Sam Darnold left USC with two years of eligibility remaining, so JT Daniels graduated from high school a year early.
The Trojans' quarterbacking succession plan became accelerated in 2018, another reason USC is the most interesting football team in the Pac-12 South this season. Just like always, in other words.
The conference’s defending champions received the endorsement as the South’s top pick from half of the voters in the Pac-12′s official media poll (USC got 22 of 42 first-place votes; Utah had 14). That split captures the outside perspective of a USC team that’s loaded with talent, but faces some questions about its quarterbacking now that Darnold is playing for the New York Jets.
Daniels, the national choice as Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior at Mater Dei High School, reclassified to 2018 so he could join the Trojans when they had a QB vacancy. He was named USC’s starter this week.
This is the 11th and final installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams other than Utah in 2018. Today: USC
During the Pac-12 Media Day, coach Clay Helton said of his roster, “There will be some star names by the end of the year.” Daniels, presumably, will be one of them. Freshman receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown will be another, assuming Daniels delivers him the ball consistently.
The Trojans open the season Saturday vs. UNLV, and then their schedule intensifies with the usual Game 2 meeting with Stanford, followed by another road game vs. Texas. USC, ranked No. 15, will visit Utah on Oct. 20.
“One of the great things I love about this job is the expectations,” Helton said. “I mean, I love it. It's the reason I came to SC.”
The Trojans will succeed if:
Daniels performs like a seasoned quarterback at age 18 and the defense can play solidly in September as the offense develops. It will help if linebacker Porter Gustin, from Salem Hills High School, gets onto the field in early September after having knee surgery three weeks ago.
With the uncertainty about a true freshman, Athlon Sports ranked USC’s quarterbacking No. 7 in the Pac-12. The Trojans' next-lowest position group is running back (No. 4), where Stephen Carr takes over for the productive Ronald Jones II.
The question marks end there. Every other area is ranked No. 3 or higher, illustrating the Trojans' overall talent.
The Trojans won’t succeed if:
They start slowly. The expectations that Helton embraces can become overwhelming in Los Angeles, and what happens if USC loses to Stanford and Texas? The pressure on Daniels would grow, as the Trojans face difficult games at Arizona and Utah. The consolation is they avoid Washington and Oregon in the Pac-12 scheduling rotation.