LOS ANGELES — If you look at the age of many of the most-talented players on USC’s roster, you can easily make a case that in one year the Trojans will be ranked No. 1 in the nation.
There are a lot of third-year juniors and redshirt sophomores who will undoubtedly be better 12 months from now. But for precisely this reason, USC needs to treat this season as an all-or-nothing attempt to win a national title. Or at least make the College Football Playoff.
Can anyone say with certainty whether the following players will return next season? Quarterback Sam Darnold; tailback Ronald Jones; wide receiver Deontay Burnett; tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe; right tackle Chuma Edoga; defensive tackle Rasheem Green; linebacker Porter Gustin; linebacker Cameron Smith; cornerback Iman Marshall; safety Marvell Tell.
Even if Darnold ignored projections as one of the top three picks in the NFL Draft and returned for 2018, it could be a vastly different team if most of his draft-eligible teammates departed. The defense alone could take a huge hit as many mock drafts list Marshall, Gustin, Smith and Green as players capable of being selected in the first three rounds.
If those four departed, you could not replace all of them. Right now, most of these players simply say decisions about their future will come after the season. But history at USC tells us if a player has a good chance to go pro, he will.
Sometimes, they still go pro. Like when wide receiver George Farmer and linebacker Dion Bailey left early without any assurances of even being drafted.
Naturally, Darnold gets the most attention.
“It’s interesting to see what people say about me. But it’s not really in my thoughts,” Darnold said. “I’m open to embracing those questions. It is what it is. It’s going to be really interesting to see what we’re capable of this season.”
Yes, this season. No one can predict the future. But USC coach Clay Helton knows his roster for 2017. He also knows he has a manageable schedule.
The fans love to project into the future. Coaches live for today. They might not be around in a year.
With everyone expecting USC to make the College Football Playoff, anything less will be viewed as a disappointment.
That is why it is so important for USC to reach its potential this season. There are no guarantees in the future. Next summer, the Trojans would not be considered a lock for the Final Four if most of their key players leave for the NFL.
Even when the roster is loaded, you…