O/NSO - Bye week edition #2

Comparing Thursday night's presidential debate and the USC Trojans may seem like apples and oranges, but when it comes to Bush, Kerry, and the nation's number one team, each has its own passionate partisans willing to exchange views, opinions, and direction on the political and gridiron landscape.

The Obvious – Comparing Thursday night's presidential debate and the USC Trojans may seem like apples and oranges, but when it comes to Bush, Kerry, and the nation's number one team, each has its own passionate partisans willing to exchange views, opinions, and direction on the political and gridiron landscape.

The Not So Obvious – Heading into their second bye weekend, there's no debate when it comes to the recent success of the USC football program. The Trojans have an impressive series of Pac-10 leading streaks including games won (13), home games (16), and road games (6), all of which are enclosed inside the winning of 24 of their past 25 games. Not a bad way to enter a bye.

The Obvious – The Trojans most important streak, however, is the streak of upcoming home games that includes undefeated California (2-0) and Arizona State (4-0), and winless Washington (0-3).

The Not So Obvious - With the fluctuating first-place votes in the national polls and one-third of the Trojans' season completed, the same questions persist: Are the Trojans the best team in the country? Are they clearly the best team in the Pac-10? Even Trojan coach Pete Carroll says, "What we're trying to do is hard!" What this Trojan club is trying to go undefeated and play for a repeat national championship.

The Obvious – Sporting a 4-0 record heading into a series of critical games in October, the questions persist if this team has what it takes to get to Pasadena, much less Miami.

The Not So Obvious – With comeback wins that demonstrate heart and commitment, does this Trojan team have enough talent, chemistry, and leadership to get it done? Let's take a brief inventory on how these Trojans have progressed since that intense come-from-behind August victory against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

The Obvious – Trojan fans and even the media love to compare this year's Trojan team with last year's national champions at the same stage.

The Not So Obvious – Some Trojan fans may be seeing this team through their heart, but this team is not on par with last year's team…yet. There is no Mike Williams, Keary Colbert, or Jacob Rogers. There is no Kenechi Udeze, Omar Nazel, or Will Poole. Even players like fullback Brandon Hancock and tackle Winston Justice are on the sidelines this season. This team has scored a lot of points, but outside of Reggie Bush, isn't necessarily explosive but more efficient. The Trojans appear to be waiting for vocal leaders to emerge in the mold of Nazel, Champ Simmons, and even a Mike Williams. The Trojan players agree that last week at Stanford brought the team closer as usually reserved linebacker Lofa Tatupu contributed to some unexpected fire at halftime.

The Obvious – It is near unanimous across the country, the Trojans coaching staff, on and off the field, is second to none in college football.

The Not So Obvious – From Pete Carroll tightening his secondary cushion against the Stanford receivers, to Ed Orgeron taking away Virginia Tech's option by widening his defensive line splits, to Norm Chow implementing some Marshall Faulk concepts for Reggie Bush, there is little to complain about. Add the intensity of offensive line coach Tim Davis, where "Mass Kicks Ass," and it's really a dream team of professionals. Running backs coach Todd McNair and the addition of Ken Norton, Jr., has turned out to be a real plus along with veteran QB coach Carl Smith.

The Obvious – The Trojans offense continues to progress and revolves around junior All-Pac-10 quarterback Matt Leinart, who has been the linchpin of Norm Chow's offense that has produced 146 points, current best in the Pac-10.

The Not So Obvious – Even with inexperienced receivers, intense defensive line pressure, and sacks by carnivorous opponents, there is no question that "Lefty" is living up to the hype. From the way he has handled freshman receiver Dwayne Jarrett by instilling confidence in the rookie to the words of encouragement for his maturing offensive line, Leinart has been an All-American in every sense of the word. With eight touchdowns and one interception, he has added to his game a rushing attack with timely scrambles and short-yardage goal line plunges.

The Obvious – The Trojans possess three of the best tailbacks in the land in sophomores Reggie Bush and LenDale White and junior Hershel Dennis.

