"The toughest schedule in the nation." That is the label placed upon the 2001 Trojan football season by almost every major sports publication. USC's 11-game schedule features 7 teams that played in bowls last season and 5 that were ranked in AP's final Top 15. SC opens its 2001 slate at home on Sept. 1 against San Jose State; also visiting the Coliseum are last year's No. 4 Oregon State, No. 9 Kansas State, Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA. On the road, USC goes to No. 3 Washington, No. 7 Oregon, No. 15 Notre Dame, Arizona and California.
The 2001 USC team features 73 returning squadmen (40 were lettermen), including starters at 16 positions (8 on offense, 6 on defense, plus the punter and placekicker). Back are 44 Trojans who saw action last year and 20 who have started at least once in their career. Thirty players return who were on USC's season-ending 2-deep.
In looking at the wealth of talent SC returns, along with arguably the best staff since JRI, one prinicipal question comes to mind... how do the 2001 Trojans matchup against this season's opponents?
Under highly-regarded offensive coordinator Norm Chow, Troy will try to repeat its offensive production from last fall in terms of yardage-USC led the Pac-10 in total offense (415.9, its highest output since 1989) and was 23rd nationally in passing offense (262.3)-but it must dramatically cut down on its turnovers (a nation-high 36, its most since 1977).
There will be no "gimmes" through this coming season. To rate each game by degree of difficulty is a challenge in itself because each opponent is a piece of what looks to be a battlefield for a season. That recognized, find the following: based upon home vs. away and team strength, as follows: 1. Notre Dame 2. Oregon 3. Ucla 4. Oregon State 5. University of Washington 6. Stanford 7. Kansas State 8. ASU 9. Cal 10. University of Arizona 11. San Jose State...
With the above stated, every opponent presents incredible hurdles through either talent, home field advantage, or both SC to overcome.
SEPTEMBER 1 - SAN JOSE STATE
The Spartan defense allowed 475.9 yards per game last season and ranked last in the nation. They are coming off a 7-5 season that included a 27-24 upset of TCU (we all remember TCU). They've also managed to defeat the Cardinal in their last two meetings. The Spartans return their two most productive offensive stars with tailback Deonce Whitaker and quarterback Marcus Arroyo. In last season's matchup against San Jose St., SC trailed through almost three quarters of football before finally putting enough offense together to seal a victory. SC should not take this team lightly.
Looking at the numbers San Jose State yielded on defense, it is easy to conclude that the Spartan offense will be the strength of their team. Beyond the two legitimate stars in Whitaker and Arroyo, San Jose also returns Outland trophy candidate Chris Fe'esago. Fe'esago will be the anchor to what should prove to be the WAC's best offensive line. Whitaker ran for over 1,500 yards while sitting out two games, so it is no wonder why the Spartans feel they have a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate. And with that said, the key to beating the Spartans is the containment of Deonce Whitaker. Whitaker averaged 7 yards per carry and gave the Trojans fits in 2000 until he was finally pulled due to injury.
Pete Carrol seems to have recognized this by putting as much speed on the defensive side of the field, as possible. Matt Grootegoed and Frank Strong have been converted from the Safety positions to Outside Linbacker. Beyond speed, these two young men bring a very aggressive form of football, some call... D-Cleating. Simply put, these boys hit... hard. They are not the only defensive specialists to possess this attribute, however. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Antuan Simmons are both known to bring a heavy hat. SC also fields perhaps the best defensive line in a decade with this 2001 group. SC's personnel both on and off the field should prove the difference in what will be the perfect non-conference test.
With Carrol's reputation for aggressive defensive packages and Norm Chow's spread offense it should allow the Trojans to flex their muscle and handle the Spartans at home, with relative ease. You've also got to wonder about a team that passes on Al Borges to be their head coach - San Jose State did. What do they know that Cal doesn't?
SC by 17.
SEPTEMBER 8 - KANSAS STATE
Ranked 13th in the AP Top 25, Kansas State is hungry for recognition. One wonders why when you realize the Cats have put together a string of 11 win seasons, while also manhandling Tennessee in last year's Cotton Bowl, but respectability is their goal. Consequently, K-State agreed to a two year matchup with the Trojans in an attempt to alleviate the patsy label. Luckily for SC, the first of these two games takes place at the Coliseum. The question becomes, can SC manage a top 15 team this early in the season, home or away?
