Can a team that starts three slot receivers win a national championship?
USC apparently believes it can based on the depth chart released Sunday night, the Trojans’ first in nine months.
Quarterback Sam Darnold’s first options are Rose Bowl hero Deontay Burnett, converted quarterback Jalen Greene and Steven Mitchell, coming off his second knee operation. They are the most consistent and experienced wide receivers.
But each would naturally play at the slot position if placed in their best spot. USC coach Clay Helton will rotate receivers so there will be some variety for the offense but it says more about the younger receivers’ inability to distinguish themselves that Burnett, Greene and Mitchell are the first group.
The growing pains remain real. It is also important that Darnold is comfortable with his three veterans and during training camp, there were plenty of issues with the younger receivers. The second group will include redshirt freshmen Tyler Vaughns and Velus Jones along with true freshman Joseph Lewis.
If they develop USC can provide headaches for opposing defenses. But if it takes time, Stanford and Texas might challenge the offense to prove it can find a consistent deep threat. If USC does not, defense could become more compact and give the elusive Darnold less leeway.
It was fashionable last season to say wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster struggled at times. But no other receiver got double-teamed every game or ran as many deep routes as Smith-Schuster. Someone needs to replace that aspect of the Trojans’ offense.
The depth chart provided some answers at wide receiver but few at kicker. Michael Brown and Chase McGrath are still competing for the job entering Saturday’s game against Western Michigan. Brown remains a slight frontrunner but if he misses a couple field goals in a game he could get a quick hook.
Curiously, the punting spot is not settled between last year’s starter, Chris Tilbey, and walk-on Reid Budrovich. It makes little sense, though, to start the season without Tilbey punting since he has a year of actual game experience.
Perhaps equally important for Darnold are the two new starters on the offense line: right tackle Chuma Edoga and left guard Chris Brown. Edoga is highly rated but asked after spring practice to switch from the more important left tackle position, which protects Darnold’s blind side.
Brown challenged Damien Mama for a starting guard spot last year but quickly fell off the map after the…