Sure, it’s the start of the NCAA Tournament today for the USC Trojans. But that’s not our headline reference here.
Maybe next year we’ll be talking “Final Four” in basketball as a goal if the lessons learned, the players developed and the coaching refined from this season all take another really big step up. But that’s for the next time around.
What we’re focusing on right now are the “Final Four” weeks of spring football with the Trojans returning for 12 sessions Tuesday. Here’s what we’d like to see happen, our “wish list,” if you will.
GET THE RUN GAME RIGHT: Do that and everything else on offense will follow. Get the rotation set. Get the balance correct. Get the line mesh in sync with the backs. Get the short yardage game where it has to be. Get confident in it. Get a two-back set that works. Get a blocking back when you need one, be it a walkon former linebacker or an athletic H-back. Get physical.
GET BETTER EVERY DAY UP FRONT: That’s the mantra of USC’s line coaches on both sides of the ball, Neil Callaway and Kenechi Udeze. Do the little things right. Improve day by day. Toughness is a habit. Make it happen. As with the run game, if it happens here, it happens for the whole team. Let one side of the ball improve the other. Get competitive in ways we haven’t seen recently.
GET TO A QUARTERBACK SOONER RATHER THAN LATER: As important as competition is here, getting the guy to step in and take over after three years of Cody Kessler matters more. The sooner that’s settled, the sooner the rotation is firmed up and everyone’s place in it is set, the better. But as much as that would appear to be Max Browne, finding the exactly right way to use and develop the talents of Sam Darnold and Jalen Greene has to be a top goal here.
GET WIDE RECEIVER SORTED OUT: This may be a tougher task than figuring out what to do when you don’t have enough bodies. Not the case here. But the challenge is to get them on the field and into the mix and as productive as possible. That didn’t really happen last year with the lopsided “go-to-JuJu” pass numbers. You need everybody involved here. Don’t let guys sit around like last year. Make a decision on the freshmen. Can they play right away? This position needs clarity coming out of spring.
GET INTO AN ATTACK MINDSET: On both sides of the ball, this has to be the mindset. But more so on defense. That’s where the big change is coming. After all, this hasn’t been how it’s been here since Clancy Pendergast left. Now he’s back. And it’s already started to sink in. Don’t be hesitant. Get confident in what you’re doing. Shut people down. No more just hanging in there. That has to become the way the players – and their coaches – think about what they do. And what they do every day in practice. As a byproduct, the offense gets better going against guys coming all-out after them. That was the single-best part of the Pete Carroll Era, what USC did better than anyone. Bring that back.
GET SPECIAL TEAMS GOING: John Baxter has his work cut out for him. His new punter and placekicker were here last year but not really able to get on the field much if at all. Lots of improvement needed here. The same for the coverage and return games almost across the board. USC has too many athletes to be as pedestrian as the Trojans were last season.
GET VETERANS BACK ON TRACK: The early returns are encouraging but if USC is able to incorporate seniors Quinton Powell and Leon McQuay as productive defenders and a finally healthy Jordan Simmons and a returned-to-action Chad Wheeler back on offense, that’s a heck of a bonus for a team not yet back to a full 85 scholarships.
GET HEALTHY: For the rehabbing Toa Lobendahn, Khaliel Rodgers, Chris Hawkins & Co., just get better this spring. Be ready to go this summer. And for those stepping in now, take every advantage of your time in the limelight. This is one of those win-win deals if done right.
GET LEANER, LARGER:As we’ve seen with Damien Mama, who at 320 pounds is 35 pounds lighter than his media guide listed weight, and Wheeler, whose 315 is 35 pounds heavier than the 280 he’s listed at, stay on course. For the rest of the guys, from a Ronald Jones who’d like to add a bit to his 195 and Powell, who hasn’t been able to get above 210, or Zach Banner and Viane Talamaivao, who might still like to drop some, we can only hope USC soon finds a replacement for Michael Minnis, the director of performance nutrition who returned to the Philadelphia Eagles after a season here.
GET DEEPER: For all the guys getting a chance to show what they can do – at center, in the secondary, on the O-line with guys rehabbing, make this time count. Make your move. Get in the rotation and stay there.
GET POSITIONED: From SAM to Predator, inside to out, offense to defense, get people where they can contribute best. Some decisions to be made there. Get ‘em right in the spring.
GET COMMUNICATING: From coach to player, player to player and coach to coach, now is the time to start talking the same language. That didn’t happen as much as it should the last couple of years. Gotta’ have it.
GET THE FRESHMEN SORTED OUT:As the years go on and the numbers go up, there will be less need to play freshmen. But with the way USC recruits, there will always be freshmen who earn their way onto the field. From this spring freshman group, will it be Oluwole Betiku, Michael Pittman or Josh Imatorbhebhe . . . or someone else? Time to find out.
GET SMART: You know all those things Alabama and Ohio State do to stay as competitive as you possibly can within the rules and with consultants and analysts and grad assistants and operations people and the like, do as much of it as the budget allows. Don’t let them tell you “No.”
You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at email@example.com.#USCSpringBall16