So what's up now with the program and where does it seem to be headed? There are so many questions and points to be covered that there obviously has to be a starting place. Let's start with recruiting. As those who follow recruiting know very well, it is a year long task that culminates on the first Wednesday of Ferbruary, or thereabouts every single year on National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Folks, one thing has become abundantly clear. Nobody does it better than Pete Carroll and his staff and I mean that literally. Ever since his first recruiting class which included the likes of Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody, both All Americans in their senior year, USC's level of recruiting has stepped up each and every year. This most recent class, which may not yet be totally finished, is already rated amongst the best, if not the very best in the United States. Obviously there are many organizations that do the ratings, most notably, of course Scout.com (Ha Ha!) and most all the organizations have rated USC anywhere from 6th best to number one. One aspect of the ratings that all seem to agree upon is the talent level of the individual players. Nobody brought in a group of recruits in which each player was rated so highly as the Trojan Players.
In depth analysis of the classes has been done by numerous people by this time and none was more outstanding than that done by Scout.com's own Greg "23 Blast" Katz. Nonetheles, a few points need to be reemphasized. As is usually agreed upon, the true value of most classes is not felt for several years, but if ever there has been a class with a bunch of can't miss players, this seems to be the one. Being one of the older guys who visits and writes for the various "boards" I also happen to be a guy who has followed recruiting and rankings for more years than my wife cares to remember. One might have to go all the way back to the 1979 class that brought in Mosebar, Matthews, Achica, Drew Dossett, Rob Hedequest and Joey Browner to find as many kids who were rated as the best at their position in the entire country coming out of high school. In all the years since then I can't remember ever matching that feat until this current class. However, after analyzing this group it is unbelievable to think about who was actually signed or in the case of two JC kids, committed. The top high school quarterback in the U.S., Mark Sanchez is now a Trojan. Three high school All American linebackers, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Luthur Brown were each first team All-USA Today, Parade All-Americans or both. Defensive End Kyle Moore out of Georgia was first team All-USA Today and wide receiver Patrick Turner was a concensus choice as one of the top three receivers in America, with most people giving him the number one nod based on his outstanding showing in the practices at the US Army All Star workouts during which he dominated those other stars trying to stop him. So as not to slight anyone, each and every one of the additional recruits earned honors and more honors. My personal choices amongst the high school recruits for guys who will excel at USC beyond what one might initially think based on relatively modest high school rankings are Kevin Ellison and Michael Coleman. Early word from some who should know, guys who work out with and play on the same team with these two who are already enrolled at USC is that they are both the real deal with special emphasis on Coleman. That is good enough for me.
One should not fail to mention a few other amazing things about Pete's recruiting abilities. He brings in guys who are athletes that can play other positions than those played in high school. If there has been any criticism at all of Carroll's recruiting classes it has been his "?inability" to snag that big name cornerback. Well, I will say this. Big name or not, each of the starting corners at SC next year will be Pete's recruits and it will be hard to find a better group anywhere. Justin Wyatt and Eric Wright form quite a duo and they played some serious shutdown ball against the Oklahoma Sooners. Neither guy came in with the bigtime credentials as high school corners, with Wyatt being a qb and Wright earning All-San Francisco Area Offensive Player of the Year as a Tailback, but they can both flat out ball. The other kid from Eric's class is Terrell Thomas, and now that he is healthy, the sky is the limit. As if that isn't enough, Pete went out and brought in two more shut down type corners, Cary Harris and Kevin Thomas in this class. To show that he also loves safeties, Pete also brought in Will Harris as a top notch safety in this group. Come to think of it, USC has a real family like atmosphere in the defensive backfield and I don't know if any group has ever had two Thomases as corners and two other kids named Harris and it is not inconceivable that all four could be in the game at the same time in the not too distant future.
During Pete's tenure he and his staff have also done a great job of spotting a limited number of talented JC kids and then bringing them into school. The most obvious case was John Drake. This kid is a classic example of a player who was not highly recruited for various reasons but when Pete saw him he could not help but notice how this giant guy moves. Drake never disappointed. In all my years of watching SC Football, I have never seen one Oliner affect the running game more prominently than he. I have seen Budde, Matthews, Foster, Bregel and the like, but I honestly can't remember any one of them doing what Drake did, namely lifting the whole running game to a new level by being in the game. Without Drake the running game was often adequate at best. With the kid, kaboom--SC could run and many could not help but wonder why they ever stopped. Still on the team are two other big JC linemen brought in by this staff, Malu and Lutui and Deuce, as Lutui is known, has already made a mark and his senior campaign should be even better. To continue with JC recruiting excellence, Pete and his staff have also secured the commitments of the number one JC Dliner and the number one JC Oliner in America namely Gabe Long and Kevin Myers.
