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2021 USC college football preview: Clay Helton needs a big-time season in crucial year

USC has a talented roster, and this truly could be a make-or-break season for their head coach.

Pac 12 Championship - Oregon v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Clay Helton has seen his name on just about every preseason head coaching hot seat for several years in a row, but he remains in charge of the USC Trojans heading into 2021. It is difficult to make any judgements on a team that played half a season last year, but USC finished 5-1 with their only loss coming in the Pac-12 title game.

The Trojans feature a lot of talent on this roster, and this program should be much better than it has been in recent seasons. When USC is rolling, they are among the elite teams in college football, and that just hasn’t been the case for a while now. If this team doesn’t break through with a big year, USC might finally be taking a look at what the head coaching market looks like.

2020 Season Review

  • 5-1, 5-0 Pac-12, Lost Pac-12 Championship Game (31-24 vs. Oregon)
  • Went 5-0 in the regular season, lost the Pac-12 title, opted out of bowl game

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 7
ESPN Returning Production: 69% overall (67th): 69% offense (69th), 69% defense (73rd)
Returning Talent Index: 1.24, 4th in Pac-12
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 8/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Kedon Slovis (Junior)

Kedon Slovis took control of the quarterback position early in the 2019 season and has been a real strength of this team the past two years. Over the last two seasons, he completed 70% of his passes for 5,423 yards with 47 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He has a chance to be one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country this year especially with the talented players he has to throw to in this offense.

Offense (non-QB): WR Drake London (Junior)

The top pass catcher on this team will be 6-foot-5 wide receiver Drake London, who quit the Trojans basketball team to focus on football. In six games, he caught 33 passes for a team-high 502 yards with three touchdowns last season. London had similar numbers in eight games as a freshman in 2019, and he should be primed for a big year in a passing attack that should be improved from last year.

Defense: LB Drake Jackson (Junior)

Drake Jackson has been an All-Pac-12 linebacker the last two seasons, and he is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfield. This defense has a lot of returning talent and will look to repeat last season’s ability to create takeaways. The Trojans forced 16 turnovers in six games, and getting to the quarterback will play a big part of that. In 17 games the past two seasons, Jackson had 17 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 13th overall: 11th offense, 29th defense, 59th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 17th overall: 13th offense, 28th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +5000
To win Pac-12: +380
Win total: 8.5 (Over +100, Under -125)

2020 Against The Spread: 3-3-0
2020 Point Total: Over 1-5-0

2021 USC Schedule

2021 USC Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 San Jose State 5:00pm/Pac-12N USC -15.5/59
Saturday, Sep. 11 Stanford 10:30pm/Fox USC -14.5
Saturday, Sep. 18 at Washington State 3:30pm/Fox N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 Oregon State TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Colorado TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 Utah TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 at Notre Dame 7:30pm/NBC USC +3
Saturday, Oct. 30 Arizona TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Arizona State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 at California TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 UCLA TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 BYU TBA N/A