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Pac-12 preview: Expectations are high among USC faithful, but can Clay Helton deliver the goods?

USC QB Kedon Slovis is a weapon, but can Trojans keep him safe in the pocket?

Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis throws a pass during a game against UCLA Saturday, Dec 12, 2020, in Pasadena.
Southern California quarterback Kedon Slovis throws a pass during a game against UCLA Saturday, Dec 12, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

Editor’s note: Ninth in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

Once again, the pressure’s on USC coach Clay Helton.

The Trojans fan base is restless and wants a championship. Not just a Pac-12 South title, like last season, but a Pac-12 title.

USC has one of the country’s top quarterbacks in Kedon Slovis and he has a stable of talented receivers to throw to; however, the Trojans are looking for better protection from the offensive line.

Left tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker was a first-round NFL draft pick and USC is searching for his replacement among Casey Collier and Courtland Ford. The key for the offense will be the O-line’s ability to give Slovis enough time in the pocket to get the ball to his playmakers.

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has established his “Air Raid” offense but it also needs a reliable running back.

This marks the second season for the Trojans’ defense under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. USC must replace safety Talanoa Hufanga, tackle Marlon Tuipulotu and cornerback Olaijah Griffin.

USC hosts Utah on Oct. 9 and entertains BYU on Nov. 27.

Word on the street

“Who NEEDS to win the Pac-12 South? That’s easy, USC. The pressure is on Clay Helton to do more than just lead the Trojans to the conference championship game, which they lost last season to an Oregon team that wasn’t even supposed to be in the game. Talent is not an issue for USC, on either side of the ball. But as Helton’s tenuous job security shows, his Trojan teams haven’t been able to maximize that talent. And if Helton’s job depends on (at least) winning the division again in 2021, well I hope he’s updated his resume. I like Arizona State to be on the top of the South by season’s end … The schedule isn’t easy, but ASU does get USC in Tempe. So at least Helton won’t have to hear it from the home crowd when his Trojans come up short, again.”

— Mark Ross, writing for Athlon Sports

By the numbers

2020 record: 5-1 (5-1 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7, defense: 6

Local ties

QB Jaxson Dart (Corner Canyon HS)

LB Tayler Katoa (Layton HS)

2021 schedule

Sept. 4 San Jose State

Sept. 11 Stanford

Sept. 18 @ Washington State

Sept. 25 Oregon State

Oct. 2 @ Colorado

Oct. 9 Utah

Oct. 23 @ Notre Dame

Oct. 30 Arizona

Nov. 6 @ Arizona State

Nov. 13 @ California

Nov. 20 UCLA

Nov. 27 BYU