2006 Record: (11-2, 7-2)
Coach: Pete Carroll (65-12 at USC, 65-12 overall)
Starters Returning: 18 (7 offense, 10 defense, 1 specialist)
Defensive Starters Lost: LB Dallas Sartz
Defensive Starters Returning: DT Sedrick Ellis, DT Fili Moala, DE Lawrence Jackson, LB Brian Cushing, LB Keith Rivers, LB Rey Maualuga, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Cary Harris, S Kevin Ellison, S Taylor Mays
Starting Specialists Lost: K Mario Danelo
Starting Specialists Returning: P Greg Woidneck
For starters: Usually the Trojans reload with NFL caliber players. This year they will do the same, but with seven starters returning on offense and ten on defense, there is not much reloading that needs to be done. Coach Pete Carroll has never had such a talented defense and that is bad news for the rest of the nation.
Offense: John David Booty has yet to cement himself with the likes of Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer in the annals of Trojan history, but passing for 3,347 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions is not too shabby in his first year as the starter. The absence of receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett sounds like it will make Booty’s job more difficult, but USC has plenty of options, most notably Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton.
It gets a little more interesting in the running game. C.J. Gable, Emmanuel Moody and Chauncey Washington all started at least four games last year. After a couple of injuries in 2006, the USC running back by committee approach caused some problems. It is not like talent or depth is an issue, but nobody stepped up to carry the load. Super talented freshman Joe McKnight might be the one to put an end to the running back speculation in Southern California.
Defense: If the offense does not give the opposition nightmares, the defense surely will. The front four will dominate led by tackle Sedrick Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson. With Fili Moala, Chris Barrett, Averell Spicer, Kyle Moore and Alex Morrow returning, the line has plenty of depth and size. The lone lost starter on defense is linebacker Dallas Sartz. Brian Cushing, who started as an end last year, will be moving back to his natural linebacker spot to replace Sartz. Joining Cushing, and creating arguably the best linebacker trio in the nation are Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga.
Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris both return to man the corners, but it is the safeties that make this a great unit. Strong safety Kevin Ellison earned All-American second team accolades as a sophomore in 2006 and free safety Taylor Mays started his collegiate trophy shelf with national Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. However, Mays will have some competition from Josh Pinkard who missed most of the 2006 season with a knee injury.
The Bottom Line: USC is the team to beat. Last season was the year to knock off the Trojans, and they still went 11-2 and were in the national championship picture up to the bitter end. The only thing that needs to be done is to sort out the plethora of talent that is sitting on the sidelines and plug them in the right places at the right time. And is there any doubt that Coach Carroll can do that?
QB John David Booty will once again lead the Trojans on another run at the National Title.