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Never Too Early

USC_Football_Rose_Bowl_2017_PSU_mcgillen_1720.jpgAlready thinking about the 2017 USC football season?

So are a number of media organizations, which couldn't wait to put out 2017 preseason Top 25 lists as soon as the clock hit zero in last night's national championship.

Sports Illustrated, ESPN and FOX Sports all ranked the Trojans in the Top 5 heading into next season.

The Trojans came in at No. 2 in SI's Way-Too-Early Top 25 for one reason: QB Sam Darnold. Only Alabama sits ahead of SC on the list.

ESPN, which put USC at No. 3 on its list, also noted that Darnold and at least five other returning starters on offense would lead the way next season, while recognizing that USC's nonconference slate (Western Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame) is one of the toughest in the nation.

FOX Sports slotted the Trojans at No. 4, behind Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson. FOX stressed the importance of replacing senior tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler to protect "Heisman favorite" Darnold.

Want to catch the Trojans in 2017? Purchase season tickets by clicking here!


Senior Bowl Bound

USC_Football_Rose_Bowl_2017_PSU_mcgillen_4981.jpgUSC's Zach Banner and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu have accepted invites to the Reese's Senior Bowl, giving them one last chance to show their stuff before the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Senior Bowl, which takes place on Saturday, Jan. 28 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, AL, features the top seniors in the nation and gives NFL coaches an up-close look at the players. This year, the Cleveland Browns coaching staff will lead the Senior Bowl's South team, and the Chicago Bears coaching staff will lead the North.

Banner, a team captain this year, anchored an offensive line that only allowed 12 sacks this season (T-6th-fewest in the nation).

Tu'ikolovatu arrived as a grad transfer from Utah this year and made an immediate impact. As the starting nose tackle, he racked up 53 tackles on the season, including 2 TFL. He earned Defensive MVP honors for leading the Trojans in tackles in USC's comeback win vs. Penn State in the Rose Bowl Game.

Last year, Cody Kessler and Soma Vainuku represented USC in the Senior Bowl. Kessler was drafted in the third round (No. 91 overall) by the Cleveland Browns, while Vainuku went undrafted but signed as a free agent with the Texans.

Catch Banner and Tu'ikolovatu in this year's Senior Bowl on Jan. 29 at 11:30 a.m. PT on NFL Network.


USC Fan Super Cut

On January 2, the Trojan Family shared a magical moment together inside the Rose Bowl Stadium when Matt Boermeester split the uprights with the game-winning kick, so we spliced together some of your videos to capture the emotion from your perspective.

Three for Me

Ranking.jpgWhen the dust settled on the 2016 college football season and the final AP Top 25 came out this morning, USC was slotted just behind the two national title contenders, at No. 3.

USC's No. 3 slot is its highest finish in the final AP ranking since the end of the 2008 season, when, coincidentally, the Trojans' 12-1 season culminated in a Rose Bowl win over Penn State. It's the highest ranking of any three-loss team in the history of the AP Poll.

The Trojans finish the 2016 football season ranked in the Top 20 of a number of important categories: Total Offense (No. 20), Third Down Conversions ( No. 11), First Downs (No. 12), Punt Return Avg (No. 6) and Sacks Allowed (No. 6).

First-year head coach Clay Helton is a finalist for the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year Award and was named FWAA's First Year Co-Coach of the Year. Freshman QB Sam Darnold was named the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP, a freshman All-American and the Archie Griffin Award winner for college football's MVP, while junior CB Adoree' Jackson won the prestigious Thorpe Award.

USC earned its first 10-win season since 2013 and its first Rose Bowl trophy since 2009. The Trojans head into 2017 with a strong group of young players ready to take this team to the next level.

Sights and Sounds: USC vs. Penn State

USC head coach Clay Helton asked his team for "60 minutes of fight" and that's exactly what the Trojans gave him.

Mama to the NFL

USC junior offensive guard Damien Mama has decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. He made the announcement along with a thank you letter to the Trojan Family on his Instagram page.

A photo posted by Damien Mama (@dmama51) on

Dazzling Darnold

Once USC QB Sam Darnold assumed the starting role this season, he took the nation by storm. Darnold earned the respect of many USC alumni and national media members despite taking a loss in his first career start.

Since that loss to Utah on Sept. 23, the San Clemente native has led the team to nine consecutive wins, including an upset of then-No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Penn State in the 103rd annual Rose Bowl Game.

Darnold put together perhaps his best performance of the year at the Granddaddy of Them All, proving no stage is too big for the 19-year-old. He went 33-of-53 (62.3 pct) including a 10-of-10 clip in the fourth quarter to engineer the biggest comeback in Rose Bowl Game history. He finished with a Rose Bowl Game-record 5 TD passes and 473 total yards of offense.

