On the various message boards and in conversations amongst SC fans, there has been much conjecture as to what the biggest hurdle for the Southern California Football Team will be in this upcoming year. Will the biggest task be to replace superstars Mike Williams, Keary Colbert, Kenechi Udeze, Will Poole, and Jacob Rogers? Will the team have the toughest time replacing the cornerback unit as a whole? Will they develop enough depth at linebacker so as to be able to overcome an injury at a key position? Or will the biggest challenge more than likely be to essentially revamp an entire Offensive Line, that unit which performed so incredibly well last year and gave Matt Leinart the time (literally speaking) to stay in the pocket and subsequently develop into one of the nation's elite quarterbacks?Certainly one spring game does not answer all these questions, but it may have given us all a clue what to expect from this team next season.
First, let's get to the defensive secondary. Last season SC had a great stroke of luck, or should I say the team benefitted from Coach Carroll's amazing recruiting acumen. Seemingly out of nowhere, in came an All-American quality cornerback named Will Poole and he did not disappoint. Although only having one year of eligibility remaining, he made the most of it. He along with Marcel Allmond formed a pretty formidable dynamic duo at the cornerback spots. However they are now both gone and there is or was some real concern about the corner position. SC did not bring in the "name player" they sought at cornerback in its number one rated recruiting class. However, I suspect that SC will be just fine at corner. It turns out that two or three redshirt freshman are going to get a chance to show their stuff and they seem to have plenty to show. Eric Wright did not get many passes thrown his way in the scrimmage, or so it seemed. Perhaps that is due to the fine coverage he displayed. Fellow redshirt freshman, Terrell Thomas brings height, speed and athleticism to the position as well. Not to be overlooked, Ryan Ting also showed some fine hitting abilities and he should be right there in the mix for potential playing time. Combining that with the experience and speed of one of my personal favorites, athlete supreme Justin Wyatt, returning senior Robert Nunn, the further development of John Walker and the anticipated return of Kevin Arbet, and I have a feeling thatthe corner spot will be in fine hands. The safety position is also in fine shape with Jason Leach, the ever improving Darnell Bing and the arrival in the fall of Scott Ware and Josh Pinkard, as well as Brandon Ting who is fearless and really hits hard, (I guess Alex Holmes would not argue that point) and the defensive backfield is likely to be even stronger than last season.
Most teams would really be wondering about their defensive line after losing the likes of Defensive Ends Omar Nazel and All World, Kenechi Udeze. However, USC is not most teams. If there is one guy in the United States who just might be able to replace BKU without seeing a drop off in talent it is a healthy and determined Shaun Cody. It certainly appears that Shaun is going to get that chance to play the position that most thought he would play when he was recruited. Similarly, if there is one guy around who can step in at DT and replace Shaun Cody it is fellow Dliner Manuel Wright. As shown against Michigan in the Rose Bowl and throughout practice and in the Spring Game, Manuel has it all and he is going to be many Oline's worst nightmare. Mike Patterson is as good and quick as it gets and Sedric Ellis will give him a breather without much dropoff in production. As for the other Defensive end, well, take your pick. SC has a bevy of guys who can play and the names, Lawrence Jackson, a healthy Chris Barrett, Travis Tofi and high school phenom Jeff Schweiger come to mind. Now I am not one to count on true freshmen all that often, but Schweiger is unusual, to say the least. The next guy to block him and keep him out of the backfield might just be the first. He has unreal quicks and speed and he is going to be difficult to keep off the field. It brought a strange smile to my face when I read that he sneaked on to the practice field at night so he could work the heavy bags by himself on his recent trip to watch the Spring game. I have read and seen lots of stuff over the past 37 years or so, but that one is a first.
Last year at this time there was great apprehension about the offensive backfield, with emphasis on the quarterback and his young running backs. This year, one can and probably should argue that SC now has the premier group in college football. If there is a better group, bring it on and let the debate start right now. Leinart combines great accuracy with unusual smarts. He just keeps getting better all the time and from reports given to me, he is willing to throw incompletes rather that hold on to the ball or force the ball and end up with picks. Needless to say, that is not a trait all former SC quarterbacks displayed. I suspect that few would now argue that anyone can, will, or should displace Matt Leinart as the starting quarterback, but should he go down due to injury, one has to believe that either John David Booty or even Brandon Hance could step in and get the job done, especially with mastermind Norm Chow there to tweak the offense to capitalize on their skills. As for the running backs, how can a group get better than this backfield has. Reggie gets many of the accolades and oh how he deserves them. However, just as important is the workhorse and bread and butter guy--LenDale White. He is strong, fast and very difficult to bring down. Not to be left out of the mix is Hershel Dennis who is also fast, elusive and tough. To top it all off, in comes Desmond Reed and he brings some of the best moves of all the kids. Of course, there is Chauncey Washington, but he has not yet regained his health and it would not surprise me at all if he were to redshirt and put some class separation between him and the others, thus giving him a chance to be a featured back in his junior and senior years. Although the loss of Brandon Hancock is significant, I believe Kirtman, Webb and Aderwale will fill in admirably.
