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The USC Trojans football program is in the top-tier in the country, but in recent years, they have fallen behind the other schools in many aspects — but they have to find a way to gain back the respect. It comes down to making sure they win games.

Athletic Director Mike Bohn attended a practice and talked to the media afterward. He was asked about the expectations for head coach Clay Helton and the team as a whole this season.

“Our expectations are what they’ve always been — we want to be in the Rose Bowl and be a part of that college football playoff,” Bohn said. “We recognize that the expectation and history is for us to get to the CFP, and that’s certainly our goal and what we’re trying to do and I know that’s what these young men are trying to do.”

He also added that the team has improved in the national rankings in recent years, and they are ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25.

It’s undeniable that the key to a bright future starts with good recruiting, continues with development, and ends with scouring the transfer portal for players hungry to get time on the field.

Helton told the media Thursday that Jaxson Dart will be backing up Kedon Slovis going into Week 1, and though it can change, the Trojans might be looking at the QB of the future in Dart.

The teams on the schedule aren’t going to be easy, though USC has an easier schedule than most other schools.

In their first matchup against San Jose State at home, they are going to get a team that is relentless — and a team coming off a Mountain West title and an undefeated regular season, just like USC.

While the Trojans didn’t have a game last Saturday, SJSU played Southern Utah. Judge it however you’d like, whether that’s a good or bad thing for each team.

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USC’s second opponent is Stanford at home, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Cardinal haven’t performed as well as their peers in the last few years, but the teams under head coach David Shaw have all been successful nonetheless.

Don’t count them out.

After two games at home, the Trojans are traveling to Pullman, WA to take on Washington State — a team that only won one game last season, though two of their regular games were canceled because of a COVID outbreak. 

Head coach Nick Rolovich definitely has his work cut out for him, and he’s looking to improve on the rough first year he had.

After Wazzu, USC comes back home to face Oregon State, the team who fought hard to beat Oregon last season.

Despite winning only two games, they were always within striking distance.

Trojans will then travel to Boulder, CO to face the Buffaloes in an exciting game that got canceled last season. Colorado finished right behind USC in the Pac-12 South standings and could’ve easily given the Trojans their first loss if they played.

With Tennessee transfer (and Santa Clarita native) J.T. Shrout the likely starter — and a solid receiving corps — Colorado has some firepower this season.

Next on the board: Utah at the Coliseum, which is probably the most anticipated matchup in the conference aside from the rivalry games. Both teams should have this date circled on their calendar if they don’t already.

After a bye week, they’ll go to Indiana to face the almighty Notre Dame Fighting Irish. There’s always firepower on both sides of the ball at Notre Dame, so it’ll be a tough test for the Trojans to see if they’re ready for the CFP spotlight. It’s nationally televised on a Saturday afternoon, so the whole country will be watching.

Back in conference play, USC goes back home to face Arizona then travels to Tempe, AZ to face Herm Edwards and the AP Top 25 ranked Arizona State.

Like Slovis, ASU QB Jayden Daniels is looking to make his mark in his junior year and get the attention of NFL personnel. The Sun Devils are going to battle hard for the top spot in the Pac-12 South, and beating the Trojans will get them there. It’s also worth mentioning that ESPN is predicting ASU to win.

After ASU, the Trojans travel to Berkeley, CA to take on the Golden Bears — a team that has been struggling in the last few seasons and only won one game last year.

The Trojans will then go back home and face UCLA in a game that will feature a lot of action. The Bruins are always a team that can’t be defined by their record, but they have underperformed under Chip Kelly’s leadership.

Last year’s game was a thriller that ended with Slovis taking the ball down the field and scoring the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds on the clock.

Expect the unexpected on November 20th.

After UCLA, the Trojans are finishing up their season at home against the BYU Cougars. Say what you want about BYU but they’re coming off an 11-1 record last season, and like the ND game, this one can make or break the Trojans’ season.

