ARLINGTON, Texas — The early months of 2017 saw USC greeted with significant fanfare, following its thrilling Rose Bowl comeback led by star quarterback Sam Darnold.
Uncertainty awaits in 2018.
Although the Trojans secured their first conference championship in nearly a decade, it was a dispiriting finish Friday night in the Cotton Bowl, handed a convincing 24-7 loss by Ohio State that muddied an 11-3 season.
“We’ve had 11 wins, we’ve won a Pac-12 championship, we’re proud of those accomplishments,” USC coach Clay Helton said after the game, “but are we satisfied? No, we’re not. We won’t be satisfied until we win a national championship, and that will be our goal.”
After consecutive New Year’s Six bowl appearances, it is unknown if USC might move any closer toward cracking the College Football Playoff or seriously vying for a national championship. It was widely expected to contend for a playoff berth this season, with prominent playmakers on offense such as Darnold, the one-time Heisman Trophy favorite, and running back Ronald Jones, who climbed as high as fifth on the school’s career-rushing list.
But Darnold and Jones are among 10 underclassmen considering whether to enter the NFL draft, potential departures that would inevitably adjust preseason expectations for next fall.
Though expected to declare for the draft, neither player revealed his future plans when meeting with reporters in the locker room after the Cotton Bowl. Both Darnold and Jones said they first planned to consult with family members and coaches and avoided revealing a timeframe for any decision.
“Right now, I think I’m really just focused on hanging out with my teammates for the next couple of days and really just saying bye to the seniors because they’ve put together such a great season,” Darnold said. “But it’s tough. I’ll look at everything and make my decision after that.”
The third-year sophomore passer, though ending with 22 turnovers this…