One Particular Heisman Sleeper Has Massive Upside
With an air-raid offense now in place, the sky's the limit
Last season, the University of Southern California Trojans put their faith in true freshman quarterback JT Daniels.
Overall, it didn’t work out very well.
USC shockingly went 5-6 and dipped well below their powerhouse standards. It was their lowest win mark since 2000 and their highly-touted QB didn’t exactly turn heads, completing just 59.5 percent of his passes (216-for-363) for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while starting all 11 contests.
USC’s 2019 season hinges on Daniels, who has 60/1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Vegas Insider.
It seems like a virtual certainty that University of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence will fight it out for the nation’s top individual award (barring injury), but Daniels has significant upside. Not only does he have a full season starting for one of the nation’s most high-profile programs under his belt, but he should also benefit from the brand-new offensive system that was installed this offseason.
Establishing The Air-Raid
Graham Harrell was hired as the team’s new offensive coordinator after spending four years at the helm of the University of North Texas’ offense.
There, he inherited a bottom-25 offense in scoring, passing and total offense. In 2015, his air-raid system improved all of his team’s offensive metrics. The next year, he improved the team’s scoring output by 9.6 points per game. It was in 2017 that he broke onto the scene as one of the nation’s top offensive minds. That year, North Texas ranked 19th nationally in scoring (35.5 points per game), passing (291.9 yards per game) and 24th in total offense (455.1). Last season, his team ranked 12th in passing (306.8 yards per game), 20th in total offense (460.5) and 26th in scoring (34.6). His quarterback at UNT, Mason Fine, broke school records, posting 31 touchdowns and 4,052 passing yards in 2017 and then 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions with 3,793 yards through the air last season.
Before North Texas, Harrell spent time working under air-raid master Mike Leach at Washington State after hopping around in the NFL and CFL as a QB. He also quarterbacked Leach’s Texas Tech squad for four years in his college playing days prior to that. Therefore, a quarterback-centric, pass-happy approach is part of his identity and should translate to a massive opportunity for Daniels to complete high-percentage throws and improve on his below-average 2018 completion percentage as well as his overall numbers.
After Harrell was hired, USC head coach Clay Helton gushed about his new offensive mastermind.
"In our search for an offensive coordinator, we wanted someone who could take our offense to new heights and whose system fit our current personnel. An individual who knows both the pass and run games and is an aggressive play caller on game day. Also someone who is a great teacher and who can develop quarterbacks to their full potential. … We have found all these characteristics in Graham,” Helton said, per USCTrojans.com. “In our study, I was so impressed with how he turned North Texas into one of the top offenses in the nation, combining an elite, highly-ranked passing game with a ground game that rushed for nearly 2,000 yards. He also did a terrific job developing Mason Fine into one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. We look forward to the future of our offense under Graham's leadership.”
Therefore, it looks like Harrell has USC’s full confidence and will be given the full reigns of what could be an explosive attack.
The Spring Game Showcase
If the Trojans’ spring game was any indication, Daniels and the offense could absolutely thrive.
Playing only the first half, Daniels completed 26-of-31 passes for 244 yards. Receivers Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman combined for 29 catches and 325 yards in the game and all three should be major weapons for their quarterback this year.
"Just as a play-caller, when you look up and you had almost 260 yards of passing game in one half," Helton said after the game, per Kyle Bonagura of ESPN. "You're like, 'OK, this group could be truly special.' One of the things was I needed to step back, I wanted to bring a great passing-game mind in that could continue it, and look what we found in [new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell].
Browsing The Schedule
While the Trojans must have a major bounce-back season for Daniels to be a Heisman hopeful, their schedule presents an opportunity.
After hosting Fresno State University on August 31st, they’ll welcome Stanford University on September 7th. They’ll then head to Brigham Young University before returning home to host the University of Utah on September 20th. Two-straight road games against the University of Washington (September 28th) and the University of Notre Dame (October 12th) will likely be their toughest test of the season, but they’ll have a bye-week to prepare for the Fighting Irish in between. Homecoming weekend against the University of Arizona is scheduled for October 19th followed by a road matchup against the University of Colorado, a home showdown against the University of Oregon, a road tilt against Arizona State University, an away contest against the University of California and, to close out the regular season, a home fight against UCLA.
Due to the generally-weak nature of the Pac-12 as a conference in recent seasons, an air-raid offensive system coupled with some of the nation’s top recruits should make USC a major threat this year. If the Trojans break out, Daniels could put up historic stats. As we have seen in recent years, massive stats often times lead to a Heisman.
At 60/1, laying some money on Daniels (before the general public catches on) could be a sharp strategy. Expect those odds to drastically improve after Daniels has a solid shot at throwing the ball 50-plus times in the opener against Fresno State.
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