Why stop at all the "way too early" looks at the 2017 season that everybody is doing now? From Top 25s to College Football Playoff participants to conference champs to Heisman Trophy favorites, they've all come our way this month.
Well, not all of them until Jon Wilner's Hotline (full teams here) in the San Jose Mercury News listed his 2017 All-Pac-12 football team taking predictions to a new level of detail.
Interesting stuff. And of necessity, requiring someone to go way out on a limb at a number of positions.
Start with quarterback where after the Rose Bowl. If there was any doubt at the premier position in the Pac-12 with returnees Luke Falk of Washington State, Jake Browning of Washington and Josh Rosen of UCLA, there is no longer. It's Sam Darnold.
Although Wilner waffled by saying how tough this call was to make and how it involved "throwing darts at the wall." Sorry, no darts needed for this one. Sam made the call although we guess you could say he was the one throwing his own darts in that fourth quarter comeback against Penn State.
But there were two Trojans on Wilner's first and second teams that if that holds, and it ends up like that, USC fans will be mightily pleased. First the first-teamer who's literally coming off the sidelines.
We're talking Kenny Bigelow as a first-team D-lineman. How about that for an upgrade here. Stevie Tu'ikolovatu merely made the second team in a postseason misfire for the selectors. But if Kenny can come back, bigger, stronger and on that rehabbed knee and step in for Stevie and make anywhere close to the impact Stevie made, the Trojans will be in very good shape. They'll take it.
The other surprise here is that Rasheem Green is only second team. Although the good news is that USC would have two spots on the All-Pac-12 two deep up front. Let those two sort it out. Just having two in the mix, with no newcomers factored in, has to be a plus. Better certainly than where USC was going into last year.
We think Wilner has whiffed with his linebacker selections. Cam Smith is first team but no Uchenna Nwosu or Porter Gustin on the two-deep. No way there are eight linebackers in the Pac-12 better than those two. Not sure which one steps up more but we think one or both will for sure.
Interesting way Wilner went in the secondary. Senior nickel/safety Chris Hawkins is first team, junior corner Iman Marshall is second team. But that gives USC five All-Pac-12 defenders, same as Stanford for the most on the team with Washington next with four. We're guessing that by season's end, Iman steps up to first team and Hawkins, if he can hold off the rest of USC's young secondary, will surely deserve his spot as well.
Now for the rest of the offense: Ronald Jones is second team behind Oregon's Royce Freeman. Again, let them sort it out on the field but we're guessing RoJo has the higher ceiling here with teams having to stop Sam and USC's pass game.
Deontay Burnett, after the Rose Bowl, is a first-teamer at wide receiver and no questioning that. But another Trojan coming off an injury, Steven Mitchell, is tabbed for second team. How cool would that be if Steven could both come back healthy and hold off the rest of that young, talented USC receiving corps. We're expecting another Trojan to join Deontay on the team. Again, the Trojans will have to sort that one out.
Daniel Imatrobhebhe is projected as second team at tight end behind Stanford's Dalton Schultz. We'd flip that with the way USC will use the tight end next season and the way Daniel stepped up at the end of this one.
And while USC lost three offensive linemen to the NFL after last season, Wilner projects two other Trojans to make his All-Pac-12 offensive front. Neither will replace first-teamers Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, he says, but the rehabbed Toa Lobendahn and returned Viane Talamaivao are both tabbed as second-team guys.
What that would mean for the Trojans offense would be that Toa had come all the way back -- or at least almost all the way. And while no one can possibly know any more for sure even than Toa himself right now, that would be a great outcome for the versatile fourth-year guy who has started at four different O-line positions for the Trojans. USC can only hope.
But with Toa and Viane, we really think that Nico Falah has done everything he could possibly have to earn a spot among the top 10 returning offensive linemen in the league. He should be there.
The seven offensive picks give USC the most by far on that side of the ball with Washington State's four next in line. And with second-team kicker Matt Boermeester added, USC's 13 overall picks compare to the seven for Washington and six for Washington State and Stanford. UCLA, meanwhile, had just four.
Again, you could make a case for a handful of Trojans who could be All-Pac-12 next season but not so much for any who have proved they could be. A couple, at least, will for sure. Offensive tackle Chuma Edoga might be a good place for that to start.
It's just that we don't know and can't know right now. But as in everything else looking ahead to next season, it's a good start.
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