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An Early Bird Look at the Southern Cal Trojans

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Alabama is 5-2 all time against Southern Cal but the two teams have not met since 1985 in the Aloha Bowl.

I wish they all could be California girls.
I wish they all could be California girls.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Crimson Tide kicks off the 2016 season against an unfamiliar foe.

southern cal helmet

COACHES

Head Coach: Clay Helton is entering his second season as head coach of the Trojans. Last season he was named interim coach after five games when Steve Sarkisian took a leave of absence and was then subsequently fired. Curiously on November 30, Southern Cal removed the interim tag and named Helton the permanent head coach. He finished the season 5-4.

Helton also coached the team to a win in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl as interim coach after Lane Kiffin was fired. This is his first head coaching job.

Record as an Interim Coach 6-2; Record as a Head Coach 0-2.

Offensive coordinator: Former Tennessee QB Tee Martin is in his second year as OC, fifth year at Southern Cal. He also coaches wide receivers.

Defensive coordinator: Clancy Pendergast has job-bounced quite a bit in his young career. Although only 48 years old, he has had gigs with six NFL teams and five college teams. This is his third stint at So Cal and his second season as OC for the Trojans. Although graduating from Arizona, he did not play on the team.

Familiar Faces: All of the above coaches were originally hired at Southern Cal by current Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Pendergast was hired in 2013, went to the 49ers for two years, and returned to So Cal in 2016. Martin and Helton were retained by Sarkisian.

SCHEMES

Offensive: Multiple sets but mostly lining up with one back, three receivers, and a tight end.

Defensive: The Trojans ran a 3-4 defense (three down linemen and four linebackers) in 2015. This year they are moving to a 5-2. Conquest Chronicles has a really good explanation of this defense and the differences therein.

2015 Record

8–6 (6–3 Pac-12)

09/05/16 Arkansas State W 55–6 Sarkisian
09/12/16 Idaho W 59–9 Sarkisian
09/19/16 Stanford L 31–41 Sarkisian
09/26/16 at Arizona State W 42–14 Sarkisian
10/08/16 Washington L 12–17 Sarkisian
10/17/16 at No. 14 Notre Dame L 31–41 Helton
10/24/16 No. 3 Utah W 42–24 Helton
10/31/16 at California W 27–21 Helton
11/07/16 Arizona W 38–30 Helton
11/13/16 at Colorado W 27–24 Helton
11/21/16 at No. 23 Oregon L 28–48 Helton
11/28/16 No. 22 UCLA W 40–21 Helton
PAC-12 Championship
12/05/16 vs. No. 7 Stanford L 22–41 Helton
Holiday Bowl
12/30/16 vs. Wisconsin L 21–23 Helton

Southern Cal began the season ranked #8 and finished out of the Top 25.

PLAYERS

Key losses: LB Su'a Cravens (Washington Redskins, 2nd round), C Max Tuerk (San Diego Chargers, 3rd round), QB Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns, 3rd round), CB Kevon Seymour (Buffalo Bills, 6th round), RB Tre Madden, ILB Anthony Sarao, DE Delvon Simmons, FB Soma Vainuku, DT Antwaun Woods.
Returning starters: 10 on offense, 6 on defense, kicker.
Top returnees:
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 rec, 1454 yds, 10 TD), LT Chad Wheeler, RT Zach Banner, CB Adoree Jackson, RB Ronald Jones (987 yds, 8 TD), RB Justin Davis (902 yds, 7 TD)
Top newcomers: DE Oluwole Betiku (Gardena, CA), CB Jack Jones (Long Beach, CA), WR Tyler Vaughns (La Puente, CA), WR Michael Pittman (Westlake Village, CA), OT E.J. Price (Lawrenceville, GA), DL Stevie Tu'ikolovatu (Utah grad transfer).
Familiar Faces: Alabama recruited starting guards Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao pretty hard. The Tide was on their final lists but both chose to stay in their home state.

2016 SCHEDULE

Sep 3, vs. Alabama
Sep 10, vs. Utah State
Sep 17, at Stanford
Sep 23, at Utah (Friday)
Oct 1, vs. Arizona State
Oct 8, vs. Colorado
Oct 15, at Arizona
Oct 22, off week
Oct 27, vs. California
Nov 5, vs. Oregon
Nov 12, at Washington
Nov 19, at UCLA
Nov 26, vs. Notre Dame

SUMMARY

Strengths: Secondary, offensive line, JuJu, 10 returning starters on offense.
Weaknesses: Stopping the run, linebackers, lingering effects of NCAA sanctions, coaching?

Outlook: Although the NCAA sanctions are behind them, the Trojans are still rebuilding. The unexpected meltdown of Sarkisian did not help matters.

The hiring of Helton seems an odd (lazy?) and risky choice for such a high-profile program. But then again, this is the same school who recently hired Lynn Swann, who has absolutely no administration experience, to be their Athletic Director. It is yet to be seen if Helton can turn the corner and rebuild the Men of Troy into a national power again.

The offense returns all their starters except for quarterback. Junior Max Browne takes over for Kessler. The former 5-star recruit was recently named the starter over redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. All-American candidate Smith-Schuster was fourth in the nation in receiving yards last season, no. 1 among Power 5 teams. He will be a force to be reckoned with for opponents. In addition, So Cal returns two 900+ yard rushers behind an experienced offensive line.

The defense may be another story. The secondary returns four starters highlighted by another All-American candidate Adoree Jackson. He is paired with 2015 Freshman All-American Iman Marshall at the other corner. However, they gave up 25 passing TDs in last year's campaign which ranked 101st nationally. The front seven returns only two starters and a lot of inexperience. The Trojans gave up 400.8 yards per game in 2015, good for 65th in the nation. Success for 2016 will hinge on the ability of the team to learn the new defense and execute it as designed.

The Trojans return senior placekicker Alex Wood but will be breaking in a new punter. Adoree Jackson will return punts with WR Steven Mitchell expected to handle kickoff returns.

THE GAME

Southern California Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

SEPTEMBER 3, 2016, 7PM CT ABC

Jerry's World (aka Cowboys Stadium), Arlington, TX

#RollTide!