With every passing year it gets harder and harder to remember that USC was once the dominant program in college football - the Alabama of their era. That was before the Lane Kiffin-Steve Sarkisian one-two punch, a combo that could kill any program. It was back when the program had the credentials and swagger to draw the best of the best - not make the least inspiring of coaching choices you could by eventually elevating interim coach Clay Helton to the full-time gig. It was back when UCLA was barely worth a thought. Now the crosstown rival is more likely to win the conference and the division in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
It's a sad decline, and there is really no reason for it other than clueless mismanagement. So, are we looking forward to yet another mediocre season? Or will we start to see a climb back into the upper echelons for this program?
Key Additions and Departures
Cody Kessler started at QB the last three years, but he is gone now - a third-round pick of the Browns. That means that redshirt junior Max Browne should finally get his shot. He was the National Player of the Year in high school and was the top QB of his class, but has ridden the bench so far. His job is made easier by the return of a lot of big parts around him. The two running backs are about as good a pair as any team has. The entire offensive line is back, and the receivers are deep and talented, too. Unless Browne falls on his face - and it's a mild concern that it took him this long to claim the job when he has been given plenty of opportunities to do so - then the offense isn't going to be a real concern.
The defense has a new guy in charge - or a new old guy, anyway. Clancy Pendergast had the same role until 2014 when he left to coach linebackers for the 49ers. Justin Wilcox took over for him, but was fired after two mediocre years, and is now at Wisconsin - a massive downgrade for the Badgers from Dave Aranda. Pendergast is familiar with and to the older players on defense, and the defense was definitely better when he was in charge than the last couple of years. Pendergast has some issues to overcome, though. Most significantly, the team returns no starters on the defensive line and was hit with injuries during the spring game, too. The linebackers face some uncertainty as well, but at least the secondary is going to be a strength. They return four key players in the secondary, including one of the best corner duos in the country, and they have great depth there as well.
USC Trojans Schedule Analysis
This is just a brutal schedule . Really rough. They start out playing Alabama in Dallas - a game they are very likely to lose and quite possibly could lose quite badly. Utah State is next and will provide some relief. But not for long; they start conference play by travelling to Stanford and then have to go right away to Utah - a game that could be challenging.
They have an easier month next - the two teams from Arizona, Cal and Colorado are among the lesser teams in the league. The last four games, though, are just hideous. First, they host Oregon. Then they travel to Washington and UCLA in consecutive weeks. Conference play is then over, but they still have to play Notre Dame at home. There are a lot of games there that could potentially go poorly.
2016-17 USC Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has USC at +3300 to win the national title, which ties them with Baylor, Michigan State and TCU as the 13th choice overall. They are tied with Oregon as the fourth choice to win the Pac-12 at +550, behind favored Stanford, along with UCLA and Washington. They are the second choice to win the Pac-12 South at +175, behind UCLA at +140. BetOnline sets their regular-season win total at 7.5, with the "over" solidly favored at -150.
The Trojans were not a strong team to bet on last year. They were 6-8 ATS, and the over went 6-7-1 on the total.
2016-17 USC Predictions and College Football Picks
Against a soft schedule I would like them a lot more than I do against this slate. There are only five games that are reasonably easy wins - and the Trojans could potentially find a way to lose at least three of them given their lack of focus at times. They just aren't going to beat Alabama. Not happening. Of the other six, I give them the best chance at home against Oregon and at Utah. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they lost the other four. The ceiling for this team this year seems to be about nine wins barring a miracle. In other words, more of the same in sunny Southern California.
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