The Difference Maker - USC has one of the nation's best signalcallers in 2001 in junior Carson Palmer (228-of-415, 54.9%, 2,914 yds, 16 TD, 18 int in 2000). He is on the "Watch List" for the 2001 Davey O'Brien Award. He already ranks fifth on Troy's career passing list (397 completions). He is also fifth on USC's all-time total offense chart (5,050 yards). His 5,159 career passing yards is the most by a Trojan at the end of his sophomore year. He is on pace to break Rob Johnson's school career records for completions (676) and passing yardage (8,472), plus Rodney Peete's USC career total offense yardage mark (8,640). With 20 career starts under his belt, he has completed at least 60.0% of his passes 9 times (including 4 contests at 70.0%-plus). Look for him to thrive now in Norm Chow's offense. And with speedy targets like Kareem Kelly at wide receiver and Sultan McCullough in the backfield, it will be difficult for a young Kansas State defense to keep up. The Wildcats lost 26 seniors and return only 3 starters on defense. This weakness will prove their undoing against the veteran SC offense. If speed kills, SC has it in spades and it will be that one aspect of this matchup that will give the Trojans the upper hand.
This will not prove to be as lopsided a victory as the San Jose State game because of the Wildcats' experience with bigtime opponents, but it will be a victory regardless. Kansas State, while only returning 3 defenders, will field almost as few returning offensive players, in 6. They get one half of their line back, but must find a new quarter back as well as center. The strength of their offense is returning half back Josh Scobey who rushed for 147 yards last year against the Volunteers, but that makes this team very one-dimensional. I am not suggesting that the Wildcats will prove to be an unworthy opponent, but it could be argued their preseason ranking is a bit inflated. This is also a home game for the Trojans and any time a team has to travel to Los Angeles, distractions abound. With Kansas State's very young seondary, look for Carson Palmer to have his coming out party with Norm Chow's offense.
SC by 14.
SEPTEMBER 22 - OREGON
SC's first away game could be it's toughest. The Ducks' streak of home victories is among the nation's longest. Homefield advantage will be Oregon's greatest weapon against the Trojans, for beyond that, this is a brilliant matchup.
The Ducks should field a very prolific offense this year, with Heisman hopeful Joey Harrington at quarterback and Maurice Morris at tailback. However, SC offers equally talented players at both positions.
Troy returns a 1,000-yard runner in 2001 and he's a good one: speedy junior tailback Sultan McCullough (227 tcb, 1,163 yds, 5.1 avg, 6 TD in 2000, plus 9 rec, 2.8 avg). And he should only get better. He is listed as a candidate for the 2001 Doak Walker Award. His rushing total last fall was the most at USC since 1990. He hit the 100-yard rushing barrier 7 times in 2000 (the most by a Trojan since 1989), including 4 games in a row. That was good enough to earn him All-Pac-10 second team acclaim in 2000. The 1999 Pac-10 champion in the 100-meter dash, he is the fastest player ever to wear a Trojan football uniform (10.17 in the 100 meters). Giving the Trojans a 1-2 punch at tailback is powerful and experienced senior Malaefou MacKenzie (41 tcb, 284 yds, 6.9 avg in 2000, plus 27 rec, 9.2 avg), a threat running and receiving. He was second on the Trojans in rushing last season and his 27 receptions were the most by a USC running back since 1996. In his career (which includes 4 starts), he has 765 rushing yards and 37 receptions.
Oregon returns most of its offensive line, but must fill both tackle spots. The same situation exists at Troy. Oregon fields one of the Pac's best tight ends in Justin Peelle, as well as a solid possession receiver in Keenan Howry. However, behind these two veteran skill position players there is little to talk about. Samie Parker will prove solid, but lack of game experience will keep him from reaching his potential this early in the season.
For SC the wide receiver and tight end corps are deep with enough talent to take advantage of Norm Chow's wide spread offense. SC's speed at the skill positions will be a difficult matchup for the Ducks. Oregon does have the secondary personnel to answer that challenge with Rashard Bauman, perhaps the Pac's best cover corner.