Darnold's groundbreaking performance caught the eye of Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott, who's currently in the running for NFL Rookie of the Year and MVP.

Legendary wide receiver Terrell Owens was also impressed by the kid's game:

Trojan Heisman winner Matt Leinart has been one of Darnold's biggest proponent's all season, and offered perhaps his biggest compliment so far after the freshman earned Rose Bowl Game Offensive MVP:

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit couldn't believe his eyes watching the freshman deal all game, and FOX Sports Radio host Clay Travis remarked on his poise under pressure.

The praise wasn't limited to those who had graced the gridiron or the broadcast booth, though. Darnold's performance even caught the eye of hip hop artist Plies.

Darnold heads into spring ball surrounded by a strong offensive corps, and the brightest days may lay ahead.

SooHoo Galleries: USC vs. Penn State

The 103rd annual Rose Bowl Game was so momentous that we needed two photographers to capture every angle. Team photographer John McGillen's photos are below, while you can view three galleries from legendary Los Angeles sports photographer Jon SooHoo here.

McGillen Galleries: 103rd Annual Rose Bowl Game

Though they arrived at the Rose Bowl Stadium cool, calm and collected, the Trojans couldn't hide their emotion after winning their 25th Rose Bowl Game in stunning come-from-behind fashion. USC team photographer John McGillen was on the field to capture every second of the record-setting win.

Rose Bowl Trojan of the Game: Sam Darnold

The Trojan Family voted USC QB Sam Darnold the Mercury Insurance Trojan of the Game for his record-setting performance in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game. The redshirt freshman passed for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns in USC's 52-49 victory over Penn State.


Championship Gear

Everything Came Up Roses


6-Points: USC 52, Penn State 49

The Trojans rallied from 14 points down in the the fourth quarter to win the 2017 Rose Bowl!

Click here for the recap and final stats.

Click here for the Rapid Reaction.

Final-USC-PSU.jpegFight On

How do you sum up history? USC head coach Clay Helton resorted to words that he has said so many times, calling these Trojans "the embodiment of Fight On." It took every resilient ounce the Trojans could muster to pull out a Rose Bowl Game that mirrored the ups and downs of this season and this program's last eight years. "I felt in my gut that this was going to be a 60-minute game," said Helton. "They just found a way to get it done." Trailing 49-35, the Trojans won the fourth quarter, 17-0, to set off a celebration that exorcised years worth of frustration for the Trojan Family.

The Dream Kick

Overtime beckoned. The Trojans tied the game with 1:20 left on the clock, knowing they needed a defensive stop just to get to the extra session. Instead, Leon McQuay III, at the second time of asking, picked off Penn State QB Trace McSorley to tee up a 46-yard, walk-off field goal for Matt Boermeester. After the game, surrounded by teammates alternating between screaming and crying, USC's redshirt junior kicker was as cool as ice. He talked about his "process" and "technique", comparing the kick to every other one from his career. One day, Boermeester will fully understand that he drilled one of the most iconic field goals in USC history. "It hasn't really hit me yet," he admitted. "I'm just happy I got the opportunity to do so."

Young Jedi

USC redshirt freshman QB Sam Darnold is not big on emotion either. The San Clemente kid displayed a "laser-like focus" for four quarters, according to his head coach, setting a Rose Bowl record with 5 touchdown passes en route to winning the offensive MVP award. He needed every one. Darnold also threw for 453 yards, three shy of a Rose Bowl record, and he needed every one of those too. Faced with having to move the team 80 yards in two minutes and without any timeouts, Darnold carved up the Penn State defense in 39 seconds to tie the game. "I love the quiet confidence about him," said Helton about his QB. "You never saw his demeanor change tonight."

The Blue Shirt

In less than a month, USC will celebrate its 2017 recruiting class at National Signing Day. As a "blue shirt", an unrecruited player who does not get announced until the fall when he enrolls, sophomore WR Deontay Burnett never got that moment. And while USC is dependent on five-star talents like Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, where would the Trojans have been tonight without Burnett? He finished his first Rose Bowl with 13 catches (a USC Rose Bowl record) for 164 yards and 3 TD (tying a Rose Bowl record). "I always dreamed of this. I always dreamed of coming to USC and playing in a Rose Bowl," said Burnett. "Every day I go against the best, and when you take that and translate it to Saturday, you have success."

Short Memories

After shutting out Penn State in the first quarter, the USC defense gave up touchdowns on seven consecutive Penn State drives. Instead of folding up shop, the Trojans fought back, blanking the Nittany Lions in the fourth quarter to provide the platform for a stirring comeback. "We hit a point where we said enough is enough," OLB Uchenna Nwosu said. "The offense did a great job and kept us in the game. They didn't give up. We knew we had an offensive brother so the defensive brothers had to come together." Senior DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu was named the Rose Bowl defensive MVP after leading the Trojans with eight tackles.

