O/NS0 - Spring Cleaning edition

Once considered a slam dunk to be pre-ranked as the nation's top-ranked 2004 college football team, on-and-off the field challenges have suddenly turned the USC Trojans' spring practice into a game of Jeopardy and has left a studio audience of daily observers wondering if the defending champs can overcome staff changes, early NFL departures, and revealing injury and discipline scenarios.

The Obvious - Once considered a slam dunk to be pre-ranked as the nation's top-ranked 2004 college football team, on-and-off the field challenges have suddenly turned the USC Trojans' spring practice into a game of Jeopardy and has left a studio audience of daily observers wondering if the defending champs can overcome staff changes, early NFL departures, and revealing injury and discipline scenarios.

The Not So Obvious –Trojans' coach Pete Carroll may not be Alex Trebek, but he knows the biggest question for his now vaunted national program will not be new coaches, underclass departures, or even inexperienced but talented wide receivers. The Double-Jeopardy question will revolve around a talented but suddenly no-name list of offensive line candidates.

The Obvious – Graduated offensive linemen Jacob Rogers, Lenny Vandermade, and Norm Katnik should be a reminder to Trojan fans just how long it takes to find the right chemistry and experience to be a coordinated and dominating line.

The Not So Obvious –Trojans' offensive line coach Tim Davis is confronted with a unique problem. Despite all the spring practice and constant repetitions, the offensive line of the spring may not even resemble the unit unveiled against Virginia Tech in late August.

The Obvious –The offensive line wild cards, of course, are transfer tackle Taitusi Latui, the health of guard John Drake, and the impact Colorado freshman center Jeff Byers.

The Not So Obvious – Somewhat of a surprise is the same tackle competition between redshirt freshmen Sam Baker and Drew Radovich, both former Orange County prep All-Americans. It will also be interesting to see where sophomore center Ryan Kalil, who figures to be the starter at spring's end, fits into the picture once Byers arrives in the fall.

The Obvious – The unexpected loss of tackle Winston Justice almist completely wiped out a line that was already under heavy reconstruction due to graduation and injury.

The Not So Obvious – The gut feeling here is that junior Justice, a legitimate All-America candidate, will not be seen until 2005. Pete Carroll has given every indication that his program has moved past Justice. While an eligible Justice would certainly have greatly contributed to an easier offensive line transition, his most recent transgression has not evoked a lot of sympathy from those inside and outside the program.

The Obvious – The loss of Justice has opened up a spot for Kyle Williams (6-6, 290), the former Highland, Texas prep All-American.

The Not So Obvious – Suddenly Williams is being given a rare opportunity to fit in with the first unit. With a heralded group of freshman coming in, this is the proverbial window of opportunity for the former Lonestar hero. If family history can help, we are reminded that Williams' uncle, Eric, was a member of the Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins in 1991. Grandfather Roy also played for the 49'ers and Lions.

The Obvious – Word is out that the Trojans are recruiting Louisiana quarterback Ryan Perrilloux (6-3, 200), the multi-sport star from Reserve East. St. John.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the local success of LSU, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron continues to mine the Bayou area for Trojan nuggets and has offered quarterback Perrilloux. One of Orgeron's current Trojans from Louisiana, Ryan Watson, has been moved from the defensive line to offensive guard. Coach "O" was very high on Watson when the kid was coming out of River Ridge John Curtis High. This position move will be of interest to see if Orgeron's recruit is able to be a contributor in the future.

The Obvious – Another area of construction is the Trojans' secondary, which must replace two starters from last year's national championship club.

The Not So Obvious – In last week's edition of the Sporting News, SN commented on the needs of last year's eight "elite" BCS teams to continue their dominance. SN college football writer Pete Fiutak wrote," Granted, most of USC's opponents put up big passing number in a catch-up mode, but 276 yards per game still is too much to allow. Starting corners Will Poole and Marcell Allmond are gone, so it will be up to Ronald Nunn, Kevin Arbert, and Justin Wyatt to prove they can tighten up the secondary." There was a nice color photo of Ronald Nunn accompanying the story.

