Sitting at 1–2 to start 2016, USC looked primed for a nightmare season. But head coach Clay Helton entered Darnold into the equation and the Trojans have looked as potent as any team in the country since. The redshirt sophomore quarterback is in the midst of leading USC to an 11-game winning streak — the second-longest in the nation.
Last Saturday, Darnold proved why he’s one of the Heisman frontrunners. The star gunslinger shredded the then-No. 14 Stanford defense with 316 passing yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s 42-24 victory over the Cardinal. He completed an accurate 21 of 26 passes, pioneering the Pac-12 favorites to a 2–0 record.
Against Texas, Darnold is set to play his sixth straight game in the Golden State. The California native plays best in his own backyard. Darnold posted a career-high 453 yards and five touchdowns in USC’s 2016 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.
Ronald Jones II
Running Back, #25
Through just two games into the season, Jones has ventured into the end zone at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on numerous occasions. Five of USC’s 13 touchdowns in 2017 are as a result of the junior halfback’s rushing expertise.
Against Western Michigan, Jones lifted USC past the Broncos in the final minutes with a 37-yard touchdown run, finishing with 159 yards and three scores in an 18-point victory. Jones is already scoring at a historic rate for Helton’s team. He is tied with former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush for seventh all-time in program history in the statistical category.
Wide receiver, #80
The Stanford defense became accustomed to seeing Burnett snatching the football out of the air. In last Saturday night’s victory, the junior caught nine passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Burnett exhibited a diverse skill set on his two touchdowns. On the first score, he shed two tacklers and dove over the pylon to provide USC a 21-14 advantage. But the second touchdown is where Burnett added to the week’s highlight reel. The 6-foot receiver stretched out his entire body and dove for the football, clinging on to the pigskin in the front right corner of the end zone.
Burnett catches nearly everything thrown his way, demonstrating his abilities with 16 catches and 263 receiving yards in two contests this season.
Inside Linebacker, #35
Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews III, Su’a Cravens, Rey Maualuga — USC has developed a plethora of powerful linebackers in the 21st century and Smith appears ready to join the ranks of the Trojans’ modern legends.
The junior is in his third year starting in Los Angeles. Smith finished first on the team with 83 tackles in 2016, following up a 78-tackle outing from his freshman season. Through two games in 2017, Smith has already recorded 2.5 tackles for loss.
Opposing running backs are used to being greeted by Smith who is an established run-stopper, attacking ball carriers at the line of scrimmage with his quick reaction time. In coverage, Smith has also proved dangerous. The 250-pound inside linebacker finished with 117 interception return yards on three picks in 2015.