There's a lot to like about where this USC football team is right now. It's still July and the nation's toughest schedule doesn't hit USC up side the head until September with defending national champion Alabama in Texas.
So that's good. Six weeks to go. We can say pretty much whatever we want until the rubber meets the road in AT&T Stadium.
And say it we will. And you too. Here on the Peristyle and in every place people talk and write and prognosticate about USC. And since it's Alabama in the opener, it's a conversation for all of college football.
The idea here is to talk about every issue impacting this USC football team that has a chance, if for no other reason than its schedule, to be the Trojan team that makes the leap back into the mix at the top of the college football heap.
If this team gets it right, gets it going, you won't have to argue about where it belongs or if it's back. That's the beauty of the challenge. It's all right there. No debate needed. Win and you're in. The Trojans are back.
If . . . Big word.
Now a case can certainly be made and we'll make it like the most commited "sunshine pumper" here. But we'll also give the "Debbie Downers" their voice as well. It's not all that hard to do as the Trojans finish up summer workouts Friday.
*** The culture on and off the field has been changed, right, just as Clay Helton promised. This will be a physical, run-first team that will hit people. And yet, who were those guys lining up against Oregon, Stanford and Wisconsin? The Trojans played the part of hittee not hitter there.
*** Yeah, but didn't that change big time in spring practice? They were physical. But the last time they suited up for a real game, in the Holiday Bowl, it's impossible to get that mess -- practice and all -- out of mind.
*** Two really good quarterbacks. Great place to start. But what you need is one. And between them, they threw a dozen passes -- OK, Max Browne did all the throwing while Sam Darnold was wearing his redshirt -- and none in a game that mattered. Not there yet.
*** And then there are a number of dynamic running backs with experience, speed and toughness starting with a pair of near-1,000-yard runners -- Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. But no one above 200 pounds. How physical can they be? Who runs it third and one at the goal line with the game on the line?
*** Three athletic, dynamic tight ends. Haven't seen that in a while. Yeah, but with two of them playing last fall, did it matter?
*** Ten deep on the O-line with all kinds of potential to dominate. And Coach Callaway. You said it -- "potential." We'll believe it when we see them dominate somebody other than UCLA and Utah. They could. But will they?
*** Lots of speed. Guys who can run are all through this lineup. But they could run last fall, right? Even if they didn't look like they always knew where they were supposed to go and how to get there. Being fast isn't enough. You have to play fast. And that starts by practicing fast. No more promises.
*** What about Adoree' Jackson. Up for three national awards. Nobody has a more explosive athlete. And yet, the most dynamic Trojan with the ball in his hands is going to cut way back on his offense this time around. And he's had seven months off long jumping instead of getting up to speed with the new defense. Some catching up to do there.
*** At least 15 receivers, lots of pretty good athletes, line up behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, maybe the nation's best at his position. But you can only play three or four at once. And when push came to shove last fall, with USC behind, it looked like there were double-digit defenders surrounding Juju in the Trojans' two-minute offense that had nowhere else to go with the ball.
*** Almost as many DB's as receivers here. The only three five-stars in the Pac-12. are Trojans. New DC Clancy Pendergast is going to turn them loose. Lots of man-to-man. Like in the Oregon game last fall? Lots of man there. How'd that go?
*** But look at all those linebackers. Experience, speed, size, potential. Yeah, but the best guy, Cameron Smith, is coming off surgery. And the rest of the crew includes undersized seniors getting a second chance, sophomores playing new positions, lots of potential, not all that much front-line production.
*** There's a new sheriff in town calling plays, or two of them -- Tee and Tyson. From what we can see, they look like they have a real clue. Only problem: Neither has ever called plays before in a game and they debut their act against Alabama.
*** How about the three new guys -- Stevie T., Josh and Khaliel -- on the D-line. No longer so thin and inexperienced there. But not sure you want to feel too good about a position where the top five guys are all gone.
*** The Trojans really are bigger, stronger, faster, deeper, quicker and leaner. But are they meaner?
*** No question this year the Trojans are going to beat . . . pick one . . . Notre Dame or maybe Oregon. Stanford even. OK, but what about at Utah, at UCLA, at Washington and the Arizonas -- and don't forget Bama? No room for a false step here.
So make your best case, take your best shot. But only this USC team, a group of players and coaches who haven't been able to do that for all sorts of reasons in recent seasons, can make it happen.
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