The Southern California Trojans played in their first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game last year, but things didn’t go that well in it. Can USC take the next step in 2016 and not just win the conference title but also reach the College Football Playoff for the first time? Maybe. The Trojans are +280 on NCAA Football betting lines to win the Pac-12 and you aren’t getting in the playoff if you don’t win your conference.
A Review on USC’s 2016 College Football Betting Odds
The Trojans fired Coach Steve Sarkisian during a tumultuous 2015 season basically because the guy was a drunk and kept embarrassing the program. He was replaced on an interim basis by assistant Clay Helton. It was expected that USC would go for a big-name coach in the offseason, perhaps former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. But in a surprise in late November, USC hired Helton as the full-time coach.
Then-AD Pat Haden said a news conference in hiring Helton that he never discussed the job with Kelly. But school officials did have discussions with a representative of FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano — along with other current NFL coaches and assistants. The 44-year-old Helton had been an assistant with USC since 2010. He also was put into the interim head coaching role after Ed Orgeron resigned before the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, and he led Memphis for nearly the entire offseason in 2006 while then-coach Tommy West dealt with health issues.
Haden was impressed how the team rallied under Helton and he hired him full-time after USC beat UCLA to close the regular season and win the Pac-12 South Division. But USC didn’t then close the season all that well following that. It lost 41-22 to No. 7 Stanford in the Pac-12 title game as Christian McCaffrey ran while on the USC defense. The Trojans then lost 23-21 to unranked Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl to finish 8-6. The Trojans and Badgers hadn’t met since 1966, and two of USC’s wins in the series were in the Rose Bowl, in 1953 and 1963.
USC’s biggest loss this offseason was starting quarterback Cody Kessler, who set numerous school records and is now in the NFL. The good news is that USC’s returning offensive line starters have a combined 131 starts, the second best mark in the nation. USC returns the most offensive line starts in the Pac-12, with 41 more than Utah’s returners. Contributing to those statistics are nine offensive linemen with starting experience. In fact, the Trojans lost just one player with starts to his name after 2015, that’s Max Tuerk, who USC played without for half the season after he tore his ACL in early October. But overall, USC returns the second-least experienced squad in the Pac-12, behind only Stanford. USC’s senior class this year is made up of recruits from 2012 and 2013, small classes effected by scholarship reductions.
The likely starting QB will be Kessler’s 2015 backup, Max Browne, a former five-star recruit. The junior has just 12 pass attempts in his college career. That lack of experience could open the door to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold who went neck and neck with Browne during the spring. Returning JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 receptions for 1,454 yards and 10 TDs) is an All-America candidate at wide receiver. Senior Justin Davis (902 yards, 5.3 average) and sophomore Ronald Jones (987 yards, 6.5 average) form one of the country’s top tailback combinations.
The schedule is very tough. USC is a sizable underdog in Week 1 in Arlington, Texas, against defending national champion Alabama. The Trojans also travel to Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA and match up against Notre Dame, Oregon and Arizona State at home. A 1-3 start isn’t unthinkable for USC, which would give Helton a 1-5 start as the full-time head coach.
USC has a regular-season wins total of 7.5 on betting lines. I believe the Trojans are talented enough to go 8-4 so I’d go over that. But the Trojans won’t win the Pac-12.