USA Today Sports

Trojans relevant . . . for real

It's good to be back. College football is far more fun when you're a real part of it. USC is now.

USC is back. Back in the game. Back in the discussion. Back to being relevant when it comes to national college football.

It's good to be back.

Makes for a much more interesting, much more pleasant off-season -- certainly for USC fans.

And as so many unbiased observers of the college game understand, college football is a better place when USC is back contending for a spot at the top.

Not that everything is about USC. It's just from a USC point of view, USC is a part of the conversation. The Trojans are no longer on the outside listening in.

And everything that comes our way this offseason makes it clear that is so.

Here's one example. Just looked at Dennis Dodd's Post-spring Top 25 teams for and here's what we see. First, Dennis has USC No. 4, good enough to get the Trojans into the College Football Playoffs if it plays out that way along with 1) Florida State, 2) Alabama and 3) Ohio State. Not a bad lineup. And if it does turn out like that, back where USC has been trying to get for most of the last decade with the teams it would like to be there with.

Says Dennis: "The first instinct is to tamp down the USC hype, but this time it seems real -- and it's about time. It's been eight years since the Trojans won the league. Another miss this year would be the longest drought ever between the Trojans winning at least a share of a conference title. Unless Lamar Jackson goes historic, Sam Darnold is the Heisman favorite going in. The defense and receiving corps will need some work but fun fact -- no Washington on the schedule."

Dodd's No. 5 and No. 6 teams, respectively, Penn State and Washington, are the teams USC beat to finish 2016 on such a high note. Again, the Trojans are connected to the top teams in the right way. Dodd's No. 8 team, Stanford, will be USC's Coliseum opponent in Game 2 this September and the opponent that sets the tone for how USC's high hopes play out in 2017 and a team that didn't have to face starter Sam last fall.

As for the Pac-12, Dodd's Top 25 doesn't stop with a Washington team that USC will only meet in a Pac-12 championship game this season although the Huskies along with USC and Stanford make the Pac-12 the lone league with three members of Dodd's Top 10.

Oregon at a bounce-back, and very optimistic, No. 23 gives the Pac-12 four of Dodd's Top 25 teams. And a second one in the Pac-12 not on USC's schedule. Maybe that makes up a bit for USC's no-bye, 12-weeks-straight schedule. Not a bad deal. The league is well thought of but you only have to play one of the other three ranked teams.

USC will take it since right ahead of Oregon for Dodd at No. 22 is another big bounce-back bunch, Tom Herman's first Texas team, in USC's Game 3 at the Coliseum.

But as we were digesting that team information, here came another of those way-too-early picks list. This time it's from the 247 Sports folks looking at next year's NFL Draft big board for the Top 32 picks next spring.

And yes, Sam is No. 1: "Big, athletic, strong-armed, tough, hard-working: the list goes on. Darnold would have likely been the first quarterback taken in the 2017 Draft, too," they say of Sam, who has moved up a bit since he was 247's No. 147 prospect in the recruiting Class of 2015.

But if getting the jump on the 2018 NFL Draft is your deal, paying close attention to USC's opponents might be the way to go here. In fact, Trojan fans just saw one, 247's No. 5 prospect, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who would seem to clearly deserve that spot from his Rose Bowl performance.

But at No. 7 is a player USC fans may not have heard about, Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams: "A dominating, athletic, physical force who started at left tackle from Day 1 as a freshman, Williams is as fun to watch as any skill player on the list," 247 says of a player they had way down at No. 419 in the recruiting Class of 2015.

Back to back at Nos. 11 and 12 are these USC archrivals -- Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen.

Of McGlinchey, 247 says: "Listed at 6-foot-8, 312 pounds, McGlinchey is the overpowering presence at tackle that NFL teams covet," of a prospect 247 had ranked No. 162 in the recruiting Class of 2013.

Of Rosen, they optimistically say: "If he can get fully healthy and stay that way, there's not a more pure thrower in this draft. His unique, direct personality will be a very interesting draft story line," of a prospect 247 had No. 12 overall in the recruiting Class of 2015.

Next come a pair of Pac-12 defensive tackles back-to-back in the Nos. 15 and 16 spots. And while USC, as noted, does not face Washington in the regular season, if they meet the Huskies in the championship game, awaiting them will be Vita Vea: "Washington's dominating defense last fall was due to a smothering secondary and physical front. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Vea was the foundation of that front," 247 says of another of those way down low ranked prospects, No. 426 in the recruiting Class of 2013.

But No. 16, Lowell Lotulelei from Utah, will be there again to face the Trojans: "The younger brother of former first-round pick Star Lotulelei, Lowell is a three-time All-Pac-12 performer who is as consistent as any defender in the country," they say of another player not all that high coming out of high school, No. 397 in the recruiting Class of 2013.

Notre Dame, despite what happened in 2016 with that 4-8 record from a team with a pretty imposing offensive line, is back with a second first-round prospect in guard Quentin Nelson: "Just a big, long athletic lineman who has been trending up throughout his college career and could play several spots along the offensive line," 247 says of Nelson, No. 62 overall in their recruiting Class of 2014. 

Texas follows Notre Dame as another comeback team with two first-round prospects, 247 says, of linebacker Malik Jefferson: "There may not be a more talented linebacker in college football than Jefferson, but the light has to turn on for him and it needs to stay on. We're betting Tom Herman can pull the best out of him," 247 says of Jefferson, a player ranked No. 10 in the recruiting Class of 2015.

And finally, at No. 31, is Washington State quarterback Luke Falk: "He looks the part of an NFL quarterback with a huge arm and plenty of toughness. He'll put up huge numbers -- the caveat NFL teams hate Mike Leach's system," they say of Falk who didn't even earn a rating from 247 coming out of high school as a WSU walkon.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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