For the first time since 1978-1979, the University of Southern California Trojans are going to try to repeat as National Champions. If there is one thing the great 1979 team is remember for, it might be this. That Trojan squad might be considered the most talented ccollege football team of all time, and if not, it is surely the most talented team to not win a national title. The talk surrounding the current team is that it is good, deep, and very talented. Whether or not it is remembered years from now as being as talented as the 1979 team is a question that will take years to decide. Even then it will be a tough question to answer because for better or worse, people often remember football players by how well they ended up doing in the pros, especially if their pro career ends up being more spectacular than the college career. Two names that come to my mind from the 1979 team are Anthony Munoz and Bruce Matthews. Both will be remembered as being among the great Pro Offensive linemen of all time. Although both were fine players at USC, I don't think either made Consensus All America nor did either win the Outland or Lombardi Trophies. However, perhaps this discussion is really putting the cart signficantly before the horse. So far, the season has not begun and although most fans have an opinion, nobody is quite sure how this team will perform.
Multiple posts and analyses of the various units and players have appeared on this board as well as on the other SC Boards and open internet sites over the summer and certainly over the past several weeks. I think it will be fun to approach this topic in a slightly different manner at this time. Just today, an interesting thread appeared on the Publishers Message Board asking if this really looked like a season when 12-0 record is to be realistically expected. The various responses were quite passionate and the opinions range from of course the Trojans should be 12-0 to more of a get real, this team has lost almost its whole Oline, a ton of last year's All Americans and it is just asking too much from this group. Personally, I liked the post from a former player who said it best. Whether or not SC ends up being 12-0, it should always be the Trojans' goal to win every game, and be the National Champs. That's what playing football for the University of Southern California is all about. Hard to argue with that train of thought, though some of the older purists might also argue that winning the Rose Bowl should be in there somewhere. However, reality being what it is, the Rose Bowl may no longer be an adequate goal if the BCS happens to chose another game as the game for NUMBER ONE.
Ok, so what does the season really look like? Is the schedule really as easy as all that? Have the Trojans lost too much to make up or is this team really that incredibly talented, both on the field and on the sideline? Personally, I feel that judging a schedule's strength this early can be deceptive. What if some of the teams that fans think are patsies turn out to be very good indeed, especially by the time SC has to play them? I am sure to take heat for the following opinion, but I can't help but wonder if the Fighting Irish will start to get it together by the time they face SC in the Coliseum by late November. Will California, under the guidance of Jeff Tedford emerge as our biggst threat? Tedford is one of only two coaches that I personally feel has done very well against Pete Carroll lead USC teams, the other of course being, Bill Snyder from Kansas State. I realize that USC has lost a ton of talent from last year's team, namely, Udeze, Nazel, Allmond, Poole, and most of the starting Offensive line, including All American Jacob Rogers, a left tackle that did not allow a single sack all year. The current unit is big, athletic, talented and probably 10 deep or more, BUT, they have yet to play a single game as a cohesive unit. Combine that with the public statements by Coach Carroll himself saying that he will rotate many guys in and out till the unit settles itself, and I happen to believe fans have a legitimate cause for concern. As accurate as Matt Leinart has been and can be, it is hard to do that if he spends his day running for his life. Another critical unit to SC's success will be the all important corners. Can the current group equal or surpass last year's efforts? A healthy Arbet and Nunn are a good start and backups including Justin Wyatt, Eric Wright, John Walker and Terrell Thomas provide what could be one of the best cornerback units in recent years. Once again, however, there is not much experience. Wyatt has played some in backup, but Wright and Thomas have not played a single down of D1 cornerback to this point. With the blitz packages that Pete Carroll uses, these guys will most certainly be on an island their share of the time.
So, as the team heads into final preparations for the BCA Classic in Washington DC, what other issues come to mind? Well, how about Matt Leinart's elbow and throwing arm? Is Matt finally getting better or is he hurting more than he lets on? I really don't have the answer, but I will say that he has proven himself to be on tough, smart and smooth customer who saved his best for adverse times last year. As everyone knows, it was in the Arizona State Game last year that an injured Matt Leinart stepped it up to become one of the nation's leading returning quarterbacks and that includes the returning Heisman Trophy winner White from the Oklahoma Sooners. Is Matt the one guy SC can't afford to lose? If he were to go down, can the backup step it up? Heck, I don't know for sure, but my guess is that SC will do fine if either Booty or Hance were to be placed in the starter's role. Chow is simply the best at preparing an offense and a quarterback so should that happen, my guess is that the Trojans might miss an inital beat or two, but not much more. The system is in place and the guys are talented. And what if Mike Williams is not allowed back? Will USC be fine anyway? Despite the relative lack of depth with the current uncertainty about Derrick Jones and Williams Buchanan's hyperextended knee, I am confident that the receivers SC will put on the field are more than adequate. Steve Smith is smooth as silk, Chris McFoy is right a very good receiver and of course, Dwayne Jarrett will make likely become a household name before very long. The 6'5 jumping jack with the huge basketball type hands, might become simply unstoppable. Also, putting LenDale White in at tailback and having Reggie Bush and/or Desmond Reed in there will create nightmare matchups for defensive units. I also love the move of Fred Davis to Tight End. In Davis SC has a kid who can play inside like a Tight End, or still get well down the field quickly and beat the guy assigned to cover the tight end. As one of the coaches so aptly put it, as a wr he is as fast as the rest but as a tight end, he is big enough but faster than the bunch.
It will be fun to see just how good this defensive line really turns out to be. Some teams might be worried after losing the guys SC lost, but when a team returns Rucker, Cody, Patterson, and Lawrence Jackson steps it up, things just can't be too bad. That says nothing of the guys in the background, chomping at the bit to nail somebody's Offense other than their own. Rapidly emerging Jeff Schweiger, Manuel Wright, Ellis and either Chris Barrett or Tofi are also waiting to pounce. Prior to his most recent shoulder injury, Barrett was playing some mighty tough ball himself. Combining that with a now deeper linebacker unit that has much experience and some talented new kids, I think it is unlikely that many teams will have great offensive success, at least on the ground. The defense will reflect its coaches, namely, Coach Carroll, Ed Orgeron, Rocky Seto, and Greg Burns. Sounds pretty good to me.
In about 4 days the team will be in the nations capital for the second time this year. It sure would be nice to think that this unit will also get to make a post season appearence at the White House. That is one tradition that I can't imagine any USC fan will find objectionable. As to my personal opinion, I simply think it is too early to know. After three games, I will have a much better idea. I will state this. If the Oline plays competent to very good football, USC can win every single game. I believe that the team can overcome mistakes by almost every other unit on the team, but if the runners have no lanes and the qb either runs for his life or ends up looking at the sky or turf play after play as Carson did in his second and third year, the team will lose 2 or 3 games. I guess only time will tell.