With all the talk of both team's offensive prowess, it is the defense that will win the day. Oregon returns only 4 defensive starters and must replace their entire defensive line, as well as linebacking corp. SC's defense is a superior unit, especially on the line. If SC can provide pressure, mix coverages and stunts while containing the running game as they did in last year's contest, it will be up to Harrington to win the day. He will be on the field less his top wide receivers of 2000 and this could prove devastating for the senior quarterback.
An early test against Wisconsin will prove an excellent barometer as to the type of team Mike Belotti will bring to the field in 2001. Both teams have a bye prior to this matchup and so should be healthy and hungry. This game is going to be a shootout and the last team with the ball will prevail. If it comes down to special teams, SC is victorious. Overtime killer. Home field advantage could be the difference.
No winner picked.
SEPTEMBER 29 - STANFORD
Any Pac Ten team that looks beyond Stanford to their next opponent is going to come out a loser. Stanford returns 16 starters, including their entire offensive line. They have one of the better quarterbacks in senior Randy Fasani and both of their running backs. The two players Stanford is missing from last year, however, were among their best in Riall Johnson and DeRonnie Pitts. New stars to Stanford's lineup include Kwame Harris, perhaps the best of the young tackles in the Pac Ten and the highly recruited linebacker Michael Craven. Stanford also fields its best secondary in some time as well as both returning kickers. Stanford plays San Jose State two weeks prior to our meeting and it will be interesting to compare ourselves to them against this common opponent.
If SC has any advantage against Stanford for the 2001 season it will be our pass catchers. Kareem Kelly (55 rec, 14.5 avg, 4 TD in 2000), an acrobatic, fleet junior, headlines USC's receiving corps. He already is ninth on Troy's all-time pass catching chart with 109 grabs. Last fall, he topped the Trojans in receptions and receiving yardage (796). He is joined by a nice blend of experienced, speedy veterans and talented newcomers. Last year's co-starters at the other wideout spot also return in sophomore Keary Colbert (33 rec, 14.5 avg, 3 TD in 2000) and junior Marcell Allmond (16 rec, 15.2 avg in 2000). Also in the mix are a pair of junior college transfers-2000 J.C. All-American Grant Mattos (Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif.), a junior, and sophomore Devin Pitts (El Camino College in Torrance, Calif.)-and freshman William Buchanon a 2000 prep All-American who is the son of ex-NFL star cornerback Willie Buchanon.
Chow has converted Kori Dickerson from linebacker to tight end with the goal of spreading the field. Despite his size, Dickerson runs a 4.4 forty and is backed up by a talented string of tight ends. Most notably through Fall is Alex Holmes who took advantage of Dickerson's absence to make a name for himself as a sure handed player. Either man will be a handful for any opponent to bring down. It is the exploitation of this position that could be the difference. If SC can utilize its tight end position with deeper patterns over the middle it will open up the running game. If that occurs then the game will move to SC's favor. Look for Chow to bring Mackenzie into the game with passes into the flat. SC wins, but it will take a solid game plan to pull it off.
SC by 7.
OCTOBER 6 - UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON
Okay, call me crazy, but I just don't see much in the Huskies for 2001. The toughest aspects of playing UW is that we haven't in three seasons and then that we must travel north to do so.
It is impossible to measure the value of Marques Tuisasosopo. In college football having a quarterback who's played in over 30 games and become a team leader is one of the greatest advantages a team can have. Playing time is key to victory and the 2001 Huskies return only 10 players that can say they've had much, if any, of that.
Two players will carry UW through 2001, Larry Tripplett and Rich Alexis. Although Alexis is not listed as a returning starter, he managed 738 yards as a freshman. Tripplett, arguably one of the best defensive tackles in the Pac is their most decorated defensive star. Although players have looked good in recent scrimmages, Washington is not flush with experience. Thinning their ranks even further are the loss of Chris Juergens (knee) and Francisco Tipoti (grades). Juergens, although not a starter, was one of the few wideouts with any playing time and Tipoti was already slated in at first string on the Huskie offensive line.
Special teams could prove a strength for the Huskies with kicker John Anderson back for his third season.
