To say USC has had quite an abnormal day on signing day would be a tremendous understatement. Just two recruiting cycles after signing the Pac-12’s top recruiting class following a victory in the Rose Bowl, the Trojans are lining up at the other end of the Pac-12 recruiting spectrum today. The Trojans have a recruiting class that is ranked 12th in the Pac-12 with just 11 commitments locked in for the Class of 2020.
According to the composite team rankings compiled by 247 Sports, USC’s recruiting class ranks 12th in the 12-team Pac-12 and 78th in the nation as of the time of this posting. That pits the Trojans one spot behind Bowling Green and one spot ahead of Louisiana. To be fair to USC, that is still a couple of spots higher than Missouri and Arkansas of the SEC, but those two programs are going through coaching changes. That, of course, is quite a different story for USC, where Clay Helton has been retained by a new Athletics Director.
The ongoing questions about Helton’s future may have doomed much of USC’s recruiting efforts months ago. The ongoing questioning of whether or not Helton would even be USC’s head coach put the Trojans on shaky ground compared to any number of college football programs attempting to recruit the same kind of talent USC was hoping to land. That includes talent from within the state of California.
Wednesday really drove home the idea that USC can no longer just expect to sign some of the top recruits in its state, as the state’s top six recruits all chose to go out of state to Oregon, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State. USC’s highest-rated recruit as of this post was four-star offensive guard Jonah Monheim, the 26th top recruit from California. USC has focused the bulk of this current class on the line of scrimmage with nine of its current commitments playing either offensive or defensive line. One other commitment is from a kicker. USC was hoping to get some late additions at some other positions, but the Trojans have not had much luck in that area.
It is worth a reminder that there will be some years when some schools will sign smaller classes compared to other seasons, but even this recruiting class is a stunner for USC, a top 25 team at the end of the 2019 regular season. The Trojans can fill in some gaps with transfers and additional recruits later in the recruiting cycle that will wrap up in February. Otherwise, the pressure for Helton will continue to escalate in 2020 following one of the more disappointing overall recruiting classes signed by USC.
Now that Clay Helton is sticking around as head coach of the USC Trojans, the next order of business for the program was to keep offensive coordinator Graham Harrell happy. That seems to have been accomplished.
Harrell has been signed to a multi-year contract extension to remain the offensive coordinator of the Trojans, it was announced on Monday evening.
USC hired Harrell to be the offensive coordinator of the Trojans last year following the departure of Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury, who joined the USC program shortly after being removed as head coach at Texas Tech, abruptly left USC for an opportunity to coach the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL.
Harrell’s contract extension at USC puts to rest any possibility of him leaving to take on a role at another program. Texas had been one of the biggest potential suitors for Harrell, but that ship seemed to sail as it became more likely Harrell would be sticking with USC once it was confirmed Helton would not be removed as head coach. Being signed to a multi-year contract is notable for an offensive coordinator, especially at a program where the head coach could still be on a bit of a hot seat in 2020. If things do hit a boiling point for Helton in 2020 (or 2021), Harrell could be in a position to take over the helm and prove himself worthy of a chance to lead the program. It would be the first time as a head coach, but that no longer seems to be as much of a concern for some programs given the recent rise of Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and Ryan Day at Ohio State.
But for now, Harrell will continue to get time to expand the USC offensive attack.
It’s official. Clay Helton will be the head coach at USC in 2020. USC Athletics Director Mike Bohn confirmed that decision on Twitter on Wednesday.
“I am pleased to let you know Coach Helton will continue to be our head coach,” Bohn said on his Twitter account. “His commitment to our student-athletes and to leading with integrity is vital to restoring our championship program, which is the goal for all of our teams.”
Bohn’s official statements confirming Helton’s job status for 2020 comes days after an erroneous report was published suggesting Helton had coached his final game with the Trojans, only for that story to be widely shut down almost immediately by multiple reputable sources. It is also the long-awaited word, one way or the other, from the new USC AD on Helton’s status after initially holding off on making any decisions so soon after being hired.
USC’s season may not have gone as some have desired a season after missing out on the bowl season, but Helton does have the Trojans ranked in the top 25 and heading back to the bowl season. USC was one win shy of playing for a Pac-12 title. So, for now, any dreams of USC fans hoping to land Urban Meyer as their next head coach may have to wait at least one more year before any changes occur with the program.
Earlier today, Mike Bohn was officially introduced as the new athletics director at USC. Among the top issues for Bohn to address when meeting with the media was the job security of head football coach Clay Helton. Not too surprisingly, Bohn was not particularly interested in suggesting he is ready to name a replacement to lead the Trojans on the football field.
“We all understand the importance of football; it’s very similar to every institution that I’ve been a part of,” Bohn said when speaking to the media at an introductory press conference on Thursday, according to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com. “It’d be premature to be talking about coaches or any situation when I just arrived and am in the process of learning and trying to listen. But I have a good sense of really quickly being able to connect and find out how we’re doing and where we’re going, and I want to impact recruiting.”
This comment is not exactly a strong show of support for Helton, but it is not a statement of incoming doom for Helton either. Realistically, this is the safest of answers the new AD could possibly give as he is not drawing any line and leaving time to evaluate the situation deeper. There is still a month of football to play, and USC could still end the season on a strong note that could suggest Helton is worthy of retaining the job. The popular opinion seems to be that USC should move on from Helton as the Trojans have regressed in a number of ways since winning the Rose Bowl three seasons ago. USC won the Pac-12 championship two years ago but lost to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl (the Rose Bowl was used as a College Football Playoff semifinal, so the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions were transplanted to the Cotton Bowl).
Last season, the downward trend continued with no bowl appearance nat all. USC needs one more win in their final three games to clinch bowl eligibility this season with road games against Arizona State and Cal in the next two weeks. USC hosts UCLA in the regular-season finale and the Trojans lost to Chip Kelly and the Bruins last season. Failing to go bowling would likely lead to a guaranteed coaching change with the Trojans.
So Bohn has some time before any decision really needs to be made on the future of the head coaching position at USC.
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.