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September 16, 2020
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Grinding Gears: USC hoops can still make it to March

first_imgEric He | Daily TrojanAfter practice one day before the season began, senior guard Jordan McLaughlin talked about the heightened expectations that came with being ranked the preseason No. 10 team in the country.“We’re not going to be ranked No. 10 and blow it all away,” McLaughlin said.With seven games left in the regular season schedule, the jury is still out on pretty much everything for USC men’s basketball. A season that began with its hype train at full speed ground to a halt with three straight nonconference losses, a defeat to Princeton and then a lackluster Pac-12 opener against Washington.But then the Trojans caught fire, winning eight of their next nine games, their only loss coming on a halfcourt buzzer beater by Stanford. They beat Colorado, Utah and Cal by double digits. They pulled off close wins over Oregon and Oregon State, and then redeemed themselves against Stanford. And they took a huge step toward solidifying their NCAA Tournament bid.Still, there is work to do. USC lost to UCLA last Saturday in a game they should’ve won, if not for immaturity on the part of sophomore forward Nick Rakocevic and poor late-game execution. With or without De’Anthony Melton, it is clear at this point that the Trojans are not as strong as the No. 10 ranking they were handed preseason.They can, however, do their best not to “blow it all away.” Right now, the best case scenario for this team would be to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, and go from there. Expectations can shift over the course of the season, and considering the start to this year, simply making the tournament would be a win. To do that, USC must get through this pivotal weekend ahead against the Arizona schools in the desert.On Thursday, the Trojans will play an upstart Arizona State program that has faded in Pac-12 play but burst onto the scene early in the season with several impressive wins. On Saturday, they face No. 13 Arizona, the Pac-12 favorite.These two games, combined with last Saturday’s loss to UCLA, constitute perhaps the most important stretch of USC’s remaining schedule. The Sun Devils may be faltering in conference play, but still sport the most dynamic offense the Trojans will see this season. They lead the Pac-12 in scoring offense, while the Wildcats, after a poor start, have won 16 of 18 games, lead the Pac-12 in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage and have emerged once again as a Final Four hopeful. History does not bode well for USC on this road trip. The Trojans have been swept on their last five sojourns to the desert and seven of the last eight years. The last time they beat both Arizona teams in the same season was in 1985. This history underscores just how big these two games are. At the very least, USC needs a split — and if it can’t pull the upset at Arizona, at least make it a close game. Because if the Trojans lose both games, there are few opportunities left to climb back up in the tournament picture.Heading into Thursday, the Trojans rank 45th in RPI. That should be good enough to qualify for the tournament — both ESPN and CBS currently project USC as an 11th seed. Both opponents this weekend rank ahead of USC in RPI — Arizona State is 44th, Arizona is 16th. After these two games, the Trojans won’t have a chance to really build on their resume. Their only big test will be the season finale against UCLA, which is 56th in RPI. Otherwise, games against Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado and Utah won’t move the needle.USC has been through a lot this season — the preseason hype, the early struggles, the injury bug that has hit star junior forward Bennie Boatwright again. And, of course, the ongoing FBI investigation that led to the firing of assistant coach Tony Bland and the absence of Melton all season has lingered in the back of everyone’s minds.Perhaps this team, which some thought would be a sleeper to make the Final Four, won’t be the one that brings USC hoops back to glory. The Trojans won’t fully live up to their No. 10 preseason ranking. But they can’t blow it all away, and a couple of wins this weekend would go a long ways toward avoiding that.Eric He is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Thursdays.last_img read more

August 26, 2020
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Ohio State’s Justin Fields, with transfer waiver, becomes college football’s most intriguing QB

