On Tuesday, USC extended head coach Clay Helton's contract through the 2023 season. Helton, who signed on with the Trojans in 2010 as quarterbacks coach, has a 21-6 record in two years as the full-time coach.
Helton's best year was 2016 when he coached the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory in a thriller over Penn State. Despite an 11-3 season in 2017, the Trojan offense, starting with Sam Darnold, regressed and didn't have that same spark. The playcalling was unimaginative and inconsistent and did not utilize the talent on the offensive side of the ball. That is why it was so surprising to see the school extend him for five more years. With the influx of talented freshman, four which are five-star athletes, and many starters returning on defense, this coming season should serve as the ultimate test for the Helton.
Helton preaches faith, family, and football. He is going to need to have a lot of faith in this young team. JT Daniels just turned 18 on February 3rd and already has a real chance to start in the season opener against UNLV on Sept. 1. He is looking to become the second true freshman in USC history to start at quarterback for the opening game. Matt Barkley, also from Mater Dei, was the first to do it in 2012. Daniels, along with Matt Fink and Jack Sears, will compete to take over for Sam Darnold as the face of USC football. Those are big shoes to fill. Darnold threw for over 7,000 yards in his 24 starts and set the Rose Bowl record for passing touchdowns and total yards as a redshirt freshman.
Whoever is under center has the adequate weapons to succeed. Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns return to head the receiving corps that has been bolstered by the recent signings of five-star receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and four-star receiver Devon Williams. The situation at running back is a little murky and must be monitored. The upcoming spring practices are going to be important for freshman Stephen Carr. With Ronald Jones II headed to the NFL draft in April, if all goes according to plan, Carr is slated to be the top running back option for the Trojans.
Helton was set to coach the final year of a three-year contract signed back on Nov. 30, 2015. The wise move would have been for USC to let that deal play out and see what he could produce with all of this young talent at his disposal. Anything less than a New Year's Six bowl this upcoming season should have resulted in his dismissal. With this newly inked commitment, it is assumed that Helton has a lot more breathing room to provide subpar results. But don't put it past USC to seek changes if things aren't going well and if fans and alumni become disgruntled.
With firepower on both sides of the ball and not a clear-cut number two team in the Pac-12, USC should win the conference again. Helton and the rest of the Trojans need to take that next step and seriously enter the conversation for a spot in the College Football Playoff. If he can do that, fans, alumni, boosters and the university will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Anything short of nine wins and a New Year's Six bowl game could have Clay Helton out of a job next winter.