USC is set to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Trojans ahead of the game.
Well, that wasn’t too bad for his first full season as head coach. Clay Helton might have had a rocky start to the 2016 season when the Trojans went 1-3. But he quickly made the switch to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold as the starting quarterback, and USC finished 8-1 with all eight wins being consecutive to close out the season.
They were unable to break their way into the Pac-12 title game thanks to those first four games, but that performance notched the Trojans an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
USC will take on Penn State on Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. ET in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. However, there are a few storylines to keep an eye on as the game approaches.
Sam Darnold’s 2017 Heisman Run
When the reins of the offense were taken from Max Browne and handed to Darnold, we were all left wondering why he hadn’t been named the starting quarterback out of the gate. Darnold finished No. 6 in the country with 68.1 percent of his passes completed. He threw for 2,633 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. With a full offseason ahead of him, Darnold can use this Rose Bowl as the jumping off point for his run at the Heisman Trophy in 2017.
We still have not heard whether or not wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson intend to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. All signs point to both bolting for the pros, but Smith-Schuster has said that he’d return to USC if Jackson decided to do the same. Right now, Jackson hinges as a late-first, early-second-round pick. Smith-Schuster, on the other hand, has gone from top-1o pick to the same range as Jackson. If they both return to school, the Trojans will be set up for a national title run. If they leave, well, USC will be well represented within the first two rounds of the draft.
It’s not a secret that making it to a bowl game helps gain points with recruits. It’s also well known that winning those bowl games is far more important. Right now, the Trojans sit at No. 19 in the 2017 recruiting class rankings with 14 total commits. They picked up 3-star athlete Terrance Lang on Thursday, but a win over Penn State would go a long way. USC is trying to get 4-star safety Bubba Bolden to re-commit after watching former Trojans commit Thomas Graham, a 4-star cornerback, commit to Pac-12 rival Oregon. If USC handles Penn State in the Rose Bowl, it could open the eyes for a few blue-chip prospects like 5-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson or 5-star wide receiver Joseph Lewis.
Stopping Saquon Barkley
In 2017, we’re all expecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley to rush for his third straight 1,000-yard season and compete for the Heisman Trophy. There’s a reason why he was able to pick up 16 rushing touchdowns this year. USC will shape the defensive game plan to try and bottle up the Nittany Lions’ star tailback, and it will be interesting to see if the Trojans mix up the blitz packages to blow up the Penn State backfield and slow down its running game.
Tee Martin’s Eventual Departure
All of the big-time head coaching vacancies have been filled. Barring more jobs opening up, it appears Tee Martin will be back to orchestrate the offense for USC in 2017. However, with the way Darnold flourished this past season and the excellent play of tailback Ronald Jones, Martin will set himself up to be a top candidate for head coaching jobs following the 2017 season. Be on the lookout for Tennessee. If Butch Jones can’t capture an SEC East title, he may be on the way out, and that would open the door for Martin to return to his alma mater.