first_imgCOLUMBUS, Ohio — Justin Fields appears more comfortable than expected with the quarterback lifestyle at Ohio State one month into the experience.He came to campus armed with a closet-full of winter coats. He hears the “O-H” calls from students on the way to class and knows to reply with the standard “I-O.” He recognizes how many “M’s” get crossed off on campus, a constant reminder of his new rivalry with Michigan. He poses for the endless iPhone pictures on the street and balances that school workload with winter workouts. “I really would rather not talk about why I left,” Fields said. “I’d rather talk about this upcoming season and the upcoming goals me and this team have to try to accomplish this year.”In that regard, he’s more comfortable with what is ahead.Now that he’s eligible, there’ll be so much more to talk about. Right now, Fields admitted to being “tired all the time” — but this is the life he chose after transferring from Georgia on Jan. 4.MORE: OSU’s legendary standard won’t change under Ryan DayThe former five-star recruit recevied a waiver from the NCAA on Friday and will be eligible to play in 2019. That’s the only issue Fields wouldn’t elaborate on in his first media availability with Ohio State at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Wednesday.”I don’t want to talk about Georgia,” Fields said when asked for details about the case. “I want to talk about Ohio State.”So, let’s talk about Ohio State.If Fields is eligible for 2019. It’s reasonable to label him the most intriguing quarterback in the FBS heading into the season, given the expectations set by the last regime and quarterback. Urban Meyer finished 83-9 at Ohio State before retiring this offseason. Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins set Big Ten single-season records in 2018 in passing yards (4,831) and touchdowns (50). It’s on first-year coach Ryan Day and new passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich to maintain that standard.”I made more of a business decision with Coach Day,” Fields said. “He been in the NFL, so he knows what it takes to get there. It was just the offense and how successful it was last year.”Fields should be a dynamic fit in Ohio State’s high-yield offense for the next two years. That could get the two-time defending Big Ten champion Buckeyes back in the College Football Playoff. That is the importance of Friday’s ruling. It should create the incentive for more quarterbacks to transfer in the future. It also benefits all parties involved in this case.  For Ohio State, it would offset the loss of Haskins to the 2019 NFL Draft and four-star quarterback Tate Martell, the redshirt sophomore who transferred to Miami after Fields made his decision.For Day, it’s a chance to continue the top-shelf standard left by Meyer, who finished 7-0 against Michigan, boasted a .902 win percentage and won the inaugural championship of the Playoff era.For Fields — a 6-3, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback who impressed in limited action behind Jake Fromm with the Bulldogs in 2018 — it is a chance to play at a place where he feels comfortable.Ohio State went all in on the Fields hype, posting a Twitter video on Monday featuring the Georgia transfer front and center of the winter workouts montage. Fields was comfortable seeing himself on that video, too.This is quarterback match-making in the transfer portal era.MORE: Expect Day to answer QB questions with best pitch possibleDay understands not every first-year starting quarterback is going to have the same level of success as a certain former Ohio State signal-caller.”What happened last year with Dwayne Haskins is an anomaly,” Day said. “Someone to step in 14 games, projected to be maybe the first quarterback taken in the draft, third in the Heisman. That just doesn’t happen. Someone doesn’t just step in and do that.”That won’t stop from Day and Fields from trying to replicate that success.Just how good is Fields?Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting at 247Sports, remembers the finals at The Opening in 2017, where Fields and Trevor Lawrence were the five-star attractions at quarterback.That’s where Wiltfong witnessed just how good Fields can be.”It was how quickly he was able to adapt to the speed of the game and adapt to the speed of the receivers,” Wiltfong told Sporting News. “He just put on a show in the 7-on-7 play over the course of those two days that was as good as I have seen at a camp setting — ever.”That wasn’t all. Wiltfong watched Fields run a 4.5 at the Nike Camp in Orlando, Fla. He saw Fields elevate Harrison High School (Kennesaw, Ga.) into a contender in Georgia’s Class AAAAAA. Wiltfong has much more experience with the stocky quarterback who is still in the get-to-know phase at his new school.Most college football fans know the bio by now. Fields was the top dual-threat quarterback and No. 2 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class — one spot behind Lawrence. Lawrence, of course, led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff championship with a 44-16 win against Alabama on Jan. 7. Fields played in a backup role behind Jake Fromm this season and totaled 594 yards and total touchdowns.”I think Lawrence is the best high school prospect I’ve ever covered, but he didn’t have to beat out Jake Fromm as the starter either,” Wiltfong said. “There’s no shame in Fields being QB2 even though he is more talented.”Day saw a parallel with Lawrence, but only as it pertains to quarterback development.”I think that’s part of being a coach, is understanding that,” Day said. “You look at what Lawrence did at Clemson this year, early on they were really careful with him, didn’t expose him to be a bunch. I think that’s part of having a young quarterback.”Make no mistake: Once Fields take the field, he’ll be expected to do what Lawrence did for Clemson. Day is trying to temper expectations for Fields’ development — all while not knowing if he’ll even be able to play in 2019.