November 30: USC has hired Clay Helton as its new head coach. The following analysis is from late October and remains unchanged. Helton runs the pro style of offense that fits USC's personnel and has a good grasp of the strengths and (relatively few) weaknesses of this roster. We will know very quickly if Helton was the right call.
For the third time in six seasons, the USC Trojans were in the market for a new head coach. Steve Sarkisian was dismissed after just 18 games and will seek treatment for a substance abuse issue.
This is an incredible opportunity for Helton. Coaches just do not get to take over elite rosters all that often. It's a chance that only comes along a few times per decade.
USC is set to sign a great recruiting class, and added to what the Trojans have signed over the last three cycles, the new coach will be coming to a program that has signed 50 or more four- or five-star recruits in a four-year span. Only Alabama has signed a higher percentage of blue chip recruits than the Trojans over the last four cycles.
And since USC will be signing just its second full class since 2011's NCAA sanctions, the Trojans' depth will finally start to improve.
The Trojans' roster might not be to the level that Larry Coker inherited at Miami in 2001, but it could be comparable to what Urban Meyer took over at Florida in 2005 or Ohio State in 2012, Les Miles at LSU in 2005, David Shaw at Stanford in 2011 or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma in 1999.
The Trojans do lose some key pieces to graduation, including QB Cody Kessler and a few senior defensive linemen. But there probably won't be many early NFL entries, with only linebacker Su'a Cravens likely to leave early. The new coach will inherit a disgusting receiving corps led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, a backfield with Justin Davis and Ronald Jones, a very talented offensive line and a quarterback with ability in fourth-year junior Max Browne. Defensively, the Trojans will have inexperienced talent up front, but some very promising linebackers and one of the best secondaries in the country.
While USC's talent hasn't translated to wins in recent years, there are legitimate reasons for this, like having a roster that was short on depth after signing just 71 players in the previous four recruiting cycles due to sanctions. Plus, Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian weren't exactly the best hires USC could have made.
There is every reason to believe that the next Trojans coach will produce elite results and that USC's seven-year conference title drought won't stretch to, say, nine.
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But will a certain style of head coach be able to hit the ground running more ably than another?
Not really. USC has so many weapons on offense, and defensively its variety of bodies could fit most any scheme.
The only caveat would be that USC's quarterbacks skew more pro-style. That's not to say that there is a total absence of athleticism (backup Sam Darnold is a decent athlete), but a system that requires the quarterback to be a major run threat is probably not going to be an instant smash hit.