No matter what happens Saturday against Notre Dame, this USC senior class has already earned a place in Trojan history that will be unchallenged, one of a kind -- and for all we can hope, one we never see again.
Four head coaches with two embarrassing midseason firings two years apart will never happen again for one class in big-time college football history, we can say with certainty. And we can only hope, never happens again. And here these guys are, still standing.
Check that. At 8-3 on a seven-game win streak after a 1-3 start, they're doing far more than standing. They are in the running for a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth. Almost inexplicably so.
And as much as this has become Sam Darnold's team, it never stopped belonging to these seniors. They'd been through enough that a 1-3 September was just another bump along the way. Another hurdle to overcome.
And overcome they have. Well almost. In the way are Notre Dame's 4-7 Irish, a Top 10 team to start the season, headed the other way, just as inexplicably as USC is headed up,
So here it is, in numerical order by their jerseys, our salute to the seniors, the grad students, all the guys who will not be back along with Jordan Simmons, who might be if he gets his sixth-year medical redshirt but that won't happen until well after the season.
*** Darreus Rogers: No. 1 for a reason and just as always, the tough guy who makes the tough plays catching the ball at the toughest of moments with the strongest of hands is where he's always been -- No. 2 on the team in catches (47) and receiving yards (605, 55 per game) and No. 1 when it comes to making those extra effort plays that will live in Youtube fame long after the Compton kid is gone.[Ed. Note: An editing error cut inadvertently cut the Darreus entry from the original text.]
*** Max Browne -- The Captain, the steady leader, the go-to guy in the winter, spring and summer. The veteran MBA student who seemed as much grad assistant as player. Thoughtful, smart, serious. Great teammate. There's not a person around this program who wishes him anything but success in his next venture. Competed with grace. And will continue to do so.
*** DeQuan Hampton -- Got himself in great shape, competed like heck to get on the field and with all that USC receiving talent, it didn't happen the way the big wide receiver and JC transfer from Compton hoped it would until last week's UCLA game. But happen it did and those two TD catches will go with him forever, hopefully to play on Sunday which the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder could certainly do.
*** Isaac Whitney -- USC's second JC wide receiver in the 2015 class and another big, talented body with DeQuan who hasn't gotten the playing time he was hoping for but the 6-3, 220-pounder out of Oklahoma City by way of Riverside CC has something else. As seen in the UCLA game, when USC needed a play, it trusted Isaac to make it as it does whenever he's called upon. Another hard-practicing, tough-minded teammate who will leave with the best legacy of all -- a USC degree.
*** Quinton Powell -- the size-limited Floridian has gotten a chance to show what he can do as one of the nation's smallest linebackers at 205 pounds. But there are none more competitive, or have more fun, or play -- and practice -- with more enthusiasm. A delight to be around -- something Clancy Pendergast clearly agreed with on his return to take over a defense that had a place for a little guy with a big heart and ability to hit.
*** Michael Hutchings -- Another 1-2 punch at linebacker with Powell much like wide receivers Hampton and Whitney have been only he's become the heart -- and the heady leader -- of this USC defense as a starter in the middle next to Cameron Smith. Led USC in tackles to start the season against Alabama and did the same two weeks ago at Washington. The smart, serious 6-1, 215-pounder from De La Salle shows up when the going gets tough. And it could not have been any tougher than this season.
*** Justin Davis -- The guys here just get better and better as we go through this senior roll call. Despite injuries that knocked him out of three games, the tailback from Stockton has never stopped leading by example, one that has benefited Ronald Jones big time. Justin has been productive as well, with 528 rushing yards and 98 receiving plus countless quarterback-protecting blocks. And through it all, Justin has never been seen without a smile on his face, telling one and all what a privilege it is to play for USC.
*** Leon McQuay III -- Speaking of guys who play with a smile on their face and maybe do so to the beat of a different drummer, this Florida defensive back has found a home like so many of these seniors with Clancy's return. He's had 10 starts, 40 tackles, an interception, a sack and four pass breakups. As a music industry major, Leon has produced his own tracks and as a football player, he's helped produce a Trojan comeback season.
*** Deion Hart -- One of the fastest Trojans, the free safety walkon transfer from Hacienda Heights by way of Fullerton and Santa Ana JuCo's and Sam Houston State has been the kind of tough, competitive walkon this program once had to rely on. Not so much now with the improvement in numbers but Deion remains the kind of valuable Scout teamer who got USC through the scholarship-limited years.
*** Taylor McNamara -- A starter in eight games in this, his second and final USC season, the grad student transfer from Oklahoma now in USC's graduate communications management program has been a great communicator with the young tight ends -- Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Petite -- who credit him with showing them the ropes in college football. Not flashy, the San Diego product has brought solid, veteran leadership to a program, and a position, that really benefited from his hard work.
*** Jordan Simmons -- The hope here is that Jordan gets his extra sixth season after the knee injuries and surgery that limited the top prospect out of Inglewood and Crespi High throughout much of his USC career. It looks like those injuries qualify the 6-4, 325-pound African-American Studies major for a return after a mostly healthy year here, starting twice at tackle after moving over from guard now that he's back on offense after filling in on the defensive line a year ago. Like all these guys, Jordan has had to adjust as he goes. And has done a great job at it.
*** Chad Wheeler -- Chad has come a long way since he showed up as a skinny 229-pound freshman from Santa Monica to now a 6-foot-7, 315-pound fifth-year senior with 43 career starts at left tackle. He's overcome torn knee ligaments, an off-field personal incident before the Holiday Bowl and this year, plantar fasciitis in August, to return as the stable, solid leader of this offensive line who is assignment sound and relatively penalty free for a position group Clay Helton says is the reason for the turnaround.
*** Zach Banner -- What more can you say about the 6-foot-9, 345-pound former basketball player from Tacoma that USC's right tackle hasn't already said about himself as he heads off to the NFL and a post-football career as a sports talk show guy like his dad, Hall of Famer Lincoln Kennedy. The returning All-Pac-12 player has started 36 games playing through the teeth of the tough times and has come up smiling as this Trojans team is living up to the big goals
*** Zach Smith -- A former walkon, USC's other Zach, the long-snapping one for field goals, extra points and punts, has performed flawlessly for four seasons -- two of them on scholarship -- and 51 games. The Redwood City guy has continued a USC tradition where the only time you notice the snapper is when he screws up and as far as Zach is concerned, he's anonymous, just one of four Smiths on the Trojans team.
*** Stevie Tu'ikolovatu -- No way to overtstate how much the 25-year-old grad student transfer from Utah has meant to this USC team. From a thin, inexperienced question mark of a position group in the summer, the USC defensive line, anchored by the 335-pound Stevie T., the physical and spiritual center of the USC front, has just kept getting better. Like Stevie, they've been unfazed by challenges as he has been by injuries, just wanting to get out there and make plays. Off the field, Stevie is the guy they all look up to and with good reason.
That's not the end of it. There is also a large group of players with a year of eligibility left, many of whom USC needs and expects to come back, and some of whom may graduate and move on on their own -- especially the walkon guys with degrees or former walkons now scholarshipped.
Then of course there are straight-up juniors like Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. This may well be their last game here but as of this week, neither are so declaring. Their time will come.
But here are the rest of the one-year-to-go crew with some coming off season-ending surgeries who will be back if they choose to return: Steven Mitchell Jr., James Toland IV, Kevin Carrasco, Yoofi Quansah, Matt Lopes, Mtt Boermeester, Milo Stewart, Joel Foy, Christian Herrera, Khaliel Rodgers, Nico Falah, Jackson Boyer and Kenny Bigelow Jr.
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