Day 2, Post-Rose Bowl. Exhale. But keep smiling as well as that special bounce in your step when things are going right. Because for a USC program that, for reasons right and wrong, fair or unfair, has had to negotiate a minefield of obstacles for the last eight years or so. Since at least the last Rose Bowl.
*** But if that last Penn State game in 2009 was the end of an era, this one has the feeling of the beginning of one . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Although it's not a guarantee. Nothing ever is. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Which may have been the best thing we heard after the game the way AD Lynn Swann talked about what happened in the Rose Bowl. It's the first step in a process of building. And a fine effort. But USC football is about winning the Pac-12 and being in the hunt for a national championship . . . Just Sayin'.
*** But for USC to move to the place where Alabama, and even Clemson are, and where Ohio State and Michigan and Penn State all want to be in the near future -- and are working like crazy to get there -- not to mention LSU and Washington and Florida/Florida State, this is the time for Clay Helton to take full advantage of where he is right now and for him to put in place an aggressive plan that addresses all the parts of the program, starting with way this staff recruits, coaches and support staff . . . Just Sayin'.
*** It's clear from the way this team finished, that Clay made the right call to get the coaching right in September, to get so many things ironed out from practice to game management first. He did that, for the most part. Now it's time to build, as Lynn has made clear . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And what a building block to start with at quarterback where everything starts in football. "Sam Darnold is RIDICULOUS," Kirk Herbstreit tweeted a day after the Rose Bowl. "I mean ABSURD" says the man who as analyst could be heard literally giggling after throws like that last TD pass to Deontay Burnett that very few NFL quarterbacks could have made -- over the linebacker and between two safeties in a seam that was there for a split-second and not at all obvious to anyone but Sam and Deontay when he made the throw . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And next season, Sam might even be good enough to make All-Pac-12. After all, the Columbus Touchdown Club thought enough of him to make him the most valuable player in all of college football yesterday -- maybe following the lead of Buckeye and former hometown guy Herbstreit . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And now that we've seen what Deontay can do as the lead receiver, we can all prepare to say goodbye to whoever chooses to go as we hear this underclassman or that has signed with an agent or is seriously leaning to moving on . . . Just Sayin'.
*** It happens. Guys leave for the League. We should do nothing but wish them well. It's their call. All their call. Sure, we can have an opinion if they're ready or not but ultimately that's not our call . . . Just Sayin'.
*** There will be people to step up as they did in the Rose Bowl. That's the way college football works. Would I like to see Adoree' Jackson come back for a final season and concentrate on offense because I think it would guarantee his NFL success -- and a longer and more financially rewarding,career? Sure. That's my opinion. But it's a risk and may well not be Adoree's take on this. So whatever his call is, I'm thrilled for him. He's been a terrific Trojan . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And there better be guys stepping up against a schedule featuring, as we just noticed in Athlon's "Very Early Top 25," three ranked teams including bounce-back powers in Notre Dame and Texas plus Stanford with Washington and/or Oregon dropping off the schedule but possibilities in the championship game. . . Just Sayin'.
*** Although as Athlon noted when it picked USC at No. 5 for next year behind No. 4 Penn State, the focus will probably be more on who is going -- Justin, Stevie T., Michael, Leon, Darreus, Zach and Chad and possibly JuJu, Adoree' and another O-lineman, than on who is coming back with Sam -- RoJo, Porter, Uchenna, Iman, Nico, Rasheem and Deontay . . . Just Sayin'.
*** What's missing there are the guys whose time it is to step up -- Chuma Edoga, Jack Jones, Chris Brown, Cary Angeline, Jalen Greene, Christian Rector, Jacob Daniel, Jordan Iosefa, John Houston, Connor Murphy, Oluwole Betiku, Vavae Malepeai, Michael Pittman, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Tyler Vaughns, Trevon Sidney, Velus Jones, Jamel Cook and Pie Young, to name a few. That's the most young talent with a chance to prove themselves that we can ever remember in one offseason at USC . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Should be an interesting winter and spring around here . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Because whether you think it's "pumping" or not, this 2017 Trojan team has a chance to be a bit more athletic overall and all on the same page going in. A lot was learned this time around in a compressed amount of time, things you can only learn when the ball is kicked off . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Now this staff has the benefit of all that happened in 2016. Just one example. If you could practice with live bullets, with the quarterback under fire from sackers and able to react and scramble and find people down the field when the play breaks down, Sam would have been starting from Day 1. So much of what he does so well you can only replicate in live-game situations. And yet no one would ever do that in practice -- tackle the quarterback like it's a game. Had they done so, the pick of Sam at quarterback for this team would have been an easy call . . . Just Sayin'.
*** And sure, there are some rough spots still to work out. As we just saw in the month-long run-up to the Rose Bowl, you may be able to keep the offense relatively sharp without hitting even though the blocking for the run game seemed to take more than a little hit. But on defense, it doesn't look like you can take a month off from tackling people or playing a live ball in the air with full contact and be good enough to stop the likes of Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and Chris Godwin . . . Just Sayin'.
*** Although if there's one thing Clay has proved the last three months, in his in-game adjustments, decision-making under pressure, in-season practice planning and game clock management, he's a quick study. If he weren't, USC, and he, wouldn't be Rose Bowl champs. He might not even be here or a Bear Bryant Coach of the Year finalist . . . Just Sayin'.
*** But what Clay has most proved is that he's the kind of coach his players believe in and will play for without quit as they did Monday. As long as he recruits the right players and fills out a staff that's nationally competitive, USC football could be in the place Trojan fans have always hoped it would be -- and that's not just in Pasadena, although that's a heck of a place to start . . . Just Sayin'.
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