As another season of Pac-12 football commences, UCLA and USC are looking to dominate their competitive conference. The reigning Pac 12 champion Trojans strive for another successful season while the UCLA Bruins hope to build a contending future with former NFL coach Chip Kelly.
USC has only endured six losses over the past two seasons with Clay Helton at the helm. Yet many of their talented players have departed, including quarterback Sam Darnold and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu. Younger players must step up to take their place, the new squad evoked a sense of hope from linebacker Porter Gustin.
“The culture of the team is the best it’s been since I’ve been here by far,” he said. “With that comes a teamwork that we haven’t see before and just a togetherness that we’re gonna need this year.”
Gustin might take Nwosu’s starting position, but he might have to outperform sophomore Juliano Falaniko or Oluwole Betiku Jr. for the spot.
On Sunday, Trojan freshmen JT Daniels was named starting quarterback, beating out sophomore Matt Fink, redshirt freshmen Jack Sears, and walk-on Holden Thomas. Fink is the only candidate with collegiate experience, making six passes for 43 yards and scoring one touchdown in a win against Oregon State.
“It’s going to be about who the best player is in the moment,” Helton said at Pac-12 media day. “Because of the reps, we will do some things that provide more reps for us at that position.”
Daniels was the 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year and was All-CIF Division I Offensive Player of the Year.
There is a hole at the running back position since All-American Ronald Jones was drafted. Sophomore tailback Stephen Carr might inherit the starting role after having a breakout season consisting of 65 carries for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bruins will go into the season shorthanded, having lost linebacker Josh Woods for the season to a knee injury. Six players have also been suspended for their first game against Cincinnati with three of them out for multiple games.
“If you do something wrong, there’s a punishment that’s involved in it,” Bruins head coach Chip Kelly said. “So, that’s the way we’ve always done it.
With Josh Rosen now with the Arizona Cardinals, UCLA is also searching for a signal caller. Redshirt Sophomore Devon Modstar must prove his worth over fifth year Wilton Speight. Both players also should not underestimate freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Modstar played in five games and was key in the Bruins win over California.
Junior wide receiver Theo Howard has not yet seen Thompson-Robinson’s abilities during the player-run practices over the summer, but he has confidence in the freshman.
“In terms of physical attributes, he can do everything,” Howard said. “In terms of that mental aspect, we’ll see once fall practice starts.”
Speight has the most collegiate experience, having started 16 games for the Michigan Wolverines.
“With him, you get a vet, a guy that’s won games at Michigan,” said Bruin linebacker Josh Woods. “A guy that’s won a position battle.”
Kelly said choosing a quarterback was a “wide open deal” at Pac-12 Football media day.
“If we can have somebody that can put us in situations where we’re always kind of in a positive,” Kelly said. “We understand that we don’t have to throw for a home run. We can go from first and ten to second and five and get us into manageable situations and just keep us on the field to establish a rhythm.”
UCLA is a young team with 52 freshmen and eight seniors but has talent in defensive back Adarius Pickett, Howard, and senior defensive back Nate Meadors.
Both teams will start their season at home on September 1 with UCLA battling against Cincinnati at 4:00 P.M. and USC facing off against UNLV at 1:00 P.M.