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.

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Pac-12 preview: Was upset of archrival Ducks a sign of things to come for Oregon State?
Pac-12 preview: Does returned missionary Tanner McKee have inside track to Stanford’s starting QB job?
Pac-12 preview: Can 2021 Bruins help Chip Kelly keep his job?

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. 

Can Pac-12 football become nationally relevant again, earn spot in College Football Playoff?

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 

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Nov. 6 @ Arizona State

Nov. 13 @ California

Nov. 20 UCLA

Nov. 27 BYU

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