The Train Rolls On

With a Heisman candidate returning at quarterback and Rose Bowl momentum at their backs, the Trojans will steam into the offseason and set the highest goals in 2017. "I think it shows the progress of our football team as a whole," said Helton about the value of winning this game going forward. "We are definitely headed in the right direction with the experience and cohesiveness of this staff and some very talented young kids. I love where we are going. We are not a finished product. We believe in winning championships here." While Helton and the Trojans will not be satisfied until they are raising the Pac-12 and national championship trophies, for one night at least, the Trojan Family can exult in a magical day at the Rose Bowl.

Here are the game highlights from highest-scoring Rose Bowl ever:

2017 Rose Bowl Game: USC vs. Penn State

No. 9 USC Trojans vs. No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions

Rose Bowl Stadium at 2 p.m. PT on ESPN and WatchESPN

Saquon-Barkley.jpgNittany Lion to Watch: Sophomore RB Saquon Barkley

The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year is the most complete back that the Trojans have faced all season. He ran for 1,302 yards and a conference-high 16 TD, plus he made 23 catches for 347 yards and 3 TD. Penn State would love nothing more than to come into Pasadena and show off the classic Big Ten power game by punishing USC with Barkley.

Click here for more on the Nittany Lions.

3 Keys

Strength vs. Strength

The USC offensive line against the Penn State front seven is the matchup to watch. The Trojans, led by All-American offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner, gave up only 11 sacks all season, the fewest in the Pac-12. The Nittany Lions, keyed by Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels, racked up 39 sacks on the campaign, second in the Big Ten. With a rejuvenated JuJu Smith-Schuster ready to wreak havoc on the Penn State secondary, Penn State must pressure USC QB Sam Darnold into mistakes or the Nittany Lions will be at his mercy.

Rise and Grind

Penn State came out of the gates slowly on offense, being held to 191 total yards by Michigan and 276 total yards by Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions sprinted to the finish. Ultimately, PSU had the third best offense in the Big Ten, totaling 400+ yards of offense in each of the last six games. Penn State found its stride one explosive play at a time. The Nittany Lions broke 28 plays from scrimmage for 40 or more yards, the fourth most in the country. The USC defense struggled at times, particularly early (9 of 17 40-yard+ plays allowed in September), giving up big plays (third most in the Pac-12). The Trojans need to make Penn State earn every yard in Pasadena.

Cliches Win Championships

"We need to play 60 minutes of football." Yeah, it's a coaching cliche, but it holds true when playing Penn State, a renowned second half team. The Nittany Lions were down, 28-7, to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game before rallying to win, 38-31. "We need to dominate in all three phases." The focus is always on offense and defense, but special teams will be massive. Penn State upset No. 2 Ohio State thanks to a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. "Special players make special plays on special days." No shortage of star power in this game. Who wants to be a Rose Bowl hero?

The Last Word

USC head coach Clay Helton has held press conference after press conference in anticipation of Monday's Rose Bowl. Finally this morning, he held his biggest and last media availability to preview the game, express his excitement for the opportunity and much more.

Rose Bowl Thursday #3: Notes

Just like the offense yesterday, the USC defensive stars and coordinator Clancy Pendergast met with the media today at a Rose Bowl press conference in Carson.

Leventhal Stat of the Week - Rose Bowl Game

In the words of USC RB Justin Davis, "USC and the Rose Bowl go together like peanut butter and jelly."

As funny as it may sound, USC does have a more storied history in the Rose Bowl Game than perhaps any other team in the nation.

No other team has appeared in as many Rose Bowls as the Trojans, who will compete in their 33rd on Monday (not including one appearance vacated due to NCAA penalty). No team has won as many Rose Bowls either, as USC boasts 24 victories in the Granddaddy of Them All.

Not only does USC have more wins in the Rose Bowl Game than any other team in the nation --- it has more wins in the Rose Bowl Game than any team has in any single bowl game. Two of those wins came against Penn State, as USC topped the Nittany Lions, 14-3, in the 1923 Rose Bowl Game, and beat them 38-24 in 2009.

The Trojans will compete for their 25th Rose Bowl trophy on Monday, Jan. 2 at 2 p.m.


Disneyland Day

The Trojans were right at home in "the happiest place on Earth."

