Rookie coach Clay Helton to face Nick Saban

Tal Volk | Daily Trojan Immediate spotlight · Rather than facing an easier opponent in week  one, Clay Helton and the Trojans will open against the No. 1-ranked team.

Tal Volk | Daily Trojan
Immediate spotlight · Rather than facing an easier opponent in week one, Clay Helton and the Trojans will open against the No. 1-ranked team.

He first joined the USC Trojan football staff in 2010, serving as the quarterbacks coach for the Matt Barkley-led offense. In 2013, he was named offensive coordinator for the team and nine months ago, he took over as the team’s head coach in the middle of the 2015 season.

Now, it’s time to rumble for USC head football coach Clay Helton, as he opens his first full season at the helm against defending national champions No. 1 Alabama and five-time national champion head coach Nick Saban on Saturday.

Helton looks to lead the No. 20 Trojans to an upset that would rock the college football world when they face the Crimson Tide in Arlington, Texas. Helton aims for a strong start following USC’s turbulent season last year; he took the reins as head coach Oct. 12 following the departure of Steve Sarkisian.

The Trojans went 5-4 under Helton (5-2 in the regular season) to finish the year 8-6 overall. With Helton at the lead, USC earned notable victories over No. 3 Utah and No. 22 UCLA, but fell to No. 7 Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game and No. 23 Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl. Helton was named the permanent head coach of the team on Nov. 30.

Standing opposite Helton at “Jerryworld” will be one of college football’s most decorated coaches of all-time in Nick Saban. The first head coach to win a national championship with two different schools, Saban has won four national titles with Alabama (the other coming with Louisiana State). In Saban’s 10 seasons at Alabama, the Tide have an overall record of 100-18. Last season, the Tide went 14-1 and defeated Clemson in the national championship game. Now, the Tide sit atop the AP Poll once more as they prepare to face the Trojans for the first time in more than 30 years.

Though in his first head coaching job, the 44-year-old Helton has guided Division I football players from the sideline for 20 years. Since 1995, Helton has served at Duke, Houston and Memphis as well as USC, in positions such as running backs coach, receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Supporting the first-time head coach, Helton’s platoon of coaching personnel will feature a mix of faces both new and old to the cardinal and gold.

In his fifth year on the USC coaching staff, Tee Martin will serve as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, moving into the position from his previous post as wide receivers coach. Mentoring newly-minted redshirt junior starting quarterback Max Browne will be Clay’s younger brother Tyson Helton, who became the Trojans’ quarterback coach after serving the same position as well as offensive coordinator for Western Kentucky last season.

USC’s running back coach in 2013 and a former coach for the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals, Tommie Robinson returns to the position after two years with the University of Texas. Having overseen the offensive line for Alabama-Birmingham, Georgia and Auburn over his 37 years of coaching, Neil Callaway enters his first year as offensive line coach for the Trojans. John Baxter, USC’s special teams coordinator from 2010 to 2013, returns to USC to coach special teams and tight ends after a year at the University of Michigan.

On the defensive end, ball-stopping guru Clancy Pendergast also rejoins the Trojan staff as defensive coordinator, the post he held in 2013 before joining the San Francisco 49ers. Johnny Hansen returns for his third season as the team’s linebackers coach and assistant head coach. Kenechi Udeze, a former USC All-American and NFL defensive lineman, enters his first full season coaching the Trojan defensive line. Ronnie Bradford, another former NFL player and coach, joins the USC coaching staff as secondary coach from Louisiana Tech.

Trojan faithful will also spot a familiar face on the Alabama sideline, as former USC head coach Lane Kiffin enters his second season as offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Before joining Alabama last season, Kiffin led the Trojans to a total record of 28-15 over four years. Saturday marks the first time Kiffin will face the Trojans since he was let go as head coach in 2013, and the first time Kiffin goes against the former quarterbacks coach from his USC coaching staff, Clay Helton.