Photo credit: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

USC has stumbled into their football season by getting ground into powder by Alabama, losing big at Stanford, then capping off their 1-2 start with a nice little quarterback controversy. People in and around L.A. are not happy. Tonight, the first domino fell.

USC coach Clay Helton announced that freshman offensive tackle E.J. Price was leaving the program because of homesickness and “family issues.” Price was ranked as a top-ten offensive tackle recruit, so his loss is a consequential one for USC’s future. Losing a prized recruit just three games into his career is always bad, but the rumored circumstances surrounding Price’s departure make it seem like USC’s problems might run deeper.

Earlier today, a rumor popped up on the USC forum at 24/7 Sports that Price had “popped Helton a good one.”

A Reddit user purporting to have inside information said that Price “popped off” at a coach and that the team is being consumed by infighting. Helton apparently left the ominous warning that anyone itching to transfer was welcome to.

For his part, Helton denied that Price hit him. Given his denial, the Los Angeles Times’ Lindsey Thiry’s skepticism, and the Reddit post, it doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Still, there is a whole lot of smoke here, and in college sports especially, rumors that begin on forums and message boards often have truths that make their way into the sports pages days later. And even if Price is the only one to have left the program thus far, the tumult consuming USC seems to be intensifying. Helton is only a few months into a five-year deal, and his hold on the program is already slipping.

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