It’s no secret that if you looked at USC’s schedule in the preseason, it was going to be one of the toughest schedules in college football. Given the changes in the off-season both in player personnel and coaching personnel, it was plausible to think the Trojans could start the year 1-2. Facing two top ten teams in the first three weeks in season is something almost no other college football program in the nation would attempt. There’s no doubt that USC has the talent to compete at the highest level, but with the poor play so far this season - who gets the blame? It is almost always the head coach.
The cause for alarm is not that USC has lost two out of three games, but the manner in which they have performed and lost these games. The play on the field has only been one part of the disastrous start USC is off to this season. In the first three weeks the Trojans have had two players suspended, two players removed from the team for sexual assault charges, an unforgivable amount of penalties, and wild rumors of players punching coaches and numerous transfers. While these rumors are likely not true, how do you as a head coach get to that place where it’s not too far outside the realm of possibility?
One thing is clear about USC this season - Clay Helton and this coaching staff have absolutely no control of this team, both on and off the field. It’s one thing to have a well-coached team but not have the talent to compete and lose games. This isn’t the case for the Trojans. They have the recruits and the talent to compete with anyone. The only bright light for this season has been the defense. What life they’ve shown has been lost because of the abysmal play of the offensive unit.
To add to the poor coaching and lack of discipline USC has displayed so far this season, Helton has now decided to start red shirt freshman Sam Darnold at quarterback this week against Utah. This begs the question - if you’re going to make a quarterback change in week 4, why was Darnold not named the starter to beginning of the season? To be fair to Max Browne, he was not afforded the opportunity to succeed. The change of quarterback so early in the season just adds to the mounting questions about USC coaching staff.
So, how hot is Helton’s seat? I think it’s safe to say he’s starting to feel the flame. The reality is Helton is in very fortunate situation. If USC fires Helton, they will be looking for their third head coach in three years. It’s really hard to lure top coaching talent when the last few coaches have not lasted very long.
A potential new, possibly better coach would be in the same boat as Helton is now – left with a largely under qualified staff, extremely tough schedule, questions at quarterback, and an immense amount of pressure to turn it all around or show progress within a year or two. Helton’s problem is the perception is he is allowing the program to regress.
Is perception the reality for USC? Lynn Swann might decide it is… soon.