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USC wasn't great last year, but the Trojans still somehow won the Pac-12 South. However, they were gashed by Stanford in the title game and then lost to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl to finish with an 8-6 overall record. With Clay Helton fully in charge, things are expected to be a bit better and more consistent, but he still needs to find out who his quarterback will be in the opener against Alabama.
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With Cody Kessler gone, Max Browne was expected to step in and become the immediate starter at quarterback, but that wasn't the case as he got plenty of competition from Sam Darnold. The battle still wasn't decided after spring and that decision will loom all summer with Alabama in the waiting. The good news is that every other relevant piece returns to the offense, beginning with every starter on an offensive line that has two All-Conference performers at tackle. That's good news for the new QB, as well as the returning running backs.
Justin Davis (902 yards, 7 TDs) and Ronald Jones (987 yards, 8 TDs) are one of the top backfield duos in the conference, and even country and both could reach 1,000 yards this year if they both continue to split carries. Receiver is a similar situation with JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 receptions, 1,454 yards, 10 TDs) returning to go with Steven Mitchell and Darreus Rogers. Needless to say, the Trojans are loaded on offense. They just need to find a quarterback.
The same can't be said about the defense where coordinator Clancy Pendergast takes over once again after spending a couple years with the 49ers in the NFL. He hopes to return the unit to levels last seen when he was there in 2013, but it'll be tough.
The Trojans have plenty of options to work with, but return no starters along the line so there'll be a lot of inexperience and young faces. The other units look much better, though, so if the line can be mediocre, that might be enough. At linebacker, Cam Smith returns after injuring his knee late last year and he'll roam the middle with Osa Masina on his weak side. The secondary will probably be the best unit with Adoree' Jackson focusing on that end of the field combined with fellow cornerback Iman Marshall. Safety is plenty deep as well with two returning starters.
The problem for the Trojans is that their schedule is ridiculously hard. They open with a game down in Arlington against Alabama and then host a tough Utah State team a week later. To complete their non-conference slate, USC hosts Notre Dame in the season finale. But that's not where it ends with five road games in Pac-12 play, including back-to-back tests at Stanford and Utah in the end of September. Another road back-to-back in November against Washington and UCLA will be tough.
The Trojans are favored to win the South again and have an over/under around the 9-win mark (under 9.5 -270 at 5Dimes) and reaching above that total will be difficult with a new quarterback and young defensive line. USC might be more experienced, but another eight-win season may be in the cards for the Trojans.
2016 USC Trojans Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Alabama (AT&T Stadium)
Sept. 10 vs. Utah State
Sept. 17 at Stanford
Sept. 23 at Utah
Oct. 1 vs. Arizona State
Oct. 8 vs. Colorado
Oct. 15 at Arizona
Oct. 27 vs. California
Nov. 5 vs. Oregon
Nov. 12 at Washington
Nov. 19 at UCLA
Nov. 26 vs. Notre Dame
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