Happy Monday... of Game Week, everyone!
We have officially made it. No more silly offseason discussions, it's time to dig in and talk about the season opener in earnest. On to it:
Fifth-year senior Chad Wheeler has been slowed or sidelined for nearly three weeks because of plantar fasciitis, an injury to the soft tissue along the bottom of his foot.
Wheeler "tried to go today and had a little pain" Helton said Saturday after the team held a 50-play situational scrimmage, which was closed to the media.
"[He's] just not quite there yet right now. He's getting better but at this point in time, not 100%," Helton said.
Sophomore Chuma Edoga has stepped in at left tackle. Edoga made two starts at right tackle last season when Zach Banner was moved to the left side as a fill-in. The decision to move Edoga into the left tackle role this fall instead of Banner, a fifth-year senior, was based on Banner’s comfort level on the right side.
"We’d like to keep Zach in a stationary point," Helton said. Helton will determine on Tuesday who will start against Alabama. "By that time I’m going to kind of have to say, ‘This is the way we’re going to start’ and see how the week progresses," Helton said.
This has been one of the key storylines of camp for the USC Trojans. Wheeler is a three-year starter and the top NFL prospect on what is considered to be a very talented line. He had a minor off-field incident last December that caused him to miss the Holiday Bowl loss against Wisconsin. In his absence, the Trojans' offensive line was bullied by the Badgers. USC's top two running backs managed only 74 yards on 20 carries, with 20 of the yards coming on one play, and then this happened:
Wisconsin's Jack Cichy entered tonight with 2 career sacks... Then he got 3 in a row on one drive.https://t.co/ITO8GdOsmM— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) December 31, 2015
Besides the obvious breakdowns in communication on the line, note the utter incompetence of the running back in pass pro. It also appears that the Trojans lack a tight end on the roster who is passable as either a blocker or a receiver. Taylor McNamara is the top guy on their official depth chart, and he is a fifth-year senior with 13 career receptions.
All told, a Trojans offense featuring a QB who went in the third round of the NFL Draft and one of the best WRs in the country was held under 300 total yards by the same Wisconsin defense that Alabama shredded in the season opener. To be fair, the Trojans were also missing undersized but talented starting center Toa Lobendahn, who will be making his first start since last October after his second ACL surgery, the first coming in high school on the opposite knee. All the 290-pound Lobendahn has to do now is block Da'Ron Payne on two repaired knees while the tackles, who will either be the same pair that faced Wisconsin or include a guy who won't be 100%, deal with the likes of Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen while trying to protect a rather immobile QB making his first career start.
This sounds like a disaster for the Trojans.
-- Other than the secondary, USC is replacing practically every other defensive starter. And this was a Trojan defense that allowed 400.8 yards a game -- the second most in program history.
-- Not a single defensive line starter returns as new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast brings a 5-2 scheme back to Los Angeles. It's been clear over the past decade, games like this are won up front. Alabama's got the experience in the offensive line to make this easier for new starters at quarterback and running back.
Offensive coordinator: Tee Martin The former Tennessee star quarterback is in his first year as USC's offensive coordinator. He has been with the Trojans since 2012. He was the team's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator the last two years.
Defensive coordinator: Clancy Pendergast Pendergast is back with USC for a third team after serving as a defensive assistant with the Trojans in 1992 and as the team's defensive coordinator under Kiffin in 2013. Known for being aggressive and good at creating pressure, Pendergast has had success as a defensive coordinator in both college and the NFL. The Trojans ranked 13th nationally in total defense and 16th in scoring defense under Pendergast in 2013.
This is yet another challenge for the Trojans. While Alabama had to replace much of the defensive staff, Pruitt acknowledges that he is running Nick Saban's defense. Playing a team like Alabama in the first game with what amounts to an entirely new coaching staff is a tough hill to climb, especially with a bunch of new starters on that side of the ball as well. There is some great skill talent, but this one might get ugly in the trenches.
*** With a little more than a week to go until the opener, some might view UA taking look at Bradley Bozeman at center as a bit disconcerting. If anything, I think giving consideration to Bozeman at the spot is the safe play. After making 15 starts at guard a season ago, Ross Pierschbacher is obviously comfortable there (even if it was on the other side). Meanwhile, Bozeman has two career starts to his credit at center, with both coming during the 2014 season. Not sure if it's been an ongoing issue, but if there was one concern I had for Pierschbacher after watching the open practice earlier in the month it was shotgun snaps. For an offense that works from the gun as much as Alabama does, snaps need to be on-target and crisp or the entire rhythm of the play can be thrown off -- especially where the quick passing game is concerned.
Well, it isn't terribly exciting to hear of potential issues with shotgun snaps. This is indeed critical to the type of scheme we expect to see from Lane Kiffin this season. Something to keep an eye on for sure.
"We understand," Trojans offensive tackle Zach Banner said. "You can try to give the political answer — we treat everyone the same — but we know who we're playing Week 1. We give them the utmost respect, but we can't wait to play against them."