The turf of Huskie stadium is never fun to play on, but it is this turf that could give SC it's biggest edge. Again, the speed of our skill positions will be tough to contain and if our offense can spread the field out, it will bring the Huskie secondary up to cover. When this occurs look for streaks and posts to follow.
Washington has two early tests with Michigan and Miami. They came up big against the Hurricanes in 2000, but a repeat seems less likely. Playing in big games such as this could also prove debilitating with regard to injury and the Huskies are not deep enough to withstand much in this realm. H
Home field is a major advantage, but not enough.
SC by 3.
OCTOBER 13 - ARIZONA STATE
Anybody remember the Delvon Flowers' run that broke Ucla's back two years ago? Well, if you don't, it was magnificent and guess what... after a year rehabbing his knee, he's back. Flowers was a back SC wanted badly, but had to pass on because of grades. He's a glider with nasty speed and will prove tough to bring down. The other offensive star the Sun Devils have in their arsenal is Donnie O'Neal. People talk, I guess, about the potential of Ucla wide receiver Brian Poli Dixon, but it is O'Neal that has put his game on the field. ASU's wideouts will be counted on this season to keep team hopes alive.
The key to this game will be defense. ASU fields stars on defense with linebacker Solomon Bates and defensive end Terrell Suggs. They also have talent at the other linebacking positions, as well as the two safety spots, but it is their corners that could hurt them.
Prior to the SC game, ASU's schedule is a mixed bag. They face Ucla, Stanford, San Jose State, San Diego State and Louisiana, Lafayette. From the SC game onward, they hit the meat of their schedule and it's going to be tough. If ASU is not a .500 ball by the time they face us, look for them to be thin in the confidence factor.
If ASU's quarterback, Jeff Krohn, is still in the starting lineup then look to SC to bring the house on this kid, as often as he utters the phrase "hut one". Carroll will unleash his defense in this contest to turn the tide early.
To do that successfully, SC must fight through one of the more senior offensive lines in the Pac Ten. If they can penetrate and spook Krohn, the day will be theirs. If not and Krohn gets going, then opens up the running game with Flowers, SC could be looking at the same ugly treatment ASU gave Ucla two seasons prior.
SC by 14.
OCTOBER 20 - NOTRE DAME
Say your Hail Mary's because it's going to take all SC has to come out the victor of this year's rivalry. Strength versus speed. That is the name of this game. It would be nice to think that SC's smaller version of the linebacker will be enough to handle Notre Dame's big offensive line and bruising running backs.
Bob Davie finally fields his first complete team, recruited during his regime. How the program has gone unscathed through all the NCAA violations, (especially considering the NCAA sanctioned SC for test scores seasons old), is amazing. However, as hard as it is to believe, back are the Domers with a team that might challenge for a BCS bowl come January.
Notre Dame returns 13 starters and a handful of other players with significant playing time. Most impressive is their backfield with Julius Jones and Tony Fisher. Equally as potent is their young quarterback, Matt LoVecchio who set all sorts of records in his freshman campaign. Of course the most dangerous aspect to any Notre Dame team is their homefield officials, who always manage to give the Domers whatever they can get away with on national television. Because of that, playing them in their house is tough. It adds to the difficulty factor in too many ways...
This should be SC's toughest game of the season, but with disciplined ball and a break in the turnover department, the game can be won.
What is interesting is the matchup of SC's young offensive line versus Notre Dame's even younger defensive line.
Three-fifths of USC's starters on the offensive line are back in 2001 and each is an outstanding player. But the rest of the unit is relatively inexperienced, which is a concern since Troy will start new tackles and must develop some reliable depth along the line. Manning the guard spots will be senior Faaesea Mailo, who started at tackle last season but has 6 starts earlier in his career at left guard, and junior Zach Wilson, a 2-year starter on the right side. Both tip the scales at more than 300 pounds. A twisted knee slowed Mailo in fall camp, so sophomore Norm Katnik could see action there. Katnik can play any line position: he worked mainly at center in 2000, was moved to tackle last spring, went back to center this fall and now is also working at guard. Sophomore Lenny Vandermade returns as the center after earning Freshman All-American first team honors last year (he also started some at guard in 2000). Sophomores Jacob Rogers (he missed last spring's practice while recovering from shoulder surgery) and Eric Torres (he saw limited time in 2000) have the lead as the starting tackle jobs vacated by 3-year starter Brent McCaffrey on the left and Mailo on the right. Redshirt freshmen Joe McGuire has moved to guard and impressed the coaches with his new found enthusiasm and solid play.
