Thank heavens that August 6th has finally arrived. For USC Football starved fans such as yours truly, it seemed like this offseason would never come to an end. Well, the players are in school and practice has started, so this is a good time to write an early season opinion and express some thoughts about the program and what we might expect. By this time, it is obvious that the internet is here to stay and it has become increasingly more sophisticated with each passing day. Every team site has many excellent, well informed posters, so to try to over analyze a team and comment on all the extensive ongoings is more of a futile activity than ever before. There are already many factual and biased posts from which interested fans can and do choose. Instead, I will attempt to bring out some points that I hope will interest many and these points will definitely reflect one oldtime SC diehard's personal opinions and viewpoints.
As the season begins, I have to think that one underlying question that resonates throughout the entire Trojan Family and perhaps throughout the entire college football world is easily asked. Is the football program at the University of Southern California really back?? Has the program improved to the point where it once again commands a perpetual spot in the nation's top ten programs on a regular basis? When answering in an emotional light only, one tends to blurt out an obvious yes, yes, yes, SC is BACK. However, when one thinks carefully about the answer, I don't honestly think the response is as obvious. I know that will irk the daylights out of some, but I am about to explain why I am not 100% convinced that the answer is obvious. Last year was terrific, but whether or not that success can be repeated has to be proven on the field, not on the internet message boards.
On a very positive note, USC returns about 15 starters and some experienced backups. Impressively, the team returns all four original starters from last year's down four Dliners and that unit might be as fine as any in America and certainly one of the top five. Equally impressive is the fact that for the first time in what seems like an eternity, the SC Offensive line is listed as a legitimate strength of the team and one of the kids is a real contender for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, namely Jacob Rogers. However, by the end of last year, the team was an offensive juggernaut as fine as any I have ever seen play for the University of Southern California since 1967 and that includes the vaunted 1972 and 1978 national championship teams. In all my years of following college football, I have never seen a better offensive demonstration in three consecutive games than I saw against UCLA, Notre Dame, and the University of Iowa. Folks, even if one were to use comparative scores as a sign of dominance, it would be hard to find a more dominant unit than the one which I just described. And here is the kink, the reason I am not yet convinced about this year's team. A very major part of that offensive team has departed, all to the NFL. We lost an entirely senior backfield and the significance of that might not yet be apparent. Now mind you folks, I am not predicting gloom and doom--not by any stretch of the imagination. I am merely stating that although we appear to be very talented on paper, we do not yet have an established quarterback or runners who have proven they can run, catch and block with consistency. I honestly think we have what it takes, but the proof still awaits us.
When was the last time any readers of this board did not associate the qb position at USC with Carson Palmer? Seems like forever to me. Right now, that position, that huge position seems like the biggest and most imposing question mark we have. Can the current crop get the job done? I assume that all SC fans certainly hope so. Personally, I really think so, but it could take a while. Remember, this is just one guy's opinion and I reserve the right to be dead wrong!! My guess is that going into the Auburn game, Matt Leinart will be the starter, but it won't surprise me to see John David Booty pushing for playing time early on. I read the boards like many others, and I respect the opinion of those who feel the kid needs time to develop and the like. However, one has to feel that if the SC staff had been truly satisfied with what was on board at that position, Booty might not have been so eager to come in early and forgo his senior year in high school. This could be wrong, but after watching recruiting and following SC and college football for so many years, I can't help but get the feeling that if a really good kid were to come in, he could play big minutes this year and actually take over the position before too long. Head Coach Pete Carroll has so much as said that in the newspapers himself. The competition is still open.
