2008 CFN USC Preview
USC S Taylor Mays
USC S Taylor Mays
Posted May 16, 2008

Shock of shocks, USC is going to be really good again, but it's been a few years since winning a national title and now the program is in a personnel transition. There's the normal slew of NFL stars, like S Taylor Mays, but there are more questions than normal. Check out the CFN USC Preview.

USC Trojans

Preview 2008

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By Richard Cirminiello

- 2008 CFN USC Preview | 2008 USC Offense
- 2008 USC Defense | 2008 USC Depth Chart
- 2007 USC Preview | 2006 CFN USC Preview 

Head coach: Pete Carroll 
8th year: 76-14
Returning Lettermen: 46
Lettermen Lost: 30
Ten Best USC Players
1. LB Rey Maualuga, Sr.
2. LB Brian Cushing, Sr.
3. DT Fili Moala, Sr.
4. RB Joe McKnight, Soph.
5. SS Kevin Ellison, Sr.
6. DT Everson Griffen, Soph.
7. FS Taylor Mays, Jr.
8. QB Mark Sanchez, Jr.
9. OG Jeff Byers, Sr.
10. CB Cary Harris, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 at Virginia
Sept. 13 Ohio State
Sept. 20 OPEN DATE
Sept. 25 at Oregon State
Oct. 4 Oregon
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 18 at Washington State
Oct. 25 at Arizona
Nov. 1 Washington
Nov. 8 California
Nov. 15 at Stanford
Nov. 29 Notre Dame
Dec. 6 at UCLA

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record:

Sept. 1 Idaho W 38-10
Sept. 15 at Nebraska W 49-31
Sept. 22 Washington St W 47-14
Sept. 29 at Washington W 27-24
Oct. 6 Stanford L 24-23
Oct. 13 Arizona W 20-13
Oct. 20 at Notre Dame  W 38-0
Oct. 27 at Oregon L 24-17
Nov. 3 Oregon State W 24-3
Nov. 10 at California W 24-17
Nov. 23 at Arizona St W 44-24
Dec. 1 UCLA W 24-7
Rose Bowl
Jan. 1 Illinois W 49-17

New starters will dot the Trojan lineup, but the only rebuilding at Troy these days happens when the Coliseum needs renovations. 

If there’s one program in America that’s equipped to handle turnover on both sides of the ball, it’s USC, a school that’s had little problems retooling with great players replacing other great players.  However, it’s inevitable that the program takes a wee step back at some point, and after losing a slew of starters, this could be the year. 

Vulnerable enough to lose a grip on the Pac-10 title for the first time since 2001?  Considering the talent gap between the Trojans and top league contenders remains as wide as ever, probably not, but for a place that goes into every year thinking national title, and has found ways to blow chances to play for the whole ball of wax over the last few years, it’s time to do more than play in Pasadena.

The standards have to be higher at USC than they are anywhere else. After all, this is the program that has set the standard for excellence over the last six seasons, but now the SEC champion, whomever that is on a yearly basis, is the star of the college football show. USC might be fantastic in conference play, and it might have gone to six straight BCS games with only Vince Young’s big night ruining a perfect big game record for Pete Carroll, but last year’s loss to Stanford and the loss to UCLA at the end of the 2006 regular season, when a win would’ve meant a showdown against Ohio State for the national title, has shown a little bit of vulnerability. Or has it?

The numbers are stunning. Since 2002, USC has gone 61-8 with all eight defeats coming by a touchdown or less. In all eight of those losses, which were decided by a total of 30 points, the outcome came down to the final moments.

A lot of the faces will be different this year, but that just means there’s a bunch of new stars for the country to get to know. The standards are still the same, the program is still as strong as ever, and if there’s a win over Ohio State on September 13th, this could be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

What to watch for on offense: The shuffling on the offensive line. Jeff Byers is set at left guard and Kristofer O’Dowd is a sure-thing at center, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll fill out the line. No fewer than six linemen are competing for the three remaining spots, and another impressive haul of recruits arrives in the summer to complicate matters. Duking it out with Zack Heberer at right guard is junior Thomas Herring, a disappointment up to this point coming off a terrific spring.  

What to watch for on defense: The interior of the defensive line. Expect plenty of activity from the tackle spot, which will be looking to replace All-American and first round draft choice Sedrick Ellis. Fili Moala plans to follow the exact course Ellis charted, using his tremendous size and explosion to earn a fat signing bonus next spring after flirting with the idea of coming out this year. At the nose, there’s an interesting battle brewing between Averell Spicer and Christian Tupou, a couple of under-sized Trojans who will not be out worked.

The team will be far better if… it gets back to dominating the turnover margin. When the Trojans were winning national championships, few were better at creating an abundance of takeaways  Over the last two years, however, USC has tread water in turnovers and finished minus-five combined in last season’s losses to Stanford and Oregon      

The Schedule: USC makes its living off tough-looking non-conference road games, and it needs to come out with a statement at Virginia to build up momentum for the two weeks off before the national title-caliber showdown against Ohio State. There's another week off and then the Pac 10 schedule kicks in with three road games in five weeks. However, the away games are at Oregon State, Washington State, and Arizona, to go along with a later away game against Stanford and the crosstown trip to Pasadena to deal with UCLA; the Pac 10 road schedule doesn't get much easier than that. Oregon, Arizona State and California all have to come to the Coliseum. The Trojans only travel outside of Los Angeles once, to Stanford, after October 25th.

Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Joe McKnight. Remember the Rose Bowl, when McKnight ran ten times for 125 yards and a touchdown and added six catches for 45 yards? Expect more of the same this year, provided he gets his academic requirements fulfilled.  Just a little over a year removed from high school, he’s a game-changer on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s most exciting and versatile weapons. 

Best defensive player: Senior LB Rey Maualuga. A modern-day Junior Seau, Maualuga will be a contender for just about every individual award given to defensive players. A 6-3, 250-pound detonator from the middle, he’ll snuff out the ball all over the field and detonate on impact.  Maualuga led the Trojans in tackles and was second in tackles for loss, but even when someone else was making the play, opponents always knew where No. 58 was on the field.

Key player to a successful season: LT Charles Brown or Butch Lewis.  One of the two is going to follow in the footsteps of All-American Sam Baker and protect the blindside of Mark Sanchez.  If the new left tackle is a bust, it’ll reverberate throughout an offense that hasn’t been automatic since Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush left town.

The season will be a success if ... the Trojans win a seventh straight Pac-10 title and play for the national title. This is USC. It can talk all it wants to about being happy to play in the Rose Bowl, but that’s just talk. Even so, with so many changes on both sides of the ball, just getting to a seventh straight BCS game could be good enough. Anything less than status quo will be considered a major step in the wrong direction. 

Key game
: Sept. 13 vs. Ohio State. It’s the marquee game of the 2008 season, and at the very least it could be a Rose Bowl preview. While it seems like these two play all the time, the Trojans will entertain the Buckeyes for the first meeting in 18 years. Expect an electric atmosphere akin to when Ohio State hosted Texas in a primetime September showdown three years ago, and expect the winner to eventually earn a spot in Miami on Jan. 8, playing for a chance at a national championship.    

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: USC 45 for 298 yards – Opponents 17 for 141 yards
- Third quarter scoring: USC 120 – Opponents 38
- Penalties: USC 106 for 967 yards – Opponents 74 for 603 yards