Unless someone has been hiding under a rock or has been out of the country, he is aware of the incredible coaching shuffle that has taken place at USC in the past few months. Quarterback coach Carl Smith has gone to the NFL, Oline Coach Tim Davis is off to the Miami Dolphins, Coach Ed Orgeron has become the headcoach at Ole Miss, Dennis Slutak has gone, but of course he has come back again to replace Mark Jackson, the head of football operations who has also left to become the assistant athletic director at Syracuse University. Even the strength coach has had a great new addition, namely Brian Bailey from Nebraska. He brings in a great amount of knowledge that will agument an already superb department. And last, but certainly not least, USC lost a guy who is arguably the greatest Offensive Coordinator of all time, namely Norm Chow. Over the past several weeks the newspapers and various mesage boards on the internet have been filled with rumors, innuendos and stories of conflicts that may have lead to Norm's departure and perhaps to Tim Davis' as well. Of course, the public party lines have been politically correct, complimentary and professional in all respects. And when dealing with guys like Coach Carroll, Coach Chow and Coach Davis, who would expect anything else? As one might expect, there will be differing opinions about rifts and guys perhaps being forces out and others getting special breaks due to friendships and the like. In my opinion, none of that makes any difference at all. The public will never hear the whole story, nor do they have any right to do so. USC is a private institution and as in any organization, things happen behind closed doors. Some stories favoring one side over the other will surface, but I don't think anyone will ever have access to all that really happend amongst those parties concerned. The accomplishments of the former staff as it had been are fantastic but now it's time to take a step into the future which actually starts right now.
So how well is USC prepared for that future and is Pete Carroll still the right guy to lead the Trojans and does he owe anyone any explanations? To my way of thinking Southern California is incredibly well prepared for the upcoming season and several seasons past that. The amount of talent amassed borders on the surreal and Pete has already assembled what looks to be an incredible new staff. The new Oline coach, Pat Ruel is experienced, dedicated and very highly regarded. What does it say about Pete's ability to attract desirable coaches when he went head to head with the Cleveland Browns and won out to get Pat. The new Dline coach, Jethro Franklin is already a favorite amongst some of the dliners, and he is even teaching the kids some new techniques that he brings with him from the pros, with special emphasis on balance. The Trojans could not get Ken Norton when it came time to playing football, but Pete Carroll has made the former Bruin, and now Trojan (he gets it), a full time linebacker coach. One of the keen young offensive minds in college football, Steve Sarkisian is back at SC as an assistant head coach and co-Offensive Coordinatior. And of course, Lane Kiffin has been promoted to Offensive Play Caller and Recruiting Coordinator. I know that is a move that has raised some eyebrows, but my response is this. What bad coaching moves has Pete made since he has been at USC, and why in the world would he make this move if he was not convinced that it would work like a charm?? So getting to the second question, yes Pete is the only guy I can think of who should be leading the Trojan Football team and after accomplishing what he has during he tenure at USC, he does not have to explain his coaching decisions to anyone in public. I suppose he has to answer to his own bosses, whoever they are, but his record speaks for itself. I am not much for copying internet sayings but I will make an exception this time. "In Pete We Trust".
This has been the most amazing run in SC Football since I began following the Trojans in 1967. There have been many ups and downs, and that period from 1978 through 1979 was spectacular in its own right. Nonetheless, since the loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, USC Football has been on fire. I believe the Trojans have lost all of 3 games since then and none has been a blowout. Now, even with the new coaches, SC heads into next seson with incredible talent and in my opinion, another set of challenges. Pete must get the new staff prepared and all on one page. He must figure a way to replace two All-American Defensive Tackles and two All American linebackers. And perhaps most importantly, he must show that the offense will function as well as ever, or perhaps even better without Norm Chow. Of course, it does not hurt that he has bigger and faster guys at linebacker than he has ever had before and that he has some experienced dliners to help fill the void left by Cody and Patterson. But most of all, Pete has the best attributes of all. He has that incredible and unmatched competitive spirit, enthusiasm, drive and self confidence that has helped bring USC back to the top of the College Football World. Although nothing is a given. I just have to like SC's chances of winning an unprecedented third straight national title.