That might not sound too promising, but Notre Dame's defensive line isn't in any better shape with regard to playing time. Only one man on the starting line, Anthony Weaver, is listed as a starter from the 2000 season. Ryan Roberts saw time last year at right end, but he has been moved to second team. This could prove difficult for the Domers, especially if they are thinned by injury.
Another aspect of Notre Dame's defense that will need battle testing to prove it's mettle is it's secondary. Only one starter returns and that is corner, Shane Walton. Questions at these defensive positions must be answered for Notre Dame to have the sort of season Davie thinks is in its future. Speaking of Bob...
Notre Dame's greatest weakness... it's head coach. Davie is a loose cannon and if he gets behind at home, watch him unravel. SC's greatest strength, if they live up to their expectations, is their staff. Chow is a premiere offensive coordinator in college football and Carroll knows his "D". They should be fairly comfortable with their game plan by then, so it will prove interesting.
ND by 7.
OCTOBER 27 - ARIZONA
New head coach, John Makovic is hoping that Desert Swarm will return to Arizona this season to make up for a very freshmen offense. If the Swarm does return, it will be brought by Arizona's secondary. With every secondary position being filled by a starter from the 2000 season, the Wildcats' defense will find it's strength in these veterans. However, the same can be said for SC's unit.
Seven players have started there in their careers. Junior Troy Polamalu (83 tac, 5 for loss, 1 sac, 2 int with 1 TD, 7 dfl, 1 FR in 2000) was the team's No. 2 tackler last fall while starting all season at strong safety. Senior Antuan Simmons, a 3-year starter at cornerback (he was moved to safety this fall) who sat out the 2000 campaign while battling a life-threatening illness (a benign abdominal tumor that left him hospitalized for 6 weeks), has emerged as the starter at free safety. He slowly worked his way back into shape, was impressive in last spring's practice and won the free safety job this fall. He is an impact player, with 175 tackles, 7 interceptions and 6 blocked kicks in his career. Redshirt freshman Jason Leach and freshman John Walker back up Polamalu, while behind Simmons is junior DeShaun Hill (39 tac, 3 for loss, 1 sac, 2 int, 5 dfl in 2000), who shared the starting free safety duty last season with Frank Strong. The corners are equally stacked. Senior Chris Cash (39 tac, 1 sac, 2 int, 7 dfl, 2 FF in 2000) and junior Darrell Rideaux (21 tac, 4 dfl in 2000), also a sprinter for USC's track team with a best of 10.27 in the 100 meters, once again will fight it out for the spot they shared in 2000. On the other side, there's senior 2-year starter Kris Richard (19 tac, 5 dfl in 2000). He has 6 career picks. Backing him up will be junior Kevin Arbet (31 tac, 1 for loss, 2 dfl in 2000) who has had an excellent fall camp and worked his way into the nickle package. They'll rely on head coach Pete Carroll, whose background primarily has been on the defensive side of the ball, to mold this unit into a feared presence as the defensive coordinator.
SC's defense will be the difference in this ball game. With as many questions as Arizona has on defense, they have even few answers on offense. Ortege Jenkins is gone and this means finding a replacement for a young man who either shared or controlled the quarterback position for four full seasons. Jason Johnson has become the clear leader through camp and this is not necessarily good news as he has only thrown 6 passes in his entire college career. The Wildcats do have a future in the quarterback position with Rattay and freshman Costa but that future is not now.
Arizona's offensive line offers little relief with only two starters back from an already average group. They do return 6 players with considerable playing time but a few of those men are coming off various forms of injury.
The other factor that could seriously plague UofA is the loss of Dick Tomey. Tomey recruited every kid on that team, save a handful of freshmen. He was the Dean of Pac 10 coaches and had put Arizona on the map. It will be interesting to see if the ship merely lists or actually submerges for a season or two while they rebuild. Makovic gutted the program from ball boys to coordinators and that has to have its effect on the players. Only time will tell...