—Fields’ “ah-ha” moment at Ohio State was walking into Value City Arena for a men’s basketball game with Michigan State on Jan. 5. Fields noticed the packed arena and met with Meyer. The appearance became a trending topic on social media, but it was the conversation he had with Haskins afterward that stuck with Fields.”(Haskins) said you have to, ‘Lead with your mouth,'” Fields said. “He told me had trouble with kind of ‘talking up.’ As you get more comfortable, you will kind of start taking over the team and start leading.”Haskins entered last spring in a three-way battle with Martell and Joe Burrow for the right to replace record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett as the starting quarterback. Burrow transferred to LSU. Martell’s gone to Miami.MORE: What is Meyer’s legacy at OSU? Depends on which side you askFields will have competition from redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin, who does have a year in the system — though it could be tweaked with the arrival of Yurcich, who served as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator from 2013-18. Yurcich, like Fields, was intrigued by the offense he watched in 2018.”When you get inside it and you get to work it a little bit more and you get to have more discussions, more football discussions, you learn that what you had hoped it would be, it is,” Yurcich said.The combination of Yurcich’s background in Big 12 offenses and what Day installed last season should result in an even more quarterback-friendly system. Fields said the pure progression read style suits his talents.”Those are kind of the easiest reads because you across the board and read it like that, and just because the guys we have at wideouts are great athletes and great players,” he said. “They will make my job easier.”And vice versa. Five-star receiver Garrett Wilson, who had heard stories about Fields on the recruiting circuit, said the early returns are as advertised.”He was an awesome player to watch,” Wilson said. “Knowing him now, though, he’s everything he was thought out to be. He’s a great kid. He’s talking to everyone. He’s a great quarterback, accurate passer, putting it right on me every time. I’m excited to see him play in spring ball.”—Fields is now at the controls of an offense that averaged 42.4 points per game last season and ranked second in the FBS with 364.3 yards per game. Heisman Trophy consideration, rising NFL Draft stock and the chance to compete for national championships are part of the package. Those expectations never change at Ohio State.There are risks for all sides with this decision. Fields left his home state for a chance to play right away and, despite experience in Georgia’s pro-style system, still must win the starting job on the field.”If Fields would have bided his time at Georgia, his situation would have worked out similar to Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State,” Wiltfong said. “Where maybe it’s tough to beat out the incumbent, but when your time comes you will be a higher draft prospect.”Day will have to live with the consequences of the Martell transfer, too. Meyer dealt with highly publicized quarterback battles, but the new transfer rules have presented Day with a different challenge.”It’s hard to recruit a highly recruited guy, then recruit guys behind them,” Day said. “If they leave, after their third year in the program, it gets really hard. That’s the constant struggle right now with college football and the quarterback situation. It’s very sensitive.”I think five years ago when you could have guys stay in your program at quarterback, I think that’s changed,” he said. “Guys want to play right now. The best way to combat that is to be honest in the recruiting process. To tell someone they’re going to come in and play right away is not right. I think you have to be honest with them, tell them it’s a competition. There’s no expectation problems when they get here.”MORE: Martell’s Miami move shows what’s right and wrong with QB shuffleFields faces those expectations now — and they will be the same ones Lawrence faces at Clemson, Fromm at Georgia, Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama and former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma. Those are the programs that have combined for 75 percent of the College Football Playoff appearances and, including Ohio State, the last five national titles. That is the class of quarterback Fields belongs in now, where Heismans and national championships always lead those conversations. “He has a shot to be one of the best players in college football this year,” Wiltfong said. “There may be some growing pains, but then again Trevor (Lawrence) didn’t have that many growing pains.”That’s why Fields kept his focus forward, even as the uncomfortable line of questioning about his exit from Georgia popped up.last_img read more