Last season, linebacker was a position that simply lacked quality depth. I personally thought that Dallas Sartz was a key to the team's success because he was called upon to fill in for much of the year and he had to play more than one position. Finally, help appears to be on the way. SC can start quite a trio in Sartz, Tatupu, (for older fans, it still sounds so weird to hear that name again in the lineup), and Honors candidate Matt Grootegoed. The biggest difference this year is that there is depth. Thomas Williams is developing into quite a player and with the arrival or Ryan Powdrell, Keith Rivers and with either Jonathan Turner or Eugene Germany slated to get a shot at linebacker, good things are on the way. On a personal note, I want to emphasize that Coach Carroll and Coach Orgeron want their best guys on the field. Therefore, it would not shock me to see some plays where SC simply uses three "safeties" and two linebackers with one of the safeties comes down, much like we saw at Notre Dame last year. That would allow both Scott Ware and Darnell Bing to be in the game at the same time. If Ware lives up to his reputation this could certainly be a positive. Now remember, I was careful not to call either Bing or Ware a linebacker, but when a kid is fast, weighs in at 220 or more, who cares what he is called, so long as he plays and gets the job done, right??
When a team loses a Mike Williams and a Keary Colbert, one might begin to worry. I readily admit that this may be my biggest blind spot and I might be way off base, but I just don't see a problem at all. Sure, SC might not have the one superstar who can match Big Mike Williams. At the collegiate level, I am not sure anyone can. However, as a collective group, I just see more of the same awesome playmakers. Not only does SC have Smooth as Silk Steve Smith or fast and strong Whitney Lewis, but there is that group of freshmen that includes Fred Davis, speedster Derrick Jones and Dwayne Jarrett and maybe Michael Stuart. Receiver is a position where a kid can and often does make a big impact from the beginning. However, this year, I personally believe that one of SC's biggst receiving threats will turn out to be Reggie Bush. With LenDale and Hershel, Reggie will not get all the time at the tailback spot. However, he is TOO GOOD, not to play on most downs. The solution is simple. He can go out and catch the ball and the defenses can go nuts trying to figure out how to stop him and the receivers as a whole. As for the tight end, well, with Alex Holmes back, Gregg Guenther back and apparently, with Dominique Byrd on schedule to play next year, what more could a team need? I hate to sound so matter of fact about a group, but I just can't see anyone stopping this group of wideouts, slotbacks and TE with the runners and passers that this team possesses. Last year a poster by the name of Hawaiitrojan1 predicted that the offense was too talented to be stopped. This year he posted that the group might be even better. I am slow, but eventually I catch on. I agree with him 100%.
How about that sometimes achilles heel part of the game called special teams? I like SC's ability to cover punts and kickoffs. I have to believe that we now have enough speed and depth on this football squad to have quality guys on those teams and to have it be a strength of the team. When it comes to the punting game, Tom Malone is simply the best around. Not much more needs to be said about that. We will have a problem if he were to get hurt. However, that still leaves the place kicking and I just hope it is consistently good. In terms of overall statistics, Ryan Killeen had good numbers. I guess it is just human nature to focus on the missed kicks more than on those made. The best possible solution just might be to win all the games by a wide enough margin so that it does not come down to a crucial field goal. If the game comes down to that final kick, I just HOPE he makes it.
It is not just an accident that I have left the Offensive Line for the last part of this opinion. Others might disagree, but in my opinion, the whole season, the whole enchalada so to speak, comes down to the Oline. As this unit goes, so goes the team. If the Trojan Huddle is any indication, then just perhaps, things are going to be surprisingly good. With the loss of Jacob, Lenny, Norm and Winston, the task at hand for the Oline is daunting. Coach Davis is going to have to do one of the best jobs in college football to build a cohesive, effective unit in such a short period of time. If there is a guy who can do it, and if there is a team that has the talent, it is Coach Davis and USC. The talent and depth is there. It is very encouraging that in the spring, at a time when the Defense often rules, USC was able to run the ball against arguably the nations top defense against the run. Guys like Sam Baker, Travis Watkins, Ryan Kalil, tough Fred Matua and Kyle Williams have already begun to form a unit. There are also superb talents like Jeff Byers, Taitusi Latui and John Drake that will availabe for the season that were not available for this spring. There is reason to be optimistic regarding this unit and the fact that there has already been a demonstration that they can block is a huge plus and it speaks volumes for the staff as much as for anyone else. I can't help but think back a few sho rt years when last year's group of seniors was young and inexperienced. Poor Carson was used for a tackling dummy far too many times. I'll go on record right now with this prediction. If the Oline plays adquate to very good ball next year, this team will win the Pac-10. However, if the Oline struggles, we will see more losses than we have in either of the past two years. I will also take that leap of faith and say that I actually believe that SC will put together an offensive line that is not only good, but surprisingly enough, it will perform at a level that we saw last year. We are unlikely to have a left tackle who does not allow a single sack, but as a whole, I think the Oline and the team itself will play excellent football and as a result, USC will win the Pac-10 and will be in the hunt for the National Championship once again. Is this a Cardinal and Gold colored viewpoint? Yes it is and since it is spring and since SC is very talented and well coached, why not?