photo credit via Universal PIctures
The scoreboard read 34-27. It was the fourth Trojan loss in five weeks. It should not have shocked anyone.
USC struggled in its season opener against UNLV before finally beating the Rebels, 43-21. For perspective, consider this: UTEP, New Mexico, Utah State, San Jose State and Fresno State all scored more points on UNLV than USC.
New Mexico beat UNLV 50-14, Utah State won 59-28 and Fresno State won 48-3. That first game should have been an omen. Perhaps everyone was too busy celebrating the first week of football to sound the alarms.
The staggering 17-3 loss to Stanford the following week was the beginning of the end. Three points was all USC could muster up? San Diego State and UC Davis scored 10 points on the Cardinal. Oregon State scored 17.
Instead of slowly improving, the Trojans have "escaped with a win" here and there. They have not dominated one team this entire season. USC has regressed.
Why should head coach Clay Helton be relieved of his duties now? The list below should have more than enough firepower to move this football program into the next era.
No one wants to see a man lose his livelihood. His termination not only affects his family but his entire staff and their families. College football coaching is a cut throat, not for the faint-of-heart industry. Helton knows this. He is undoubtedly preparing for his walking papers.
1. The O-line, once a strength, is now a liability.
If the O-line does not get more productive, the exceptional quarterbacks in USC's stable will get hurt. See Josh Rosen for more on this.
2. Tailback U cannot run the ball.
The Trojan offense is one-dimensional and thus, cannot keep defenses honest. Every defensive back—scratch that, make it the entire back seven—knows USC is going to pass.
Blitzing or tightening up zone coverage is a disaster for a freshman quarterback. Throwing the ball consistently means USC's running game has been abandoned. Helton has no faith in sustaining a drive through ball control. USC's game plan is an open book. throw deep and hope for a miracle.
3. The coaching carousel has already begun
Colorado has terminated Mike MacIntyre. Kansas fired David Beaty several weeks ago and has already hired Les Miles. For what it's worth, Miles was my first choice as the next Trojan head coach. USC needs to start its search now and not wait until more hats in the ring get snatched up by other schools' vacancies in December.
4. Nice guys finish last
Clay Helton is one of the nicest men you will ever meet. His drawl is comforting, his genuineness is refreshing. The players love him. (So, apparently, do UCLA fans. They have voiced their dismay on Social Media over him possibly getting terminated.)
Helton is so nice, it may have interfered with his decision-making.
Neil Callaway, the former O-line coach, was a head coach at UAB and finished with an 18-42 record. Did Helton's friendship with Callaway prevent him from terminating him earlier in the season? Maybe. And that should alarm USC boosters.
5. Helton opted to pass against one of the worst rushing defenses in the country
Prior to kickoff, UCLA was ranked No. 111 in defending the run. USC rushed for 112 yards against the Bruins' defense and is currently ranked 10th in the conference for rushing offense.
Since Helton took over playcalling duties from Tee Martin, the offense has slumped even more and that has impacted the defense. Three-and-outs give the defense no rest. While UCLA's defense looked refreshed and full of life, USC's looked soft and porous.
6. The fan support has been declining
The Rose Bowl looked pretty empty on Saturday night. Announced attendance of 57,116 is deceptive—that number is based on tickets sold, not butts in seats and the stadium looked more than half empty.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has looked more like a mausoleum on Saturdays when USC is playing a home game. It is a horrible look on television, but even more so for prospects.
Recruits do not want their families having to stay up to the wee hours of the morning to watch them play because networks do not want to broadcast USC games in primetime. Everything has consequences.
7. Waiting until the postseason to make a decision will affect recruiting
If you are a 5-star recruit, do you still commit to a school which is being wishy-washy regarding its coach's status? Do you commit to a school that may hang on to its coach for one more year, hoping for a season miracle that probably will not occur?
Do you want to play for Mike Leach, Chip Kelly, Chris Petersen or (maybe) Clay Helton?
8. USC does not look like a quality program despite its 5-star athletes
Remember when it was 4th-and-9 in South Bend, Indiana in 2005? Remember how you were somewhat confident that USC could still convert and win the game? Do you have that same confidence this year when it's 3rd-and-1 against any team?
USC, as of now, is not a quality opponent for any Power 5 school. A quality loss is when a team loses a very close game to a highly-regarded team. A quality win is beating a highly-regarded team. Washington State lost to USC 39-36. The Cougars do not get the benefit of a quality loss. Had they won, the victory would not have improved their resume. Shockingly, USC is diminishing other teams' strength of schedule.
9. USC is undisciplined
The Trojans are ranked 121st in penalties out of 130 teams. Woof.
One of the biggest indicators of unrest and frustration on a team is unsportsmanlike penalties and cheap shots. USC looked like a cheap shot artist against UCLA when defensive Brandon Pili punched Christaphanny Murray. He should have been ejected.
In 2016, tackle Chuma Edoga took a swing at an official during the Utah State game and was immediately ejected. These (and more) have happened under Helton's tenure. Do Nick Saban, Chris Petersen or Dabo Swinney have this problem? These inexcusable penalties have killed drives and killed momentum.
10. USC has no leadership and no identity
This is a tough pill to swallow. On both sides of the ball, there appears to be not one single player who consistently fires up his teammates. There is a spark missing.
The one unit that appears to be doing very well under Helton is special teams. But the offense is neither a rushing or passing unit. It tries to run but it cannot. It tries to pass and while it achieves some success, it also suffers many misfires.
The defense lacks teeth. It is not fearsome—it actually kept lowly Oregon State in the game for three quarters. On Saturday, the defense gave up almost 300 rushing yards to one Bruin running back. One. Major props to Joshua Kelley for a superb day.
USC will not beat Notre Dame. My prediction? Notre Dame 58 USC 25. Most of the Trojans' points will come late in the fourth quarter when the Irish have their reserves in the game.
For the first time since 1999, USC will not be going bowling due to a losing record. (In 2009-10, USC was not eligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions)
For the first time in a long time, and perhaps ever, USC fans will be muttering under their breath, "at least there's basketball season."