Rose Bowl Wednesday #2: Notes

On a wet and cool evening, the Trojans practiced on the artificial surface inside the Loker Track.
  • No new injuries to report. OL Khaliel Rodgers is still in concussion protocol.
  • While the Trojans will report to the team hotel downtown next week, they will continue to practice at their home facility, which head coach Clay Helton sees as an advantage. He pointed out that USC went 7-0 in Los Angeles this season.
  • The players are appreciative of the opportunity to stay home for the holidays and play in front of the local fans in the game that they grew up watching. "It's such an honor to play for a bowl that has so much history behind it. It is what we strive for every single year," said LB Cameron Smith. "It's good to give it back to the fans. We feel very proud as a team to be here."
  • While the Penn State offense is led by Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year RB Saquon Barkley, the passing attack can devastate opponents with explosive plays. The wide receivers use "a lot of double moves" to get behind the secondary, CB Iman Marshall said. "If your eyes are not right, you can get caught in the trickery of their offense," he continued.
  • To avoid the big plays, Helton also emphasized keeping Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley in the pocket because he is "extremely dangerous with those big receivers once he gets out there."
  • Marshall and the rest of the USC secondary has benefited from working against a talent like Sam Darnold in practice every day. "He's so accurate that you have to be technically sound. He can throw it in crazy windows, throw it off his back foot," Marshall said. "I have seen him make some crazy throws. He makes you be more of a technician."
  • If Adoree' Jackson leaves for the NFL, Marshall will likely step into that role of top cover man. Helton explained that the sophomore has improved in coverage by learning to use his hands and physicality without drawing penalties. "Having the opportunity to learn from dudes like Adoree' Jackson, the Thorpe Award winner, just seeing how he composed and controlled himself through this whole process, I feel like I will take the torch really well," said Marshall about potentially facing the opponent's best next season.
  • The Trojans are in the middle of week two in what will be three full weeks of preparation for the Rose Bowl. "We get to focus on the little things and some of the things that we have not touched on since camp," said Smith about the benefit of all the practice time. "It's been important for us take that next step as a team."
  • Here is Helton's full press conference on the excitement of the Rose Bowl, USC's NFL-style pass rushers and more:

Rose Bowl Tuesday #2: Notes

After a full week of game planning, USC hit the practice field on Tuesday to prepare for Penn State all over again.
  • USC_Football_Utah_State_2016_McGillen_DSC_4754.JPGUSC head coach Clay Helton gave two injury updates: CB Jonathan Lockett successfully underwent hip surgery and will start rehab tomorrow, and OL Nate Smith is set to undergo ACL surgery on Thursday.
  • Helton noted that after a week of looking at tape for the Rose Bowl Game, he's even more impressed with Penn State RB Saquon Barkley. Helton called him "the most complete back" USC has faced this season. The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has racked up 1,302 rush yards and 347 receiving yards this year.
  • USC boasted a strong run game this year, too, anchored by senior Justin Davis (pictured) and sophomore Ronald Jones II. Davis, who missed three games with an ankle injury earlier this season, said he's feeling the best he's felt since getting injured. "This time has done a lot of good things for me," he said. "Just getting back to form, and definitely these bowl practices right now are helping me out a lot."
  • While Davis appreciates the extra practice time, Helton wants to make sure the Trojans keep their energy up in these practices, despite not playing for another 12 days. "I've really believed in the routine this year," he said. "I'm hoping that routine keeps us in check ... Keeping these guys kind of like they're playing this Saturday."
  • Davis is chomping at the bit to carry on USC's tradition of playing in the Rose Bowl Game. "That's our game. We kind of own it," he said. "Just to get back there, we're all excited for the opportunity, and we're playing a great team in Penn State. We can't wait."
  • The Granddaddy of Them All will be Davis' last game in a Trojan uniform, and he promises to soak it all in. "I'm loving every second of it," the Stockton, CA native said. "I'm going to cherish this last month, or this last few weeks as a Trojan, because I know they're going to be amazing."
  • Senior OT Chad Wheeler will also play his last game in Cardinal & Gold at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. The newly crowned first team All-American acknowledged his offensive line coach, Neil Callaway, for helping him refine his technique and motivating the unit to push each other to play their best all season.
  • Helton praised both Wheeler and senior OT Zach Banner, whom he called the "bookends" of the offensive line. "I can't think of the last time they haven't started," he said. "And to be in there day in and day out --- the energy they bring at practice, the leadership that they bring at practice and then on game day, and then to protect that quarterback's back side ... it's because of how your tackles are playing."
  • The whole offensive unit will be asked to step up to make sure USC QB Sam Darnold doesn't get hurt, since the departure of Max Browne leaves a hole on the depth chart. Helton is confident, however, in Jalen Greene's ability to step in in an emergency. "You see shines of brilliance," he said. "He's such a great athlete that it's kind of like riding a bike. Is every throw perfect? No. But is he being efficient? Getting the ball in the right place? Yes, he is."
  • Watch Helton's full press conference here:

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