The Obvious – One of the more interesting aspects of spring practice is the release of the spring roster and special attention by Trojan fans to various position changes.

The Not So Obvious – A major key position change appears to be the movement of former Temple City star and redshirt Desmond Reed to tailback, despite the presence of Hershel Dennis, Reggie Bush, and LenDale While. Reed is taking full advantage by showcasing his lightening quickness out of the backfield as a receiver. Of course, it's only spring and let's remember last year's spring star, Justin Wyatt, Huddle MVP. Wyatt looked great on offense but now finds himself this spring battling for a starting corner spot.

The Obvious – The Trojans' receiving corps has shown good progress during the first week of spring rebounding from the loss of All-American Mike Williams to the NFL.

The Not So Obvious – The repercussions of the Trojans' Williams to the NFL may have a greater effect on future Trojans. If a current high school star sees NFL after his sophomore or freshmen Trojan season, a hint of early USC departure may be revealed by the prospects decision to graduate high school mid-year and enroll at Troy for the spring semester for spring practice. This may, however be a new positive twist that may keep Trojan coaches sane if high schoolers start seeing two-and-out.

The Obvious – The Trojans have again lost fullback Brandon Hancock to a Rose Bowl ACL and workout chest injury.

The Not So Obvious – What a star-crossed career this kid is having. Kid Hulk will be missed next season so-help-me Norm Chow flat pattern. However, it just goes to show you just how important a player like the versatile Lee Webb has become. It would not be too far fetched that Webb is becoming as important a role player as there is on the defending national champions. A fullback slated for a return to linebacker, Webb is back at fullback and that versatility should not be underestimated and also that of reserve fullback David Kirtman, who has been an emerging, pleasant surprise.

The Obvious – Sophomore quarterback John David Booty is currently No. 2 to Heisman quarterback candidate Matt Leinart.

The Not So Obvious – With a revamped and questionable offensive line all that separates a healthy Leinart from a carnivorous enemy pass rush, the continued development of Booty will be of great intrigue. It figures that Leinart will be on the seat of his pants a bit more next season, and Booty's time could come sooner than later. In fact, The Huddle will be the first real extensive look most fans will have of the patient Louisiana native.

The Obvious – Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart is emerging as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy and is the linchpin of Norm Chow's offense.

The Not So Obvious – Despite the changes in Trojan personnel, it is Leinart's return that will probably the deciding factor that will give the Trojans the nod as the nation's top-ranked team come late summer. If there is a lesson for young players on the Trojan team to emulate, it is the Matt Leinart story – a former prep All-America who once considered transferring out and a year later is the toast of the college football world and a future top NFL draft pick.

The Obvious – The Trojans are relying on the development of talented sophomores Steve Smith and Whitney Lewis to help offset the loss of Mike Williams and Keary Colbert.

The Not So Obvious – With the sudden spring emergence of Lewis as a potential major player in the Trojans' offense, it is the return of the three tight ends that has offensive coordinator Norm Chow giddy with excitement. While Mike Williams and Keary Colbert were perhaps the finest two starting receivers the Trojans have fielded at the same time, last year's club was not as balanced as Chow would have liked. The return of Alex Holmes, Dominique Byrd, and Gregg Guenther will more than help ease the loss of Williams and to some extent Colbert.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll and his staff hosted close to 400 high school coaches recently for a Trojan football clinic

The Not So Obvious – Throw in a Friday Trojan practice for the coaches and the prep mentors were in hog heaven. Those in attendance had nothing but praise at the way the clinic was conducted. It was a public relations bonanza and served increased notice the Trojans will be harder than ever to recruit against in California.

The Obvious – There isn't a Trojan fan alive that hasn't at some point dreamt of playing football at USC and running out of that Coliseum tunnel.

