1. USC is picked #21: Issues? QB situation is wildly up in the air (JT Daniels is projected winner) and both sides of the trenches have a lot to prove. Last year’s Trojan OL allowed 30 sacks, even with escape artist and #3 NFL draft pick Sam Darnold running for cover.
2. The usual suspects: Alabama #1, Clemson #2, Georgia #3, Ohio State #4
3. Conference foes: Washington #8, Notre Dame #15, Stanford #18, UCLA #50 (that’s right, Chip Kelly is looking at a team that could be worse than San Diego State, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy, Fresno State and Cal).
4. Predicted record/bowl (through Pac-12 championship game): (9-4, 7-2 in conference; USC loses to Washington in Pac-12 championship; Alamo Bowl vs West Virginia)
5. Projected All-Americas: LB Cameron Smith (1st team), C Toa Lobendahn (2nd team)
6. Position strength: USC is ranked #1 in the Pac-12 in the LB dept (and #5 nationally). Remaining positions in Pac-12 — QB (7), RB (4), WR/TE (3), OL (3), DL (2), DB (3).
7. Ranking 2017’s New Coaches: #2 Lane Kiffin (FAU), #10 Tom Herman (Texas), #12 Ed Orgeron (LSU) #13 Justin Wilcox (Cal)
8. Coaches on the Hot Seat. Well, not hot, but getting warm: Clay Helton — “Helton is 21-6 overall and 15-3 in the Pac-12 in his two full seasons as the boss at USC, but the locals don’t seem convinced he is the right coach for the long term. Lopsided losses to Notre Dame (49-17) and Ohio State (24-7) overshadowed an otherwise solid 2017 season.”
9. Breakout Players: Stephen Carr — “Carr is a future star after rushing for 363 yards and three scores as a freshman in 2017. He should be the feature back in 2018.”
10. Teams on the Decline: Louisville, Washington State, and USC — “Despite winning the Pac-12 in 2017, Clay Helton’s Trojans ranked a disappointing 26th in S&P+. Two of their three losses were by hefty margins (by 17 to Ohio State and by 35 to Notre Dame) and their wins included one-possession victories over mediocre Texas (50th in S&P+) and UCLA (77th) teams. Now the Trojans must replace their leading QB, RB and WR. They were lucky to come away with 11 wins in 2017, and it will take a star turn at QB for them to threaten that total this year.”