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
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
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
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
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.
2007 Fun Stats:
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
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.
- 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