It’s a little early to call for Clay Helton’s head on a pike

I don’t think I’ve written about USC football since the Trojans got their heads kicked in by Alabama. With good reason, I wrongly anticipated the upset. I know when I’ve goofed from irrational exuberance, which is why you haven’t heard me talk about the presidency, either.

Anyway, USC hasn’t shown a lot of fight in its first four games and must win six of its final eight games to be over .500. That schedule includes traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, not to mention a road trip to Washington, which is in the conference title discussion after beating the daylights out of Stanford 44-6 last night.

So the rumblings have begun, perhaps more in cyberspace than Heritage Hall, for the swift ouster of coach Clay Helton.

Helton wouldn’t have been my first choice, either. The guy I wanted to run the program is currently the interim head coach at LSU — Ed Orgeron. Having said that, it’s complaining over spilled milk. Any discussion about a new USC coach is complaining over spilled milk. Helton should ride out the year.

Consider the instability that has pummeled the program since Pete Carroll left to return to the NFL in 2010. Four coaches. Three athletic directors. Scholarship sanctions. Bowl bans. The latter has to do with prestige. The sanctions drain the talent level. The first two are a measure of accountability, chain of command. These things matter when trying to get 11 people on a field to work as one.

It could easily be argued that two of those coaches — Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkesian — were blind stabs to rekindle Carroll’s run. Neither one of them could even come close, Kiffin the micromanager, Sarkesian an undisciplined addict. Kiffin may be laughing now as offensive coordinator at Alabama, but in the recesses of his mind, he knows he blew the best coaching job he would ever have in LA.

The hiring of Helton, in my opinion, wasn’t an attempt to rediscover Carroll’s results. It was a move to completely break free from that era. It’s over. Been so for a long time. Carson Palmer hasn’t played for Carroll in 14 years, for Pete’s sake.

Helton wants to create a nasty team that smashes opponents in the face, think Stanford. Recall he was given a Sarkesian recruiting class of finesse players, think Oregon. This rebuild of a bridge over troubled waters for USC simply won’t take a day. It’s more than a playbook. It’s the hearts and minds of the players.

Carroll was the last time USC undertook such a drastic change and succeeded. His career coaching the Trojans started out at 1-4 and finished with a whimper at the Las Vegas Bowl. Next thing you know, the Trojans ruled LA as much as the Showtime Lakers did.

Understand, I’m still not sold on Helton, either. I wanted Orgeron. I think he’ll perform famously in the Bayou.

But canning the guy halfway through season one? Please.

And I await your hatred should the Trojans fall to Arizona State tonight.

The hunch: USC shocks Alabama

I admit up front I might need my head examined.

I also acknowledge that I have a bias against the SEC. Oh, I don’t think the conference sucks, but I do think it’s a good-ol’ boy network that protected itself in the polls at the expense of the rest of the nation. Memo to hillbilly sportswriters typing without opposable thumbs: The SEC is the greatest because it’s the SEC is not an argument.

But I digress…

This season kickoff between two powerhouse football programs in Dallas smells bad for the defending national champions. The more I think about it, I believe No. 24 USC will beat the third-ranked Crimson Tide.

If I’m wrong, so be it. At the start of the season, there is more guesswork involved because you’re bringing in new players that are unknowns on the bigger stage. 

Speaking of new players, many of them play for Alabama — including quarterback, running back and on defense, four of the Tide’s front seven. Quarterback is a curious situation for coach Nick Saban. Even today, he claims he hasn’t decided between junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett.

I don’t buy that. Assume Saban is fibbing to his adoring simpletons in the SEC press corps and has a starter, though. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has a history of conservative playcalling at the start of the season. If you’re a USC fan, you know this well. Kiffin called so many bubble screens when he coached the Trojans even an idiot like me could see them coming.

The Trojans, meanwhile, are returning 10 starters on offense. Granted, replacing a quarterback is a tall order, but junior Max Browne is surrounded with nothing but veterans who are unlikely to be easily rattled. 

And USC returns six defensive starters, to boot. The Trojans weakness there is on defensive line.

So this is what I see happening: two teams protecting inexperienced quarterbacks by running first against an opponent’s unproven defensive front. That should keep the score down at first, giving USC a shot.

In that scenario, can you envision the Trojans experienced line protecting Browne enough to hit Juju Smith-Schuster or other returning receivers? Or Kiffin’s repetitive bubble screens working all night?

If anything, USC returns all four of its starting defensive backs. They know that screen is coming often. I think they adjust.

I think they can shut Lane Kiffin the hell up the same way Tampa Bay knew what the Oakland Raiders were running in Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Of course, if I’m wrong, screw it.