As long as they've got Sam Darnold at QB, I think USC could win the national championship next year. I think they're that good.
At LAT, "How close is USC to winning a national championship?":
How close is USC to winning a national championship? https://t.co/bXTgflhfqk— L.A. Times Sports (@latimessports) January 4, 2017
.@ColinCowherd on Sam Darnold: "I think it's the best quarterback I've ever seen at USC." pic.twitter.com/hw8a8OiWTd— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) January 3, 2017
In a boisterous corridor outside the winning locker room following a classic Rose Bowl game on Monday evening, Lynn Swann, USC’s athletic director, was asked if the win meant the Trojans were back at the top of college football.More.
"No, if we were back at the top of the national landscape, we'd be playing on Monday, January 9th,” Swann said, referring to the national championship game. “We're not there yet. It's a building process.”
USC’s nine straight wins, its sizable chunk of returning talent and its quarterback, Sam Darnold, will likely thrust the Trojans into the national championship hunt next season. So, how close are they to being capable of winning it?
In short, they’re two offensive tackles, one linebacker, one defensive tackle and a couple receivers away. The return of a couple playmakers — receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback and return specialist Adoree’ Jackson — wouldn’t hurt either.
Whether USC can effectively plug those holes will determine whether it is a playoff or national championship team next season.
One player has elevated expectations to such levels: Darnold, who as a freshman set Rose Bowl records with five touchdown passes and 473 yards of total offense in a 52-49 victory over Penn State. It seems a foregone conclusion that he will begin next season as a Heisman Trophy front-runner. The hype is already stratospheric.
The morning after USC’s Rose Bowl victory, ESPN was teasing to a commercial with questions such as: "Will Sam Darnold be as good as Vince Young? We'll debate, next."
One his radio show, Colin Cowherd said Darnold is “the best quarterback I've ever seen at USC.” Darnold, he said, reminded him of Andrew Luck and Brett Favre.
Darnold deserves to be praised, but no team can win with one player alone. Much attention in the coming days will be given to Jackson and Smith-Schuster, who will decide whether to enter the NFL draft or return for their senior seasons. Both have said that coming back to compete for a national championship is attractive. But both are considered high-round draft prospects.
After the game, Smith-Schuster said he would “take about a few days” to make his decision. Jackson was noncommittal. “I don't know,” he said. “I'm out here living in this moment.”
The focus on Jackson and Smith-Schuster obscures what might be more impactful losses: offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner.
Unlike at cornerback, where there is a replacement, Jack Jones, waiting in the wings, or at receiver, where Darnold prefers to spread the ball around to many options, there are no clear replacements at tackle, where mistakes can be magnified.