The men of Troy's collision with the defending national champion and top-ranked Crimson Tide will be a "clash of the titans," in the words of USC's All-American wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster. But in reality, his team has been merely mortal for quite a while.
Alabama is the standard now, and this game represents an important measuring stick for the challenger.
As always, Alabama's opponent will use the Tide as a measuring stick.
In the face of this long-standing tradition of ‘schedule-abuse,’ SEC coaches love to complain about how brutal their season is, scoffing at the idea any other league schedule compares to the that of the almighty SEC. Back in 2012, Nick Saban (in typical Nick Saban fashion) threw down just about everybody when he said ‘No disrespect to any conference, but there are conferences that are in the BCS that if they played in the SEC their champion may be in fourth or fifth place. ... No disrespect to anyone.’ Guess what, Nick? Plenty of disrespect taken.
Kudos on playing us this year after last season's brutal opening slate of Arkansas State and Idaho. Oh, and Western Kentucky is probably better than the Utah State team you play next week.
Less than a week away now, the spread is a little tighter than where things started. The Crimson Tide is a 10 1/2-point favorite to beat the Trojans when they meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas. Back in January, the first odds offered on this game had Alabama a 14-point favorite to beat USC.
Somewhere between 10-14 seems about right in what should be a lower-scoring affair thanks to a dominant defense from Alabama combined with a conservative offensive approach while breaking in QB(s) Cooper Bateman and/or Jalen Hurts.
trolling Alabama fan calling himself James from Tuscaloosa crossed a line. He went after "Tusk." "The song ‘Tusk’ is about the University of Alabama Football Team," James from Tuscaloosa wrote on SongFacts.com. "The ‘He’ in the song refers to Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant and the fact that he was the winningest coach in College Football history and refused to concede his title as such to anyone else. The song is played on the University of Alabama campus daily, and is part of the rich heritage of the Alabama Crimson Tide." The post was wildly inaccurate, but it did portend a contentious subplot to USC’s opening game against Alabama: the schools and their marching bands are tiffing over "Tusk," the top-10 Fleetwood Mac hit.
James from Tuscaloosa is no amateur. He took trolling to a new level with that one.
"I think the main as a young player focusing on trying to make the depth chart is your mind is already in the wrong place," Tomlinson said. "If you go out there and you grind as hard as you can every day there's going to be no doubt you'll be somewhere out there on the depth chart either in special teams or the position you play. If you just work hard every day you're going to be on the depth chart." The decisions made now will be the difference between contributing or redshirting for freshmen. In some cases, there's little opportunity to work back into that top group. For others, circumstances can change and they could work back into the top rotations.
Kendall Sheffield knew this day was coming, and was fearful that he would once again end up on the scout team. On a big-time college football team, you either make the depth chart and get actual practice reps during the season or you play the scout team and help those who do. This is why bowl practice is so critical - it is an opportunity to get a third "camp" in, allowing some of those scout team players to show how much they have developed. In any event, a player should come to Alabama with the understanding that sitting two years is likely. The best things come to those who wait.
There aren't too many massive changes in the numbers below. Some teams got slight bumps because of transfers or changes in those returning production figures, but for the most part the changes have been relegated to a couple of points here and there. But since the goal is to set expectations for the coming months as properly as possible, I'm also including the following, in addition to projected rating and average projected wins: Each team's projected offensive and defensive ratings (something not included in February). Each team's odds of finishing the regular season 11-1 or better, 6-6 or better (i.e. bowl-eligible), and 1-11 or worse.
Clemson plays FSU and a bunch of nothing. This tends to increase one's odds.
This year, certainty reigns at preseason No. 2 Clemson (the mighty Deshaun Watson), No. 3 Oklahoma (Mayfield), No. 6 Ohio State (Barrett), No. 9 Tennessee (Joshua Dobbs), No. 11 Mississippi (Chad Kelly) and ambitious No. 15 Houston (Greg Ward Jr.). The promise from fine freshman years is alive at No. 14 Washington (Jake Browning) and No. 16 UCLA (Josh Rosen). No. 17 Iowa gets a senior year from C.J. Beathard, and it likes that; No. 21 Oklahoma State gets a junior year from Mason Rudolph, and it likes that; and No. 23 Baylor gets the return from injury of Seth Russell, and it likes that.
This will be an interesting story-line all season. Clemson is rated as highly as they are because of one man. Put even an above average college QB on that team and they are lucky to be in the top 15. Ditto Ole Miss.
There has been no concrete confirmation as to UK backing off, but I do think Calipari is slow-playing Petty in hopes he'll make his decision in the spring. That would give UK more time to figure out if they can/will land Kevin Knox, Hamidou Diallo, Lonnie Walker and/or other guard/wing prospects. I believe Petty will eventually be a Wildcat if he waits for as long as Cal asks him to.
Keeping Petty in-state would be a monumental achievement for Coach Johnson, potentially even a Julio Jones recruiting win that could catapult the program into the national conversation. It seems unlikely at this point, but stay tuned.
That's about it for today. Have a great, however unproductive, work week.