I think this year is very likely to reinforce some ideas that many on the boards have expressed in recent years. First year players can come in and contribute from the getgo at some of the skilled positions and also on the Dline. It is much harder to expect a freshmen newcomer to play on the Oline and at cornerback early on during the first year. That is what makes last year even more incredible. USC had not one, but two freshmen Offensive Linemen that were good enough to play and even start and compete at a very high level. We had Winston Justice and Fred Matua who were both good enough as true freshmen. That is almost unheard of in this day and age. Not only is the system hard to learn, but the physcial strength and speed is something that not many frosh Oliners have so early on. This year, I would be shocked if we did not see a whole bevy of first year players contribute at running back, receiver, special teams and possibly at linebacker. With only Hershel Dennis returning at tailback, one can't help but assume that two or maybe even all three of the group that includes Reggie Bush, Chauncy Washington and Lendale White will get the call and more than a little chance to show their stuff. Recent years have shown that tailbacks go down time and again and any team that does not have good depth will be in big trouble.
USC has as fine a duo at wr as just about any team that comes to my mind. Keary Colbert and Mike, BMW, Williams form a fabulous tandem. However, despite the fact that SC has worlds of potential, no other single receiver on this team has proven anything at all in college football. Considering how often SC has thrown in recent years, that is a bit daunting. However, the talent that the Trojans would appear to have waiting to be demonstrated is potentially mind boggling. Steve Smith is a guy that might be as big a star as any receiver. A kid does not get to be California male athelete of the year unless he is superb. This guy can play and will show it right away. Justin Wyatt is a guy who is as exciting with the ball as any I can imagine. Whether or not he is sure handed enough to get it done will have to be proven, but the guy can move. The wildcard here, in my opinion is Whitney Lewis. Just how good can and will he be? It is rare to have a wr who is about 6'1 and between 220 and 230 pounds, depending on where in his training he is. This is a guy who could run with the ball from scrimmage, or he could come out of the backfield ala Foo last year or he can line up wide and dare somebody to stay with him. This young player has blazing speed. If somebody can get these kids the ball, USC might be far more potent than their opponents care to think about. And so as not to aggravate anyone reading this, I think the team will miss Alex Holmes if he is unable to go, but one has to hope that Dominique Byrd, Greg Guenther, Kirt Katnik and maybe even Chris Barrett will be up to the task. I think they will!
The defense on this team might be even more dominant than last year's nationally ranked unit. For that reason, USC Football is indeed likely to be back. Defense wins games, or so the saying goes and this unit is bigtime by anyone standards. Of the front seven, only Mike Pollard is gone, and it is not a stretch to think that the replacement will be as good or maybe better. Either Tatupu or Lua should be fine replacements and Groots and Simmons are back intact with a bigger and stronger Sartz there to back up. The down four are awesome and with the addition of Watson, Ellis and either Moala or Wright, the depth should be enough. Now,remember, this is just one guys's opinion, and it is mine that I don't believe that both Moala and Wright will stay on the D side of the ball, but I will be back to eat crow if proven wrong on that point. At any rate, the inside is deep and with Udeze, Frostee Rucker , Nazel and Brown or one of the highly touted frosh at the other DE, this unit is better than fine. The db's will shine and Marcel Allmond, Will Poole and Kevin Arbet are likely as potent a trio at corner as one will find and Leach, Ross and Darnell Bing are sure things with Darnell Bing very very likely to prove how exceptional he is very early in the season.
So with all the positives, why am I not yet SURE we are back? Well, I still worry about the quarterback, at least early on and although freshmen CAN perform well at the skilled positions, one hates to depend on them having to do just that. Similarly, special teams have not yet met anyone's hopes. I am optimistic that they will finally take a step up, but one never knows for sure. It's going be interesting indeed. I can hardly wait for my chance to drive down I-65 to Montgomery Alabama from here in Tennessee to see our Trojans hit the field against Auburn at Jordan Hare Stadium in 3 1/2 weeks. It can't get here soon enough. BTW, if I have to take a firm stand, I will. My best educated guess is that USC will end up in the top ten this year, and the Offense will be the biggest surprise. As always, I will be here to admit my mistakes, but I am hoping that just is not necessary. I really think that USC has the talent, the desire and the Coaching Staff to prove that things are right again at University Park.