early October could be a let-down.

The most troublesome a part of the season follows, with video games towards Utah, Norte Dame, and Arizona State, together with a matchup towards Arizona after the battle in South Bend. The video games towards the Utes and the Wildcats are within the Coliseum, and will finish in victories.

But the roadies towards the Sun Devils and Irish may not finish effectively.

This four-game stretch will probably outline the season, and a 3-1 mark ought to be sufficient for a South Championship.

The 12 months ends with winnable video games towards California, UCLA, and BYU.

Depending on how the stretch from mid-October to early-November goes, the Trojans might finish the 12 months with as many as 11 wins, or as few as 9. Assuming Slovis performs to his potential and the bottom sport is improved, a double-digit win-total seems probably.

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