The Not So Obvious – Well, here comes the Trojans' Fantasy Football Camp for Adults June 10-12th. With practices, Coliseum scrimmages, uniforms,and even the Trojan band as part of the gig, the biggest complaint may be an avalanche of applications for all those Trojan senior citizen Walter Mittys out there. And if you have too many gray hairs to pullout and lead a tailback on a sweep, you can be an assistant coach. Directed by former Trojan and Notre Dame killer Rod Sherman and former Trojan players, here's your birthday present. Yes, Pete Carroll and staff and former Cardinal and Gold greats are expected to be camp facilitators.

The Obvious – The time is approaching for the Trojans NFL Day, which will give the professional scouts a chance to time some of Pete Carroll's departing players.

The Not So Obvious – Althought Mike Williams is not expected to attend, you can bet there would have been a circus atmosphere if Williams elected to return to the Southland for one of his pro auditions. You can also bet that scribes like the Times' Gary Klein, Daily News' Scott Wolf, and OC Register's Todd Harmonson would have their eagle eyes focusing on the scouts' stopwatches begging for a 40 time on Williams.

The Obvious – The Trojan Huddle, the name for the Trojans' open scrimmage, will be held April 3 in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – It is somewhat surprising that the suits at the local cable Fox Sports affiliate haven't decided to televise the 11:00 a.m. football carnival. For those Trojan fans that have access to the other Fox stations across the cable sports world, you are aware that there are schools like Florida that televise their spring game. Getting Nike and In and Out to sponsor a televised Huddle would not seem like a major impossibility if there was "air" space.

The Obvious – The Trojans have signed an extended radio contract with 1540, Sporting News Radio.

The Not So Obvious – One of the incentives was the guarantee that 1540 would have an increase in power to reach more of the southland. There are reports that 1540 is coming in clearer outside the immediate Los Angeles area. This will be good news for Trojan football fans at the Coliseum, especially after games in which the call-in post-game shows usually faded out the further you got from the Coliseum.

The Obvious – In Kenechi Udeze and Omar Nazel, the Trojans lost both starting defensive ends from Wild Bunch 2.

The Not So Obvious – Due to the understandable attention paid to defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, much of the attention to the defensive end position has gone somewhat unnoticed. One player that has the ability to make an impact is senior Van Brown. If Brown hopes to follow his brother into the NFL, this is the last and best opportunity for the gifted but inconsistent senior-to-be.

The Obvious – A surprise to nobody, football recruits across the country no longer see the Trojans as up-and-coming, but see Troy among the elite of the collegiate landscape.

The Not So Obvious – For those Trojan fans who follow recruiting and high school teams, they will be interested in knowing that Student Sports is no longer part of the annual Sporting News High School Football pre-season magazine. A new prep media organization called School Sports has replaced Students Sports. Look for the return of former USA Today national prep columnist Dave Krider to rank the top teams nationally and have input into the extended and popular recruiting section.

The Obvious – Trojan legendary offensive guard Brad Budde will be the guest WeAreSC dinner speaker at Papadakis Taverena in San Pedro on Wednesday, April 7th at 7:00 pm.

The Not So Obvious – Having first-hand experience listening to Budde at a banquet, we put our reputation on the line and urge all Trojan fans to attend. Budde is one of those few speakers that can make you want to strap up a chinstrap, apply a red helmet, and gets your imagination dancing in a Coliseum end zone.

The Obvious – Many onlookers during the first week of spring practice still are talking about the hit that safety Darnell Bing applied to tight end Kurt Katnik.

The Not So Obvious – The expectations for Bing, the former Long Beach Poly prep legend, have been as high as any Trojan freshman in recent memory. Laying the wood on Katnik once again got many Trojan zealots making comparisons to the incomparable Ronnie Lott, everybody's hall of famer. However, until Bing delivers a big hit on a consistent basis, lets cool the Ronnie Lott comparisons. Potential to be Lott is still unproven Lott talent.

