Clay Helton

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LA sports scene is buzzing, but will USC or UCLA join the fun in 2019?


The Los Angeles Rams are coming off their first Super Bowl appearance since arriving from St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers are running away with the NL West Division at the all-star break. LeBron James is welcoming Anthony Davis in a Lakers uniform on one side of the Staples Center and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are about to suit up in Clippers uniforms on the other side of the arena. The sports scene in Los Angeles is boiling right now with a lot of excitement throughout, yet the college football enthusiasm is, shall we say, tempered at the moment.

Simply put, the past year has not been particularly kind to the Los Angeles college football scene. USC saw head coach Clay Helton keep his job after one down season, much to the chagrin of some pundits and USC faithful, while the leadership of athletics director Lynn Swann continued to draw the ire of fans left and right. Meanwhile, the Trojans failed to play in a bowl game with a 5-7 record, marking the first time USC did not play in a postseason bowl game without being on a postseason ban since 2000.

The offseason has seen some troubling moments for the Trojans as well. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left the program quickly to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL, but not before some messy interference was in place within USC. The Trojans also had some players leave the program, but what program doesn’t see that happen. And the situation could have been worse if not for some players ultimately deciding to stay or come back to the Trojans.

What about the other college football team in Los Angeles? UCLA won just three games and was a mess for the entire first half of the season.

UCLA is about to enter the second season under head coach Chip Kelly. the hiring of Kelly was believed to be a good move considering his success in college while at Oregon, prior to his departure for the NFL. But Kelly’s return has not gone as smoothly as UCLA may have hoped. The Bruins won just three games in his first season, three fewer than the previous season under Jim Mora (and interim coach Jedd Fisch), and it was clear there is a lot of rebuilding to do with the Bruins. But there were some signs of progress as the season played on for UCLA with the team seeming to improve and compete better the more they played together in the second half of the season. A victory over USC certainly helped the cause. UCLA still needs to make some significant moves on the recruiting trail, however. Until they do, UCLA will be little more than a bridesmaid in Los Angles no matter what is happening across town.

Entering the 2019 season, there is little expectation either USC or UCLA will make a run for the Pac-12 title, nevermind a spot in the College Football Playoff. But both teams have a chance to improve this fall and make things a bit more interesting in a crowded sports scene in Los Angeles.

Former USC assistant claims he was fired for reporting potential NCAA violations

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Former USC defensive quality control assistant Rick Courtright is taking USC to court over his removal from the program in 2018. In a lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles court on Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times, Courtright claims he was ousted from the football program’s staff after reporting potential NCAA violations to the compliance office at USC.

In his lawsuit, Courtright claims he overheard two graduate assistants discussing plans to have students take online courses for them. The graduate assistants named in the lawsuit are Brett Arce and Austin Clark. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is accused of having discussions about payments to students to take the online classes for the two USC graduate assistants. Courtright claims he saw Pendergast hand cash to Clark, who then passed it off to an unnamed student. This incident was reported to the USC compliance office in June 2017, according to Courtright’s claim in his lawsuit.

Courtright also claimed to have witnessed a number of other potential NCAA violations, including players warming up without protective equipment and coaches to supervise, the use of a school courtesy car for personal reasons and more. As a result, Courtright also claims he became the target for abuse in the workplace with various pranks and acts of mischief.

Courtright resigned from his position on the USC staff in May 2018 after being given the option of resigning or being fired by USC head coach Clay Helton, according to the lawsuit.

USC has not commented on this legal battle, which is to be expected.

Clay Helton wishes Kliff Kingsbury well in NFL as new search for offensive coordinator commences

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The Kliff Kingsbury era of USC Trojans football vanished just as soon as it began, and now USC head coach Clay Helton is looking for a new offensive coordinator for a second time this offseason. After Kingsbury was hired by the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, Helton was left with little choice but to move forward and wish Kingsbury well.

“I am happy for Kliff,” Helton said in a released statement on Tuesday. “Any time you get an opportunity to be an NFL head coach, it is special. He is a talented coach, that’s why we brought him here. I wish him nothing but the best.”

USC officially hired Kingsbury to be the offensive coordinator a little more than a month ago, just 10 days after Kingsbury had been fired as head coach at Texas Tech. Kingsbury was to replace Tee Martin, who was not retained after a losing season for the Trojans. Where Helton and USC turn for their next offensive coordinator remains to be seen, although Helton expressed confidence in being able to attract a worthy candidate for the job.

“USC has always attracted the best coaches in the country from all levels,” Helton said. “We will spend the upcoming weeks finding the best possible fit for USC and our program.”

USC officially announces Jack Sears as starting QB vs Arizona State

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As expected, or perhaps feared by some, USC will start third-string quarterback Jack Sears Saturday afternoon when the Trojans take host Arizona State. Sears will make his first career start as he takes over for an injured J.T. Daniels and backup Matt Fink.

USC announced the QB news via Twitter on Friday.

Daniels entered concussion protocol earlier this week. Fink is out with broken ribs. Both quarterbacks were injured in last week’s loss at Utah. With Daniels not medically cleared to return to action, that left USC head coach Clay Helton with no other choice than to go with redshirt freshman Sears. The former four-star dual-threat quarterback does not make his starting debut without potential, as his Rivals profile out of high school would suggest. And whether he is just pumping his newly-appointed starting quarterback with confidence or if he truly is optimistic about what Sears can do, Helton seemed confident in the situation even if it is not the most desirable option at this point in the season.

I’m a big fan of Jack. I always have been,”  Helton said on Sunday. “If he’s given the opportunities, I think he’ll do a great job.”

Well, he’ll get his opportunities. Arizona State’s defense ranks 61st in the nation and has given up their biggest yardage totals on the road this year.

USC hosts Arizona State at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.

USC QB J.T. Daniels in concussion protocol, backup Matt Fink has broken ribs, Jack Sears to the rescue?

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USC freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels has been entered into the team’s concussion protocol after getting roughed up on the road against Utah Saturday night. USC’s quarterback depth looks to be even more a concern this week as head coach Clay Helton announced backup quarterback Matt Fink broke three ribs in the same game.

Because of the injuries to the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart, the Trojans will prepare redshirt freshman Jack Sears to be the team’s starter this week.

I’m a big fan of Jack. I always have been,”  Helton said on Sunday. “If he’s given the opportunities, I think he’ll do a great job.”

Daniels has been USC’s starter all season as a true freshman. Because he has already played in seven games for the Trojans this fall, he cannot use the 2018 season as a redshirt season. Players can appear in up to four games without burning a redshirt year under a modified NCAA rule regarding redshirt eligibility. How serious the concussion issue remains to be seen, as they can be difficult to predict.

Sears did not play in 2017 and has yet to get the chance to record any passing stats this season. The former four-star dual-threat quarterback is not guaranteed to start this week, but if Daniels is not medically cleared to return, then it will be up to sears to guide the offense for however long he is needed.

USC hosts Arizona State this Saturday. Tied with Utah in the Pac-12 South, USC loses the tiebreaker for the top spot with the head-to-head loss at Utah, which means USC needs to finish the season ahead of Utah in the division in order to play for the Pac-12 championship.