The Not So Obvious – Tailback U. is as healthy and deep since the McKay era. There is no answer by any defense in the country in attempting to stop the incomparable Reggie Bush. Fa get'bout it. Averaging 212.8 all-purpose yards per game, he continues to be the most explosive Trojan tailback since O.J. Simpson. In LenDale White, who averages 5.9 per carry, the Trojans have the perfect Ricky Bell-style protagonist. When Whites healthy, there is nobody in the land with any better combination of power and speed. Reinstated Dennis is a proven commodity, who figures to be a factor before it's all said and done. Fullbacks Lee Webb, the senior jackhammer of linebackers, and junior David Kirtman, rapidly being recognized as a multi-threat, are perfect foils for the tailback trio.

The Obvious – The Trojans' youthful wide receivers have begun to slowly mature as evidenced in the second half against Stanford last weekend.

The Not So Obvious – Sophomores Steve Smith and Chris McFoy and freshman Dwayne Jarrett all had some big moments against Stanford and the only thing missing has been the inevitable home run toss. Considering the untimely losses of Mike Williams and Whitney Lewis, too much premature responsibility was placed on the shoulders of this youthful trio, but they're getting there.

The Obvious – No offensive position on the Trojans can have as big an impact on the balance of the schedule than tight ends.

The Not So Obvious – This is the single most important piece missing in Norm Chow's arsenal, and, folks, it's a rather big and unhealthy piece. When healthy, the combination of senior Alex Holmes, who continues to play each week on guts and guile, and athletic junior Dominique Byrd would take enormous pressure off the young wide receivers and provide Leinart with increased big-play options. Tight end production, however, has been like getting blood from a rock. For this talented duo, their health status may very well be a seasonal issue and play a major role in the team's future success. In freshmen Fred Davis and Dale Thompson, both in action last weekend in Palo Alto, a surprise catch or block would be a welcome contribution.

The Obvious – Coach Tim Davis and his offensive line has progressed each week and the return of senior John Drake at left guard has returned this unit to a brawler identity.

The Not So Obvious – Although still a work in progress, at times this unit reminds the O/NSO of the developing offensive line that opened holes two years ago in the Orange Bowl for tailback Justin Fargas. Yes, Matt Leinart has had to run for his mortality at times, but that was to be expected. However, when you have Fred Matua and John Drake up front, you have as physical a pair of guards on the college level. Tackle Sam Baker has progressed nicely from his difficult moments at FedEx Field in August and Deuce Lutui and Kyle Williams seem to divide playing time and keep the right tackle competition constant. Barring injury, November Trojan opponents may yet come to see a vintage Tim Davis Trojan offensive line. Soph center Ryan Kalil has All-Pac-10 potential, and there is the increasing feeling that he and freshman Jeff Byers may someday perform side by side as center and guard.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll's Trojan defense was expected to carry the 2004 club while the offense was retooling.

The Not So Obvious – For most of the each game, the defense, which has allowed 51 points and is tied for first in the Pac-10 with Arizona St in scoring defense, has lived up to its billing as one of the best in the country. If the Trojans don't stub their toes the next couple of weeks against the high-powered offenses of Cal and ASU, this defense may be near impossible to move against consistently in Pete Carroll November.

The Obvious – The Trojans defense continue to search for the most effective front four.

The Not So Obvious – In twin All-Pac-10 defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, the Trojans lead the Pac-10 in sacks with 16. Cody and Patterson lead the way as well with four sacks apiece. Talented freshman defensive end Jeff Schweiger, who could be lost for a few weeks due to a deep bone bruise near his left knee, has shown flashes of brilliance, but is still learning the ropes. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who has shown flashes of superior play, has been forced at times to play the waiting game, depending on the uneven progress of sophomore tackle Manuel Wright. The Trojans would love to see more consistency and intensity from talented junior Frostee Rucker, who flashed some of that combination on a big hit against Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards on the Cardinal's final gasp in the fourth quarter. The feeling here is that Coach Orgeron is still looking for the right combination of defensive ends for the home stretch.

The Obvious – The strength of the Trojans defense figured to be the linebacking trio of senior Matt Grootegoed, and juniors Lofa Tatupu, and Dallas Sartz.