SC by 14.
NOVEMBER 3 - OREGON STATE
Sports Illustrated has done it again, they've put the whammy on an otherwise decent team. The Beavers of Oregon State played spectacular football in 2000. They punished Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl handing the Domers their worst loss since SC came back to beat them 55-24.
But guess what, that awesome season was possible because Oregon State had 12 senior starters. Even Head Coach Dennis Erickson said at the end of 2000 that this might have been the best football this school can manage. I, for one, listened to that remark and kept it logged waiting for this day - the start of the 2001 season.
Oregon State returns just 9 total starters on offense and defense. And yes, Simonton and Smith are key to that group, but neither will be able to do much without the help of a solid offensive line. Ironically, the only other starters to the Beaver offense comes from the line, in center Chris Gibson and tackle Vincent Sandoval. That means of a solid 11 on offense, only 4 are back. Now this might not seem like a major concern if you're Florida State or Nebraska, but it can cause one to worry if you're a Beaver. If Simonton fails to reach his unprecedented fourth 1000 yard season, it will be because of the lack of experience surrounding him.
Because of that lack of experience and considering that Oregon State comes to SC for this matchup, I think this game goes the way of the Cardinal and Gold.
By now, SC's offense should be full guns and whatever kinks that were in the linebacking corp, should be gone. The Trojans will dominate the line of scrimmage from both sides of the ball and Sultan McCullough will find lanes wide enough for a bus to drive through. Unfortunately, Simonton will not be experiencing the same kind of love. He's going to have to fight for whatever yards he might gather. This is a big victory for SC and will lead us right into the Cal road trip knowing that beating them and finishing up with Ucla will mean a top finish in the Pac Ten race.
SC by 10.
NOVEMBER 10 - CAL
Thank God Andre Carter no longer plays for the Golden Bears. Head Coach, Tom Holmoe may soon become headless if he doesn't produce a winning season. After five years and four offensive coordinators, Holmoe has yet to give his fans a enough W's to shut them up - yes, Cal does have the worst fans in the Pac Ten. Ironically, Holmoe brought in Al Borges to help rejuvenate a dying program. Okay, dying might be a bit overstated, but it is ironic that Borges was brought in for this program. Afterall, it was Borges Bruin fans blamed for their quarterbacks' horrible mechanics. And it is Borges who is supposed to aide junior quarterback Kyle Boller in taking his game to the next level. Considering that San Jose State passed on Al being their head coach, one has to wonder what Holmoe was doing when he went after the ex-Bruin.
Because of Al's Bruin ties, he will want nothing more than to beat SC and extricate himself out from under Toledo's very large shadow.
The Bears do return 15 starters so they are entirely capable of putting together an A game. It will take their best to beat SC in 2001. In my mind, Coach Carroll's defensive adjustments with Strong, Grootegoed and Simmons will pay dividends in this matchup. SC fans will finally see why these moves were so brilliant.
Looking to fill in at middle linebacker is Mike Pollard (2 tac in 2000). His backup will be Aaron Graham (26 tac, 2 for loss, 1 sac, 2 dfl, 1 FF in 2000), and redshirt freshman Lee Webb, a converted fullback. The outside spots manned last season by Steele on the weak side and Dickerson on the strong side will be handled by a pair of converted safeties: senior Frank Strong (20 tac, 1 int, 4 dfl, 1 F, 1 BLK in 2000), who was a free safety the past year-and-a-half and also was USC's top kickoff returner last year (21.6 avg on 25 runbacks), on the weak side and redshirt freshman Matt Grootegoed on the strong side. It is this adjustment, more than any other, that will prove the difference in this game, especially in containing Igber and putting pressure on Boller.
SC by 7.
NOVEMBER 17 - UCLA
Ucla hopes to accomplish something it hasn't done in three long years, ring the victory bell. To do that, they have to come into SC's house and prove all the prognosticators correct - you see everyone's thinks the Bruins are coming up roses. Even Bruin wide out Brian Poli-Dixon said that last year's 6-6 season and the 5-7 debacle that preceded it helped mature the team. After all, if they kept winning they way they had back in ‘98, they'd think they were entitled to it. Thank Heavens this didn't happen or the Bruins might have recorded their first National Championship. But it appears, that that would be where they are headed in 2001.
