2004 USC Trojans Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> Pete Carroll (4th year, 29-9)<br><br><b>Last Season's Record:</b> 12-1 (7-1, 1st in Pac-10, AP No. 1, ESPN/USA Today No. 2)<br><br><b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2004 Rose Bowl (28-14 win over Michigan)<br><br><b>Key matchup(s):</b> <A HREF=http://virginiatech.TheInsiders.com>Virginia Tech</A> Aug. 28 ESPN, Cal Oct. 9, <A HREF=http://washingtonstate.TheInsiders.com>WSU</A> Oct. 30 ABC, <A HREF=http://notredame.TheInsiders.com>Notre Dame</A> Nov. 27 ABC, UCLA Dec. 4 ABC.

Star Power: Leinart, Matt QB 6-5 225 Jr., Bush, Reggie TB 6-0 200 Soph., Grootegoed, Matt LB 5-11 215 Sr., Cody, Shaun DE-DT 6-4 295 Sr., Malone, Tom P 6-0 190 Jr.

Notable Additions: Byers, Jeff C Loveland HS (CO) 6-3 275, Schweiger, Jeff DE Valley Christian HS (CA) 6-4 250, Rivers, Keith LB Lake Mary HS (FL) 6-3 220, Jarrett, Dwayne WR New Brunswick HS (NJ) 6-5 195, Lutui, Taitusi OL Snow Junior College 6-5, 370, Powdrell, Ryan LB Saddleback College 6-1 250, Ware, Scott DB Santa Rosa College 6-2, 220.

Notable Subtractions: DE Kenechi Udeze (1st round draft choice, Minnesota Vikings), OL Jacob Rogers (2nd round draft choice, Dallas Cowboys), WR Keary Colbert (2nd round draft choice, Carolina Panthers)

Notable Returnees: RB LenDale White, RB Hershel Dennis, WR Steve Smith, TE Alex Holmes, DL Mike Patterson, LB Lofa Tatupu, LB Dallas Sartz, DB Darnell Bing, DB Jason Leach.

08/28/04Virginia Tech
09/11/04Colorado State
09/18/04@Brigham Young
10/16/04Arizona State
10/30/04@Washington State
11/06/04@Oregon State
11/27/04Notre Dame
Offensive Overview: The Trojans return an impressive display of skill players, led by the reigning Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in Matt Leinart, and a mastermind directing the system in offensive coordinator Norm Chow. At their disposal will be a trio of running backs in Reggie Bush, Hershel Dennis and LenDale White who combine with different skills when each is in the game but the fullback spot will break in a new starter as Brandon Hancock misses at least part of the season with injury. A pair of talented tight ends return from injury in Alex Holmes and Dominique Byrd and both have performed well in summer drills. The eligibility status of Mike Williams will have a big impact on the receiver spot although Steve Smith is ready to establish himself as a star no matter who else is in the lineup. A big key for the success of offense will be the development of the line as the Trojans could replace as many as four starters from last season. Look for Chow to utilize a lot of quick throws to help take the pressure off his line and put the ball in the hands of his talented playmakers in the open field. In Leinart the Trojans have a quarterback who knows the Chow system extremely well and Matt will be counted on once again to simply guide the offense in an efficient manner.

Defensive Overview: This unit has a chance to be one of the best in college football this year with a talented group at linebacker, a pair of honors candidates up front and an experienced group in the secondary. Groots, Tatupu and Sartz are three instinctive players who know how to find the football and they are backed up by a terrific group of reserves. Cody is one of the elite linemen in the nation and he will likely move from tackle to end for his senior year while Patterson will stay put as one of the quickest nose guards around. Bing and Leach lead the safety spot while a host of players will fight for playing time at corner. Pete Carroll returns to call the shots on defense and in his three years at USC it's been made clear that his defensive mind is at another level as it relates to the college game. We're starting to see the defense evolve with players that have been recruited by Pete Carroll to fit his system. It's impressive when you consider what Carroll has done in recent years (nine sacks in one game against Michigan!) and that level of play should only improve as he continues to put the pieces of his puzzle together. We've got a nice blend of players who can run but who will also hit you and that style of play certainly mirrors the image of their coach. With Carroll running the show the 2004 USC defense figures to show more of the stifling and dominating play that we've grown accustomed to seeing in recent years.

Special Teams Overview: The Trojans are in excellent shape for special teams this season with Thomas Malone, who many consider to be the top punter in the country, an experienced kicker in Ryan Killeen and a top flight return man in Bush who will handle both kickoff and punt returns. We should also see improved coverage and return teams due to the available talent on the roster, particularly at linebacker where key special teams performers are often found. If the snapper position can be settled in a positive fashion the special teams will be a strength for the team in 2004.

USC will win the national championship if... they can stay healthy and maintain their focus throughout the season. The Trojan program is performing at a high level right now under Carroll and a slot in the title game is certainly within their reach.

TheInsiders.com 2004 College Football Preview
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