Going from a 5-7 record in 2018 to 8-4 in 2019 would be a major accomplishment for most Football Bowl Subdivision teams in America. But for a program like USC where excellence is expected, it most likely won’t be enough to save head coach Clay Helton. It may seem preposterous to say USC will go 8-4 this season, but for a team with so much talent and an offense catered to freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis’ abilities, it isn’t out of the question.
It’s almost impossible the Trojans will upset Notre Dame or even Oregon. Slovis should play relatively well in his return, considering Harrell’s offense allows him to make quick throws. It will be up to the quarterback to take calculated deep shots and utilize the receiving talent of senior Michael Pittman Jr., junior Tyler Vaughns and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown to get points on the board against Notre Dame’s No. 33-ranked defense. Expect USC to keep the game somewhat competitive, similar to last year when the first half against Notre Dame was one of USC’s best showings of the entire 2018 season.
Arizona State, Colorado and Cal on the road and UCLA and Arizona at home are all winnable games for USC. Even if Oregon comes to the Coliseum and wins, that still leaves USC with five games that should go in its favor. Arizona State, quite possibly the most inconsistent team in the conference, might be a wild card in USC’s schedule. The early-season win over Michigan State was impressive, but the subsequent drop to Colorado complicated things.
Cal looks like a challenging team to play on the road, especially given the talent of its secondary. By mid-November, the conference and the rest of the FBS should know whether the team is a legitimate force. Also by mid-November, if not by the Oregon showdown at the end of October, the Trojans should be in fighting shape.
As the season continues, freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis will be more healthy, having recovered from the BYU loss and smoothed out the kinks that ailed him in summer practices. It will go a long way to determine who represents the Pac-12 South in the conference title game in December.
Compared to last season’s unit, this team is more determined to succeed. Everyone from the quarterback to the film coordinator to the student managers were embarrassed by last season’s 5-7 finish. They let too many winnable games slip away.
Regardless of the season’s finish, Helton and some of his staff will probably be let go as President Folt and the athletic director search committee look for Swann’s replacement. Many believe that whoever replaces Swann—and eventually Helton—will be established figures and not people who, frankly, were not qualified for the job in the first place.
USC cannot make the mistake of looking forward to the uncertainties that loom at the season’s end. If the team wants to achieve 8-4, it needs to take one game at a time. If both units click, the right plays are called and the team takes the right risks—and those are big ifs—there is no reason this season can’t make a full turnaround.