As much as it’d be great for the Trojans to go undefeated in the upcoming season, it’s unlikely. They can win 10 of their 12 games — and go undefeated in the conference — but without a flawless record, the college football playoffs are out of the picture.

Enough about the schedule. Let’s talk depth chart.

Though the official one isn’t going to be announced until before the first game, we can still look at who is doing what in their positions.

The offensive line is said to be the hardest position group to determine, but there’s a lot of versatility and experience there. OurLads.com has the OL from left to right as redshirt freshman Courtland Ford and redshirt seniors Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons, and Jalen McKenzie on the line.

This prediction is a good one.

Now, at tailback, it would be smarter to start the captain Vavae Malepeai over senior transfer Keaontay Ingram — who showed some strengths during Fall camp — so Ingram can maximize the carries he gets and pick up big yardage when they need it.

At wide receiver, next to junior Drake London, it’s likely going to be transfer Tahj Washington and sophomore Gary Bryant Jr. with Bru McCoy’s status with the team uncertain following a felony domestic violence arrest that the L.A. County District Attorney’s office declined to file charges on due to lack of sufficient evidence, according to the L.A. Times.

Though it’s likely some other receivers will get some playing time, those three will be the main ones to look at.

At tight end, redshirt sophomore Jude Wolfe and fifth-year senior Erik Krommenhoek will probably share the duties with the veteran likely getting more time on the field.

The defense is a whole other beast with versatility all across the board.

The likely starters on the defensive line will be fifth-year senior Nick Figueroa, redshirt freshman Jamar Sekona, and sophomore Tuli Tuipulotu — but it’s hard to count out freshman Korey Foreman from starting a few games. While Sekona was out during Fall camp, redshirt sophomore Stanley Ta’ufo’ou stepped in and shined.

Like many other groups, the linebacker position group is hard to determine with a lot of players to mention.

The only outright starter is junior Drake Jackson, but it’s safe to say junior Ralen Goforth and senior Kana’i Mauga have a chance to start.

In the secondary, the only clear cornerback starter is Chris Steele, but based on his performance in Fall camp, the other cornerback spot should be filled by Isaac Taylor-Stuart.

Captain Isaiah Pola-Mao will be starting at free safety and the strong safety should be Chase Williams — though the other guys are ready for some playing time.

When needed, Greg Johnson will likely be the nickelback for the Trojans.

As far as injuries, the Trojans have been dealing with quite a few of them so far this offseason — a few of them season-ending.

Cornerback Adonis Otey had surgery on a broken bone in his hand that’ll probably end his season, safety Briton Allen tore his ACL in fall camp, and linebacker Jordan Iosefa may be medically retiring from football, according to a report by USCFootball.com.

In the Spring, defensive tackle Brandon Pili tore his Achilles, safety Max Williams tore his ACL, and QB Mo Hasan tore his ACL in the Spring game.

The Trojans have also had a number of minor injuries that have kept players off the field, so looking at the season ahead, it might be worth noting the team’s tendencies to get hurt.

USC’s Fall camp just ended, and it was filled with question marks and exclamation points.

Who of the new guys stands out the most? Who of the veterans is most likely to take that next step into pro ball? Who of the backups is going to earn a spot in the rotation?

Michael Trigg, Ceyair Wright, Korey Foreman, Raesjon Davis, Calen Bullock, Jaxson Dart. All of the new guys who were talked about during Fall camp.

The answers will present themselves throughout the season.

The Trojans face San Jose State on Saturday, Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

Featured Photo Credit: John McGillen | USC Athletics

Ahmad Akkaoui

Author Ahmad Akkaoui

Ahmad is a sportswriter from Pasadena, Calif. who has been a fan of LA sports for as long as he can remember. He has some pretty unpopular opinions – Kurt Warner is overrated, Reggie Bush didn’t deserve to lose his Heisman, and the best high school athletes in the nation come from Los Angeles. Prove him wrong. Right now is the best time to be a fan of sports in Los Angeles, and the teams are just getting started. Ahmad plays almost every sport, but despite his confidence, he’s not very good at any of them.

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