The Not So Obvious – Throw in freshman Keith Rivers and the production of this quartet is second to none. Grootegoed is relatively healthy, Tatupu is as savvy as they come, and Sartz still reminds some of former Trojan All-American Duane Bickett. The big emergence, however, is coming from Rivers, who now lines up at defensive end and brings back Trojan memories of 3-4 outside linebackers Jimmy Gunn, Charlie Weaver, and James Sims from days long gone. It was impressive Saturday watching Rivers take on burly Stanford offensive linemen and hold his own while sprinting into quarterback Trent Edwards. It's back to the future with Rivers (6-3, 220), who may yet be the second coming of old No. 83, Richard Wood (6-2, 213), the only three-time Trojans All-America first teamer. Least we remind, Rivers ain't wearin #55 for nothin.

The Obvious – If there has been one general area of major concern, it has been the Trojans' secondary.

The Not So Obvious – Would you be shocked to know that this prickly subject leads the Pac-10 in interceptions with nine in four games? Again, this group has had some highs and lows dealing with certain receivers like David Anderson of BYU and Evan Moore of Stanford, but so has and so will everybody else that faces those outstanding catchers. If you're looking for particular plays of effort, how about DB Justin Wyatt's full field sprint to try and catch Stanford running back J.R. Lemon on his 82-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Then there was the return of senior Kevin Arbet, who made some fine plays and will eventually shake off all the dust from a year off. The battle between strong safeties Darnell Bing and Scott Ware has actually improved Bing. Jason Leach has remained a big hitter and steady force at safety. How much an improvement this group has actually made will be acid tested against California and Arizona State.

The Obvious – When you talk special teams, you're talkin' Reggie Bush, punter Tom Malone, and senior kicker Ryan Killeen.

The Not So Obvious – There is nothing more one can say about Bush that hasn't been said and Malone leads the Pac-10 in punting, but Killeen is the great enigma. The kid is currently hitting on 33% of his field goal attempts (2 of 6) but has done the job on kickoffs and PAT's. Killeen has a history of field goal inconsistency and only Reggie Bush can rival Killeen when it come to heart palpitations of Trojan fans. Despite cardinal and gold trepidation, Killeen can turn it all from straw to gold with clutch performances in the next two weeks against Cal and ASU.

The Obvious – The Trojans opened the season defeating Virginia Tech, Colorado St., BYU, and Stanford.

The Not So Obvious – Nobody is going to say the first four games were a killer schedule because they weren't. The highlight, however, is the fact that three of the four wins were on the road, especially the opener against Virginia Tech. However, Trojan opponents have a less than stellar 6-9 losing record heading into October. Thanks to the Trojans, the Pac-10 has a winning 16-10 record in non-conference games through September.

The Obvious – So how good are the Trojans?

The Not So Obvious – The Trojans are good, but even the Trojan players, coaches, and fans wont be able to answer how good until the final whistle against California and Arizona State. One thing for sure, if the Trojans can stay at No. 1, they will have the type of fan support this season that may be unmatched in Trojan history.

The Obvious – The Cal game at the Coliseum is officially a sellout (92,000).

The Not So Obvious – Tickets on the web are going "low" at $76.25 per for Section 10, and the high roller ducats are commanding $765.00 per in Section 22. It figures with an announced sellout, those prices will be going up.

The Obvious – Former Trojan head coach John Robinson announced his retirement from coaching at a UNLV press conference.

The Not So Obvious – How ironic that Robinson retires as the Trojans are off to their best start since1995 when Robby led the Trojans to a 6-0 start and an eventual Rose Bowl win against darling Northwestern.

The Obvious – The Trojans game against Cal on Oct. 9th is set for 12:30p.m. on regional ABC-TV.

The Not So Obvious – For those that looking for a Pac-10 scouting report, you can view the No. 9 Cal Bears at fading Oregon State at 1:00 p.m. on FSN. Following that Pac-10 match is rejuvenated UCLA hosting San Diego State at 4:00 p.m. on FSN-West 2. At 7:00 p.m, there's undefeated Arizona State at searching Oregon on TBS.

The Obvious – The next gridiron debate and moment of truth for USC is next Saturday afternoon hosting Cal when the Trojans pontificate before the country, a Coliseum sellout, and presents its case for No. 1 nationally and regionally.

The Not So Obvious – The real question political fans want to know, however, is just who does Bush and Keary think should be number one? Perhaps the Trojans will be able to help give them a definitive answer when they step up to the Coliseum podium.

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