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.

Well, 1-for-2 on opening week predictions isn’t good enough

Random takeaways from yesterday’s first full day of college football, starting with the L.A. teams because I’m a faithful Angelino, even though I live with hurricanes now instead of earthquakes:

1) Kirk Herbstreit said absolutely nothing I can contest during Alabama’s systematic 52-6 destruction of USC in Dallas last night. Not that I look for reasons to accuse announcers of bias. Trust me, when announcers are biased, they aren’t sneaky about it. Listen to local Chicago sports broadcasts if you want proof.

Having said that, Herbstreit was darn near a prophet after Alabama’s first score in the second quarter. Without having the transcript of the broadcast in front of me — God help me if I did — he said that in trying to rebuild the Trojans program, a flaw they needed to overcome was wilting under the first strains of adversity.

At 7-3, USC was in the game. Only the Trojans went three and out and on the ensuing punt, Jabari Ruffin acted like Ndamukong Suh by stomping an Alabama player in the testicles. Now, I may be a SoCal dude, but I learned at that moment I’m more “dude” than “SoCal,” because my instant reaction was “throw that motherf-cker out.”

If ever there was an indicator that all composure was gone for USC, that was it. It went from a simple strain of adversity to full-blown panic and immaturity.

I don’t think the Trojans did one thing right after that, and they suffered their worst loss in 50 years. There’s no point in further recapping it. There is only the question of whether USC can rebound. Clay Helton still hasn’t won a football game since becoming the full-time coach, by the way.

2) UCLA pretty much earned the result predicted. It makes sense that Texas A&M would find a way to cobble together four touchdowns and the Bruins would be hard-pressed to match that because the Aggies defensive line would bother Josh Rosen. Final score: Texas A&M 31-24.

But I still have to hand credit to the Bruins. Indeed, I have to hand it to most teams in college football this weekend because…

3) With the exception of Alabama, the SEC is a fraud. I’ve been saying it for years and yesterday bore that out.

For years, the opening week for college football was dreck. If you were a team with any hope of climbing the rankings, your first two or three games were against horrible teams. The SEC teams would pad their win column, their stats, get a couple of overrated players some Heisman hype — LSU — and then face each other. And every game was billed as a clash of titans, even though these alleged Goliaths hadn’t played anyone worth a damn.

It always bothered me, because sportswriters — exclusively from the east coast — would assure us that the SEC was that amazing. Because after all, they’re the ones with the inside dope. They know.

No, they don’t.

Eventually, the TV execs finally got through. Entertainment types wield power. They write big checks. Maybe those checks are even big enough to get running water for every double wide trailer in Fayetteville, Ark. But those greenbacks came with a caveat. Playing poop teams equals poop ratings. Time to earn you keep, Earl.

So how did this alleged collection of Deep South superteams fare when picking on somebody their own size? Tennessee needed overtime to win at home, as did Texas A&M. Florida needed two late touchdowns to finally beat UMass. Georgia and Arkansas also had to rally in the fourth quarter to win at home.

And who lost? Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and No. 5 LSU.

All credit Alabama, to be sure.

But the SEC as a conference has been exposed as just another conference. Nothing special.

4) Speaking of scheduling down, Central Florida did and one local businessman is grateful as hell.

You might have vague recollections of UCF being good. They were when Blake Bortles was at quarterback. Last year, when the Knights got off to a bad start, a local bar offered free beer to fans to drown their sorrows until UCF won.

The Knights went 0-12, and the bar owner estimates he lost more than $1 million in the name of school pride.

It makes me wonder if the bar owner paid for UCF to schedule South Carolina State. By the way, you’re paying for your booze again after that 38-0 win.

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.