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Led by Sam Darnold, quarterback and Heisman contender, USC is one of the favorites to win the college football title. Here’s what needs to happen for the Trojans to take home the title this upcoming season.
It seemed like USC was going to have one of the worst seasons in the program’s history this past season. They lost 52-6 to Alabama in their season opener, and won only one of their first four games (Utah State).
The Trojans bounced back, though, and didn’t lose a single game the rest of the season, finishing at 10-3.
Biggest obstacle: Schedule strength
If they’re going to contend for a title, USC could definitely have issues with their schedule strength–it’s just not hard enough. Being in the Pac-12 was useful last year as they were only challenged in a few of their games, allowing them to climb in the standings despite a rough start.
The Trojans have to stay on top of their game the whole season and beat (most likely) Washington in order to contend for the title.
Quarterback excellence, with a little help
USC is looking to dominate on offense next season. It starts with Darnold, who totaled 3086 yards on 246 completions, and threw for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season.
Here’s a video from SB Nation on Twitter showcasing one of Darnold’s many impressive passes.
SAM DARNOLD IS ABSOLUTELY INSANE pic.twitter.com/FM6NpJMFKP
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) January 3, 2017
Considering he didn’t start until the team’s fourth game and threw for over 3,000 yards, USC’s offense looks rock solid. Darnold also threw for 453 yards in the Rose Bowl. Barring any abnormalities, he will continue to play well.
An outstanding O-line did play a huge role in his success last season, though, and the Trojans lost three of their best linemen to the draft. Zach Banner went to the Colts, Damien Mama to the Chiefs, and Chad Wheeler to the Giants.
One of USC’s top priorities is to replace these guys. So far, it looks like they’re doing a good job of it. The Trojans have four O-line players poised to take over: four-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson, four-star offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, and four-star center Brett Neilon.
If this new class can pick up where Banner, Mama, and Wheeler left off, Darnold will have all the help he needs. Also, if Darnold does slip up for some reason, four-star recruit Jack Sears will be right behind him.
The Trojans are returning an outstanding group of backs, and there’s some new talent coming in, too.
Rising junior running back Ronald Jones II was the team’s best option last year, running for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He hopes to retain the starter position this year in face of incoming five-star running back Stephen Carr.
A California native, Carr is the third ranked RB recruit in the nation. The two will make an imposing duo. Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware, who supplemented Jones well last year, are returning, too.
Outstanding recruiting class
Excluding the run game and the O-line, USC has an all around good recruit class.
The Trojans defense is shaping up to be much better than last year’s, which was ranked No. 36 in total defense.
This season, they recruited five four-star players to strength their defense, including DTs Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele.
— Joseph Lewis IV (@jodyforthewin) January 28, 2017
The other big recruiting story besides Carr is five-star receiver Joseph Lewis IV. Lewis indicated his desire to play at USC in January on Twitter. If he clicks with Darnold, the Trojans will have some formidable offensive firepower.
Why USC will win the national title game
Many are projecting USC as an outside candidate for the playoffs this year, and their reasons are sound. USC’s schedule isn’t nearly as hard as some of the other contenders.
If the Trojans can dominate their conference, though, they should maintain a strong position in the rankings. If they beat Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, they’ll be hard to ignore.
Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.