USC football preview: Trojans 2017 schedule, roster and three things to watch

Sam Darnold has advice for teams trying to be bad enough to pick in the top three next year: Just. Don't.

USC is back in the national spotlight.

The question now is whether the Trojanscan handle the high expectations in 2017 after a 10-3 season that culminated with a thrilling 52-49 victory against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game.

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USC coach Clay Helton righted the ship after the Trojans suffered a 52-6 loss in the season opener to Alabama, and now the Trojans —led by Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Darnold —head into the 2017 season as the popular picks for the Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff.

How high are expectations right now? The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in Sporting News' Way Too Early Top 25, and here's a preview of USC’s 2017 schedule, roster and biggest questions entering the season.

When is USC spring game?

USC's spring game is April 15 at 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

2017 USC football schedule

Sept. 2: vs. Western Michigan

Sept. 9: vs. Stanford

Sept. 16: vs. Texas

Sept. 23: at Cal

Sept. 29: at Washington State (Friday)

Oct. 7: vs. Oregon State

Oct. 14: vs. Utah

Oct. 21: at Notre Dame

Oct. 28: at Arizona State

Nov. 4: vs. Arizona

Nov. 11: at Colorado

Nov. 18: vs. UCLA

Nov. 25: BYE

Dec. 1/Dec. 2: Pac-12 championship game

2017 USC recruiting class

USC ranked No. 5 when you averaged the composite rankings of four major recruiting sites. The Trojans reeled in five-star running back Stephen Carr and five-star receiver Joseph Lewis as part of that class. 2017 USC roster

USC’s official roster will be updated throughout the spring and fall here.

Three things to watch

1. Can Darnold meet the hype?

From Heisman hype to the Joe Montana comparisons, Darnold has heard it all since leading the Trojans to nine straight victories in 2016. Darnold’s 453-yard, five-TD performance in the Rose Bowl let the rest of the nation in on the secret the Trojans already knew. Darnold can play, and when USC has a quarterback like this, it can contend for a national championship. He’s been unflappable so far, but that September slate is by no means easy. Remember, the Trojans started 1-3 in 2016.

2. Who makes big plays?

USC lost its top two receivers —including star Juju Smith-Schuster — and that leaves Deontay Burnett as the top returning pass-catcher on the roster. He flashed with seven TDs in 2016. Ronald Jones rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 TDs and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler are gone, too. There’s work to do on that side of the ball to build around Darnold.

3. Does USC have championship defense?

USC ranked 38th in the FBS by allowing 24.2 points per game last season. Adoree’ Jackson is gone, but the Trojans have depth in the secondary. This is cornerback Iman Marshall’s opportunity to shine. Defensive end Rasheem Green, who led the team with 6.0 sacks, and linebacker Porter Gustin, who finished with 13.0 tackles for loss, also have the chance to emerge as first-team Pac-12 selections.

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