Just Sayin' . . . January edition

We look back to Monday night and forward to the rest of 2016 and figure out where this USC program fits in right now in what could be the most important season in the 21st Century for the Trojans.

It's that special January day in college football when you get to do as much looking back as looking ahead. So that's exactly what we'll do here as USC -- and LA -- football move into a 2016 like no other year we've seen for what it could bring. We're Just Sayin.'

*** We know they said that was a Pac-12 crew calling the College Football Playoffs Championship game Monday night in Phoenix and we were about to believe it the way the first half ended with a lost play for Clemson, no stopping of the clock and then getting the time wrong and missing all sorts of blocks in the back. But when we saw the final total of just six penalties called, we know those guys were impostors. Five Pac-12 teams by themselves, including USC and UCLA, averaged more than that per game. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Now that it's ESPN's "Way Too Early Top 25" time, our call that USC's 2016 schedule looks without doubt the nation's toughest is confirmed. The No. 15 Trojans in the "Way Too Early" list will face three Top 10 teams (No. 2 Alabama, No. 8 Stanford and No. 9 Notre Dame). . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But that's not the end of it. The Trojans face three other ranked teams -- No. 18 Oregon, No. 21 UCLA and No. 25 Washington. Clay & Co. had better be ready to play all the way with this schedule. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** It gets better, or worse, if USC fans want to see Heisman Trophy candidates in person, they'll get plenty of chance with this schedule. ESPN has 25 of the top candidates on another "Way Too Early" list and the two no-doubters are Nos. 1 and 2 Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey, who USC could see twice again. But that's not the end of it for a Trojans team that has two of its own on this list -- No. 22 Adoree' Jackson and No. 17 Juju Smith-Schuster. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** We're guessing no other team will face eight of the Heisman front-runners. Here they are in addition to McCaffrey. Oregon's Royce Freeman is No. 4, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer is No. 7. UCLA's Josh Rosen is No. 10, Washington running back Myles Gaskin is No. 14, then comes the Alabama duo of wide receiver Calvin Ridley (No. 18) and running back Damien Harris (No. 21) followed by ND running back Josh Adams (No. 24). . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Clancy Pendergast has his work cut out for him. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** If there is one bright spot on USC's schedule, it's also what we've been saying: They're in the Pac-12 South. In the last of ESPN's "Way Too Early" lists, look at how the Pac-12 could play out. The only Pac-12 South team in the league's top five -- No. 3 USC -- is surrounded by Pac-12 North teams that make up four of the top five -- No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Washington State and No. 5 Washington. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** How far has the South fallen? Utah at No. 6 is next best with UCLA No. 7, Cal No. 8, Arizona State No. 9 and Arizona No. 10. Colorado remains at No. 11 ahead of Oregon State. But when we say USC should be able to negotiate the South and get to the title game again, we're not just blowing smoke. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Now that USC Pres. Max Nikias is chairman of the College Football Playoff managing board, we're thinking Max's first order of business would be to get rid of those New Year's Eve semifinal games that saw no one -- by comparison to a year ago -- watching and ESPN having to return $20 million to advertisers for the viewers who didn't show up. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Now that we've seen the latest Wall Street Journal rankings of the worth of college football programs, with USC now way out of the Top 10 -- or the Top 20 -- where the likes of No. 1 Ohio State ($846 million valuation), No. 2 Texas ($885), No. 3 Michigan ($811), No. 4 Notre Dame ($724) and No. 5 Alabama ($695) reside, we have to wonder whether the folks presiding over the No. 24 Trojans program, way down at $277 million, have lived up to their fiduciary responsibilities. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Even more shocking is that the USC program is no longer among the top two in the Pac-12 with both Washington, at No. 15 and worth $100 million more than USC's at $378 million and No. 18 Oregon ($339) leaving USC far behind. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And still there are smart guys at USC who insist there are no provable economic damages from the NCAA's criminal hit on the Trojan program. Yeah, right. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** So let's see if we've got this right. An Alabama defense with what some were calling the greatest front seven in college football history gave up 40 points to a Clemson team with a great multi-threat quarterback and a walkon freshman receiver who was an option QB himself a year ago in high school. Hey 'Bama, you're not in the SEC any more. It took an onside kick to pull it out for you against an outmanned, but full of fight, Tiger team. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And most of those 'Bama guys on defense will not be back. Do not make more of the Tide than is actually there, Trojan fans. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** We will say this. 'Bama had the smartest guy on the field. Who knew you could actually throw the ball to the tight end? Lane Kiffin knew. Dabo didn't. End of story. Wonder if USC could do that? Might be worth a try, crazy as that sounds. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But for USC's purposes here, having 'Bama win is the best thing that could happen. USC when it's going good has made a habit of going on the road and beating teams like Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and Virginia Tech to start the season. And you can't do that if you don't play those games. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** When you look at the final AP Poll today, it makes it clear how fortunate a USC program may have been to be able to attract a pair of coaches from a ranked -- No. 24 -- Western Kentucky team, two coaches like Tyson Helton and Neil Callaway, who were willing to take a chance on the unranked Trojans. . . . Just Sayin'.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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