USC enters the 2018 season coming off its first Pac-12 championship since 2008, which earned coach Clay Helton a deserved extension through 2023. For all THEIR accomplishments in 2017, however, the Trojans are likely dissatisfied with the way last year ended.
The Trojans not only missed the College Football Playoff, but were also throttled by Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl — a harsh reminder that USC isn't "back" yet. Still, Helton, who enters what is effectively his fourth year as the Trojans' head coach, has instilled a winning product in Los Angeles. That, plus consecutive top-five recruiting classes, should raise expectations through the roof by the start of the 2018 season — but what can fans realistically expect?
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The Trojans rank 12th in Sporting News' way-too-early top 25 poll, but if they want to return to the pinnacle of the Pac-12 yet again — and potentially break through to the College Football Playoff — they'll have to be better than they were last year.
Here's what to look for in USC's 2018 season:
USC football schedule 2018
|April 14||Spring Game||Los Angeles|
|Sept. 1||UNLV||Los Angeles|
|Sept. 8||at No. 14 Stanford||Stanford, Calif.|
|Sept. 15||at No. 22 Texas||Austin, Texas|
|Sept. 21||Washington State (Friday)||Los Angeles|
|Sept. 29||at Arizona||Tucson, Ariz.|
|Oct. 13||Colorado||Los Angeles|
|Oct. 20||at Utah||Salt Lake City|
|Oct. 27||Arizona State||Los Angeles|
|Nov. 3||at Oregon State||Corvallis, Ore.|
|Nov. 10||Cal||Los Angeles|
|Nov. 17||at UCLA||Pasadena, Calif.|
|Nov. 24||No. 9 Notre Dame||Los Angeles|
|Nov. 30||Pac-12 championship (Friday)||Santa Clara, Calif.|
Bold denotes Pac-12 games
USC football recruiting 2018
USC's 2018 recruiting class ranks fourth nationally and first among Pac-12 teams according to 247Sports' Composite team rankings. It is Helton's third consecutive top-10 class and his second straight at No. 4. The class boasts four five-star recruits in receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 11 overall, No. 2 receiver), linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (No. 15 overall, No. 1 ILB), quarterback JT Daniels (No. 16 overall, No. 2 PRO) and cornerback Olaijah Griffin (No. 28 overall, No. 3 CB). The class also boasts 13 four-star recruits.
USC football roster 2018
The USC football roster will be updated in the spring and fall here.
What to watch in 2018:
1. Sam Darnold's replacement
The Trojans have to replace likely top-five NFL Draft pick Sam Darnold at quarterback, and do it with new quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis, who replaced Tyson Helton. The position will likely be taken over by either redshirt-sophomore Matt Fink or Daniels. Fink only completed 6 of 9 passes for 43 yards in 2017, so it's not out of the question for Daniels to step in and take over the starting role. It certainly doesn't hurt Daniels' chances that St. Brown, USC's top recruit of the 2018 class, was his receiver in high school.
2. Trojans' Playoff chances
Helton won a Pac-12 South Division title in 2015, led the Trojans to a 10-win season and Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in 2016 and won the Pac-12 championship in 2017. The next logical step for USC is for it to make its first trip to the Playoff. USC found out the hard way in 2017 that conference championships mean little to the committee if you have two or more losses; if Helton and Co. want to make the Playoff, they'll need to win the Pac-12 championship again on top of navigating a schedule that features No. 13 Stanford, No. 9 Notre Dame and a UCLA team that now features Chip Kelly as head coach. Speaking of which. ....
3. Nov. 17 at UCLA
The annual battle for Los Angeles got a lot more interesting starting with the arrival of offensive genius Chip Kelly at UCLA, which underachieved during the Jim Mora era. The Trojans have won three straight over the rival Bruins and will likely be favored in their Nov. 17 matchup in the Rose Bowl, but it'll be interesting to see how the Bruins compete in Kelly's offensive system. Expect this rivalry to become more competitive in the coming years — and for the 2018 game to set the tone for that.