The Obvious – For those attending the Huddle on April 3rd in the Coliseum, the walkup cost will be $25.

The Not So Obvious – When you consider the fun, food, and friends, it's not a bad charge, unless you consider the cost of a game ticket at BYU is also $25 for visiting Trojan fans.

The Obvious – While spring ball in southern California has received a weather blessing, we are reminded that one of the coldest games ever during a regular season was in the late 90s against those Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – For those that need justification to buy a heavy Trojan national championship sweatshirt in the spring, let it be noted that this year's Notre Dame game will be played on Nov. 27th at 5:00 p.m. The game is being televised on ABC.

The Obvious - One of the rewards of winning a national championship is when spring practice returns, next year's senior blue chippers show up to feel the Trojan love.

The Not So Obvious – So it will be with added interest when Barrington, Illinois star offensive tackle Dan Doering (6-6, 290) makes his unofficial visit to spring practice. Doering's family, which will be spring vacationing in Palm Springs, will certainly get the star treatment and we know what that means. By the way, would it be a coincidence if it was during the same week as Jeff Byers and family happens to be in town?

The Obvious – The Trojans and LSU will be honored by President Bush at the White House on Tuesday for their respective national titles.

The Not So Obvious – It should be noted that the USC media department was gracious enough to acknowledge LSU's presence for the NCAA Fall Sport Champions' Day in the District of Columbia. However, LSU's media release does not make mention of the Trojans as part of the same ceremony. Sounds like the Tiger media folks need a Cotillion course in manners.

The Obvious – USC and LSU both figure to give President Bush some sort of gift from their respective schools.

The Not So Obvious – LSU will be giving the president a jersey from the 2004 Nokia Sugar Bowl. The Trojans have not yet said what the gift will be, but it won't be a shock if the Commander and Chief gets a Trojan jersey with his last name on the back. Of course in this day and age, the George W. might appreciate one of those championship rings.

The Obvious – LSU has released two highlight DVDs of the past season. "Victory for LSU" ($19.95) highlights the season and the 2004 Sugar Bowl ($21.95) is also available, as is the LSU radio network's complete broadcast day of the Sugar Bowl.

The Not So Obvious – Just when you think there is no hope for a Trojan DVD national championship video, here comes one from Collegegear.com featuring the 2004 Rose Bowl in digital video. Priced at $25.99 with no commercial interruptions, there is also a limited time $2.00 rebate. And if you really want nostalgia, they are also selling the 1969 Rose Bowl featuring Ohio State and Woody's "Robust T" versus McKay's "I" formation. The Juice and studentbody sweep versus Rex Kern and the Buckeyes' supersophs.

The Obvious – The Trojans will most likely reap the gains from last season's national championship with an increase in season tickets.

The Not So Obvious – A nice gesture by the marketing and season ticket folks would be to mail a large team photo of the 2003 national champs to current and new season ticket holders as a thank you. It could be done inexpensively and for a small mailing pittance.

The Obvious – One of the big reasons the Trojans are being considered as a preseason numero uno is the return of 2003 All-America punter Tom Malone and field goal record-setter Ryan Killeen.

The Not So Obvious – If Malone and Killeen are to continue their success, they'll need to replace Joe Boskovich and Matt Hayward, long time perfect snappers. Lead candidate to replace both positions is Will Collins, the former Mater Dei performer and one-time walk-on.

The Obvious – The Trojans return to spring practice on Thursday, March 25th.

The Not So Obvious – For Pete Carroll and his high-energy staff, the balance of spring practice will be a destination of creativity to find the right offensive and defensive pieces for an anticipated championship puzzle. If only it seemed as easy and flawless as a Boskovich and Hayward snap. Oh, and by the way, how many departing team managers must be replaced and who are the candidates? Inquiring Trojan minds need to know.

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