All kidding aside, Ucla will field what should be one of the Pac's best teams. They have experience at nearly every position. Most experts feel that their defensive line will be the strength on either side of the ball. They do return 11 men who had playing time on the defensive line in 2000. Of course that defense gave up over 450 yards a game which would equal to 40 yards per man. Certainly that is what National Champions are made of... sorry, sorry.
The defense will be better than last year's, that is certain. They have hitting in free safety Marques Anderson, experience in line backers Nece and Thomas and brute strength in Kenyon Coleman. They also have a new defensive coordinator, in Phil Snow.
I laughed at an article from the Los Angeles Times this last weekend. It was entitled "Snow Flurries" and spoke of the aggressive style of secondary play the Ucla defensive coordinator had designed for the coming season. My laughter, of course, came from thinking what the LA Times writers might title an article on the same defensive coordinator if he fails to pass the same test his many predecessors could not get by... "Snow Falls". Yes, that must be what they've got put in their top desk drawer for that special Sunday column.
As good as everyone seems to think Ucla's defensive line will be, SC has a nice group of their own. This season, look for Nielsen-a 2-year starter-and Riley to be side by side at tackle. Their backups figure to be redshirt freshmen Malcolm Wooldridge and Nathan Goodson and freshman Mike Patterson. One end spot will be a pseudo-linebacker, giving USC's 4-3 look a 3-4 feel. Senior Lonnie Ford (16 tac, 6 for loss, 4 sac, 2 dfl, 1 FF in 2000), who has 16 tackles for losses and 15 starts in his career, is the ideal man for that job, with soph Omar Nazel, who saw brief action in 5 games last season without making a stop, backing him up. The other end will be redshirt freshman Kenechi Udeze and 2000 prep All-American freshman Shaun Cody, who was USA Today's national Defensive Player of the Year.
This group's charter is to contain the Bruin running game which is expected to be legendary in 2001. They are lead by senior running back and Doak Walker candidate DeShaun Foster. Foster has yet to crack a thousand yard season but most see that in his near future. Behind him is the Bruin's secret weapon - Manuel White. Ucla faithful just three years ago predicted that Foster would enter the draft, Heisman trophy tucked under his arm, a year ago. Injuries have prevented the talented runner from reaching his potential. Luckily, if anything were to happen to him this year, White will be there to carry on his legacy. It does appear that Foster will be Toledo's go to guy until he can't go anymore. Look for DeShaun to carry the ball 30 times in this year's SC/Ucla game.
Toledo did this against SC two years ago and it backfired horribly ending their 8 game winning streak. He attempted the same thing last year, with the same horrible results.
Losing twice in a row has placed a rather large monkey on Bob's back and it's going to be tougher to shake off this year than ever before. Afterall, if he can't beat Hackett's offense imagine what Norm Chow is going to do to him... wow.
Speaking of offense, look for Norm Chow and company to open the barn doors wide for this occasion. We've all seen or read about the five wide out offense featured in SC's 2001 attack. This will be the call of the day, due to Ucla's lack of depth in their secondary. Ucla is calling upon freshman phenom Matt Ware to play db this year until Anderson finishes his time at the school. And although Ware is a superb athlete, he is not a college corner. This could prove to be the Bruin's downfall against passing teams. SC, if Ucla gives it up, will cover the field with flairs, posts, hooks and screens. And when that has got Ucla defense thinking their losing in a game of Twister, SC's going to hand the ball off to Sultan McCullough. McCullough, despite outgaining his Bruin counterpart in 2000, does not get the press Foster does. He is, however, the complete back and should rush for another 1,000 yard season unless Chow's gone absolutely airborne.
All in all, it should be an excellent match up going from position to position. The game is at SC, but it is always a balanced crowd. Injuries suffered to both teams' players through the season will have an enormous effect on the possible outcome because both teams are thin at a number of positions.
It is my opinion that the best football in the Pac ten will be played during this game. It is also my opinion that no matter who is on the field, it will and normally is, a very close game.
No winner picked.