USC hype train for 2017 includes QB Sam Darnold as clear Heisman favorite

Apologies in advance, but you’re going to hear “Is USC back?” somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 times over the next six months. This is only a partial exaggeration. 

Sorry. Sorry everyone. I’m sorry. Just trying to tell you now so you can prepare for it. 

It starts with USC’s checklist, which at least for the offseason, is complete. On Monday, Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold was named as the odds favorite to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy at 4/1, according to Here’s how the rest of the latest odds look:

Sam Darnold (QB, USC): 4/1
Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisivlle): 13/2
Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma): 13/2
Bo Scarbrough (RB, Alabama): 9/1
Jalen Hurts (QB, Alabama): 10/1
Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State): 12/1
JT Barrett (QB, Ohio State): 12/1
Jake Browning (QB, Washington): 12/1
Trace McSorley (QB, Penn State): 14/1
Deondre Francois (QB, Florida State): 14/1
Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA): 14/1
Mason Rudolph (QB, Oklahoma State): 14/1
Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia): 16/1
Derrius Grice (RB, LSU): 16/1
Nick Fitzgerald (QB, Mississippi State): 25/1
Kamryn Pettway (RB Auburn) 28/1
Shane Buechele (QB Texas) 33/1
Luke Falk (QB Washington State: 33/1 

Granted, being a way-too-early Heisman favorite doesn’t have recent history on its side. Lamar Jackson, Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel were practically Heisman no-names at one point in the year leading up to their trophy-winning season. For whatever reason, the Heisman value seems to be a bit further down the list

Nevertheless, Darnold’s preseason Heisman bump is the latest indication the Trojans are the national team du jour for 2017. This is, after all, a program that was mentioned (although not seriously) as a playoff contender with three losses. 

For one, USC should be the beneficiary of a double-bowl bump in the preseason polls for: 1) beating Penn State in an “all-time” Rose Bowl to win nine straight games, and 2) having a great #brand, which, as we’ve seen for three years now, gets first selection on playoff inclusion. It’s already happened, in fact. Here, here, and yes, here

USC also closed hard on National Signing Day, finishing with the No. 4 class in the country, according to 247Sports. Linebacker Levi Jones and defensive lineman Jay Tufele were among the handful of blue-chip players coach Clay Helton and staff landed on signing day to launch the class into another level. With the way freshmen contribute these days, don’t be surprised if you see some of those names on the field next fall. 

Which brings us to Darnold and the offseason accolades. A lot can happen between now and late August, but the Trojans are following the script as the team to watch heading into next season. 

That leads to great expectations. Problem is, USC hasn’t handled those particularly well in recent years. The 2015 team was ranked in the top 10 in both major polls in the preseason -- but fired coach Steve Sarkisian five games into the season for substance issues and finished 8-6. The 2012 group was a national title favorite that finished 7-6. 

But you know what they say: different years, different teams and all that. USC has the tools for a special year, including talent across the board and a young-but-somehow-totally-veteran quarterback. It just has to perform. 

That we’re even talking about USC in such a way -- and that it feels less risky this time -- is incredible given the perception of the program as recently as five months ago. Helton wasn’t exactly considered a splash hire and the 1-3 start, lowlighted by a 52-6 drubbing by Alabama in Week 1, only fueled the narrative that he was overmatched. 

Except it looks like he wasn’t; if anything, he was hamstrung by not playing Darnold right away. If USC actually makes good on its hype -- which, in fairness, has been heavily media driven in the past -- he’ll have proved a lot of people wrong. And I mean a lot

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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