No. 15: USC

On one hand, USC has been dealt a schedule that will test it in just about every way.

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The Trojans open with Alabama in Dallas and travel to Stanford and Utah for their third and fourth games. Their final four games, courtesy of a really tough Pac-12 North draw, are against Oregon, and at Washington and UCLA, before their finale against Notre Dame.

On the other hand, Clay Helton is well-versed in enduring tough tests. This will be the seventh season at USC for Helton, who went 6-4 as interim coach last fall after Steve Sarkisian was dismissed for an alcohol problem. Before that, Helton was an assistant when Lane Kiffin was fired on the tarmac at LAX.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Winning football games doesn’t figure to be nearly as complicated and draining as the turmoil Helton and the Trojans have been going through lately.

That’s especially true because USC is among the handful of programs (including Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, to name a few) across the nation that have all the ingredients for success, even when the ingredients don’t add up to success.

What the Trojans have is a nicely stocked cupboard. They’ll need to hold off UCLA, which has the horses and the schedule to win the Pac-12 South if USC doesn’t answer its challenges.

The Trojans return eight starters on offense, but will need to settle in on a quarterback to replace Cody Kessler. Junior Max Browne rates the edge on experience, but freshman Sam Darnold is seen as the long-term solution.

Easing the QB transition will be big-play guys like All-America wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster—now that’s an All-America name—and a pair of go-go tailbacks, Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II.

On defense, where six starters return, rebuilding the line is top priority. Interestingly, Clancy Pendergast, who was USC defensive coordinator in 2013, has been hired back to replace Justin Wilcox, a Sarkisian disciple who has moved on Wisconsin. Pendergast is talking up a 5-2 front that can shift into a 3-4 or a 4-3.

What it boils down to is whether Helton, Pendergast and offensive coordinator Tee Martin can keep USC’s considerable talent in the right places at the right times against brutal set of opponents.

That won’t be easy. But the Trojans, who once again reeled in the best recruiting class in the Pac-12 (and top 10 in the nation), have a lot of candidates to navigate one of the nation’s toughest schedules.

Herb's Countdown so far: No. 16: Georgia

So Blau has Georgia 15th when I have them 16th? Woof! Woof! I’m wondering if he’s going to leave the Ole Miss crowd feeling as rebellious as I will. (Hint No. 1). . . . Duf’s right. The Washington bandwagon is awfully crowded for a team with the Huskies’ recent resume. I’ve certainly got an excellent seat on it. (Hint No. 2).

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