Game Week

It's finally here. After a pleasant off-season filled with positive memories of Heisman Trophies and Orange Bowl wins, the Trojans will finally hit the field this weekend and USC fans are fired up to say the least.

There is a lot of reason for optimism right now on a team loaded with a blend of talent and experience the likes of which we haven't seen in many, many years. Paul McDonald pointed out the similarities between this team and the 1978 national championship Trojan team while attending the Salute to Troy banquet last Friday night. He talked about the fact that JR was entering his 3rd season, same as Pete Carroll this year, and the fact that an untested lefty was taking the reigns at QB then in much the same way that Matt Leinart is this season. Is talk of a national championship too much for this 2003 Trojan team? Probably not. It's obviously way too early to start making plans for New Orleans but all the ingredients are there for a run if things can come together in the right way.

Of course, at USC there is no bigger goal than the Rose Bowl. The ideal scenario would be for the Trojans to win the Pac-10 title, play in Pasadena on New Years's Day and then let the chips fall where the may in the polls but under the current BCS system a lot of the old tradition has fallen by the wayside. The Trojans are among the favorites in the Pac-10 this season and based upon what we've seen in fall camp that pre-season prediction is well earned. Here's a look at some of the things to look for this fall as USC prepares to take another step forward in the return to our rightful place among the college football elite:

* The quarterback spot has been solidified with the play of Leinart and he has been a calm and efficient leader in the scrimmages during camp. Matt got the job in large part because he made good decisions while eliminating mistakes and those traits will serve him well on Saturday against the Auburn Tigers.

* Our running back group is special with all the potential in the world. When you have a group to choose from that includes Hershel Dennis, Reggie Bush and LenDale White then things are looking pretty good. Bush is worth the early hype but don't forget about Mr. Dennis.

* Keary Colbert and Mike Williams will be among the top receiving duos in the country while Steve Smith will provide a solid 3rd option. At this point, our offense looks better than it did at the end of camp last season.

* If our senior offensive linemen are healthy, we'll be fine.

* Would you want to be the Auburn offensive coordinator trying to plan an attack against the Trojan defensive line? The Tigers have a formidable running game with terrific running backs and a solid offensive line so the battle in the trenches should be one to watch on Saturday.

* Yes, the Trojan secondary lost two-time All-American Troy Polamalu but it's not a stretch to say this unit will be improved this year. Our corners will be bigger and more physical while Jason Leach will get a chance to show what he can do on a full-time basis as a starter at free safety. Oh, we'll also see a freshman named Darnell Bing at strong safety and he's a 6-3, 225 hitter who runs a 4.4 40.

* There will be a lot of eyes on the USC special teams and last week Ryan Killeen hit a 54 yard field goal while also putting 7 kickoffs in a row into or out of the end zone during one practice. The addition of graduate assistant kicking specialist Dennis Slutak will be a key to see improvement in this all-important area.

There are five days to go before the Trojans and Tigers meet in one of the most highly anticipated openers in recent years and it should be an outstanding football game. It's been a long off-season, albeit one filled with a lot of smiles for Trojan fans, but now it's time for the real action and kickoff can't come soon enough.


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