2018 USC projections on the Hour Glass
By John Luke McCord
While most focus on the fact that USC will have to find a replacement for Sam Darnold in 2018, don’t sleep on the Trojans as a contender to win the PAC-12. There are two reasons, and they are fairly obvious.
First, Clay Helton can coach, as evidence by his Hour Glass coaching stamp of 14(third in Pac-12, behind C. Peterson and D. Shaw but ahead of C. Kelly). You might remember back to 2016 when he guided the Trojans to nine straight wins to end the season. Well, factor that in and USC has won 20 of their previous 23 games entering the 2018 season. Though there was plenty of turmoil before he took over - and a lack of fanfare in reaction to his hiring - Helton has stabilized the program again with back-to-back double-digit win seasons.
And then perhaps most important to note, USC has out-recruited everyone else in the conference by a significant margin according to Hour Glass 3-year recruiting numbers. SC’s 93.33 3-year recruiting stamp not only leads the Pac-12 by some eight points, but it also ranks fourth in the FBS. Not only has USC landed the star-level blue chippers, but also enough impact guys to have plenty of depth. Let’s look at some of those names.
It’s likely going to be either Matt Fink or Jack Sears at QB, though if neither stakes their claim don’t count out incoming freshman JT Daniels. Fink is my projection here, as he is the only returning signal caller with game experience (including a 51-yard TD rush vs. Oregon State last season). Either guy who wins the job will have the benefit of sharing the backfield with a dynamic group of running backs in Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai. Ware has battled injuries during his career, and Carr has battled them this offseason, but this fall expect both to be healthy and at their best. That’s good news for Fink or Sears, and bad news for USC opponents.
The QB situation also gets better if returning USC pass catchers are able to step up and replace the lost production of Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell. Tyler Vaughns is the best returner in the group, but Michael Pittman also has the skills to become a star this season. While tight ends Tyler Petite and Daniel Imatorbhebhe will help in the passing game, young wide outs Velus Jones, Joseph Lewis, Josh Imatorbhebhe and others must step up, too.
Expect the Trojans to be good at all three levels on defense in 2018, though, the secondary should be high point of the unit. With talent like Iman Marshall, Marvell Tell, Ajene Harris, Jack Jones, Isaiah Langley and Jonathan Lockett, expect the defensive backfield to set the tone. The front seven should be nasty, too. Just look at linebacker where Cameron Smith, Jordan Iosefa, Porter Gustin and John Houston all return. In the trenches Christian Rector, Malik Dorton, Brandon Pili and Connor Murphy are key returning contributors.
The schedule does present challenges in pairs, however, with back-to-backs at Stanford and Texas in the first quarter of the season and the final two coming against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
HG analytics pick: 10-3, 1st in Pac-12 South (loss in Pac-12 Championship to Washington)
My pick: 9-4, 1st in Pac-12 South (loss in Pac-12 Championship to Washington)
2017 USC Projection 12-0: Actual finish 10-2 ( 83 percent accuracy )
Hour Glass National Recruiting Ranking: 4th – inside our National Championship talent line on our talent index.
National Coaching Rank for Clay Helton on HG Scale: 10th (Helton Stamp at 14) – Average coaching value for 2018 set at 3.75.
Returning USC quarterback play rated 56th in the country in our Power Five Rankings with a stamp of 2. Average quarterback stamp nationally for 2018 is 8.3.