Before a dejected USC left AT&T Stadium and returned to Los Angeles early Saturday morning, Coach Clay Helton thanked his seniors, “who laid the foundation for the next step, which is making it to the playoffs and winning a national championship.”
But if Helton seriously wants to be a national-title contender, he must first change the culture within his football program.
USC cannot win a national title until it becomes more disciplined and players know they do not run the program. It is one thing to have a players’ coach like USC legend Pete Carroll, but it is something else to have a penalty-prone team that routinely celebrates its own mistakes.
When USC played this season, it was commonplace for players to snap back at coaches during games. It was ordinary for players to be assessed unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. It was also possible to see USC forget to send 11 men on the field for extra points.
Just look at what happened near the end of Ohio State’s 24-7 victory over the Trojans. When USC quarterback Sam Darnold was hit after going out of bounds, the Trojans’ sideline completely lost control and players sparred with a few Ohio State players.
Meanwhile, most of the Ohio State players remained on their side of the field with Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer in control of the situation. There was chaos on the USC sideline as cornerback Jamel Cook left the bench and was ejected. Cornerback Jack Jones also lost his composure.
Helton won 21 games the past two seasons but also established a reputation for letting players exert too much power.
No team can win a national title with so much bedlam. It was masked for two years by the exploits of Darnold.
But it clearly takes a toll whenever USC plays elite teams. Alabama and Ohio State were too well-coached and organized for the always-loose Trojans.
A massive makeover is required, including some changes within the coaching staff. But it will not happen unless Athletic Director Lynn Swann forces Helton’s…