USC Football: Stuck in Mediocrity

Photo via AP

The USC Trojans are one of the most prestigious and successful programs in all of college football. They have won 11 national championships, have had six Heisman Trophy winners, and 39 conference titles. However, they have struggled to find the championship-level success that they were accustomed to throughout program history in this decade.

In 2008, USC won the PAC-10 title with Mark Sanchez and a ferocious linebacking corp featuring Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. It would be nine-years until they won another conference title. The program found themselves in trouble with the NCAA and they had a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years.

After a few years of decent results and instability at head coach, Clay Helton, USC’s offensive coordinator, took over as the head coach in the middle of the season in 2015 for the embattled Steve Sarkisian and took over as the full-time coach in 2016. That season, USC caught lightning in a bottle as Sam Darnold took over after a 1-2 start and led USC to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State despite not even winning the Pac-12 South.

The year after is when things start getting dicey. They did win the Pac-12 championship, but mainly took advantage of a down year in the conference. Also, Sam Darnold struggled to get a rhythm offensively and fell flat in the Cotton Bowl as they lost 24-7 to Ohio State.

After Darnold left, USC went on a free-fall as USC posted an abysmal 5-7 record, which included an embarrassing 34-27 loss to the 3-9 UCLA Bruins. This was unacceptable as this was USC’s first losing season since 2000.

Clay Helton was retained and this season, USC posted a mediocre 8-4 record that included road losses at 7-5 Washington, and BYU. Some bright spots include freshmen quarterback Kedon Slovis, who threw for 1,352 yards and 13 touchdowns in USC’s last three games, and Michael Pittman Jr., a finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, had 95 receptions for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns.

While there were bright spots, USC is in a state of mediocrity, and that is unacceptable. USC is losing recruits from the local, Los Angeles area as they are heading to the top programs such as Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. USC also was last in recruiting in their conference last year. Also, USC on the field continues to be an undisciplined mess. In the last five years with Clay Helton as coach, USC ranked between 113th and 124th in penalty yards per game. That shows indiscipline in the coaching staff and the program. Lastly, when watching USC games, the Trojans don’t have the passion the 2000’s Pete Carroll teams had. When Carroll was the coach, USC played with swagger and determination and was always fun to watch. Under Helton, they play like a team just going through the motions and not putting in the extra drive needed to excel.

Clay Helton is a coach that is coaching a prestigious team, in a state of mediocrity and has little personality and passion while coaching. Who does that sound like in the NFL? Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett.

Garrett has led the Cowboys to some success, but they have not been able to make it to the NFC Championship game after Garrett, like Helton, took over mid-season. Like Helton, Garrett has the Cowboys in a state of mediocrity and has little to no passion.

The solution to this: fire them and find coaches with passion and the ability to instill discipline and swagger into the team. Imagine USC with the Pete Carroll swagger and a young star quarterback in Kedon Slovis.

Having that swagger can turn around a program. Take this year’s LSU Tigers as an example. LSU was a program who was stuck in mediocrity. Then they gave the fiery Ed Orgeron, who USC let go after he did a great job as the interim head coach in 2013 with a 6-2 record, the job after being an interim and he has turned them into a National Championship contending team.

USC is a team that needs to regain that swagger. They need to fire Clay Helton and get a coach that will bring USC back to the glory days, not a coach that will only keep USC respectable. Helton returning for 2020 is only going to lead to another embarrassing opening loss to Alabama, and another wasted year of the talent of Kedon Slovis.  

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