About now the USC Coaches are scouring the state and country looking for the very best talent that can be found. I can't help but wonder if future recruiting classes will emphasize the book part of the equation more than in recent years. I know that such a question is not necessarily going to win me any friends, but I think the reality is that the question is fair. Now that spring semester grades are in, it is apparent that more academic casualties have been suffered by the Trojans and the full extent won't be known till summer session is over. Obviously, each individual's grades are quite private, but it becomes very public when the local newspapers and internet articles publicize lists of kids who did and did not make it. It is most unfortunate for USC (and obviously for the student athletes themselves) that at least two potential superstar players have allegedly fallen victim to grades for the upcoming season. Chauncey Washington is reportedly out for the second consecutive season due to grades and Manny Wright, a guy that I honestly feel would have been amongst the most talented Defensive Tackles in the country, has opted for the supplemental drafts and grades, or lack of qualifying grades may be at the root of the problem.
The issue of grades and scholastic abilities is amongst the most heated that I have come across in the entire time that I have followed USC Football. There are about as many opinions on the topic as there are folks who follow the Trojans, but there is not a consensus as to the best path for the school to follow. For a while, the inability to get some really talented players into school seemed to be hurting SC. It was not all that unusual to hear about a superb running back who could not make it into USC only to see that kid end up playing the very next season for the Sundevils or for the Ducks. There are all kinds of stories surrounding some of these kids, but most everyone agreed that lack of strong academics and/or unwillingness to take that extra JC course to gain eligibility seemed to be involved. Yet, in recent years, USC has seemed to get most of the kids they went after, even if there were reports that some of the kids were not the strongest students in the world. The results are very interesting. The last time I looked, USC had won 32 of their last 33 games, they have won three straight BCS Bowl games and they are defending national champions, having won back to back titles! Nobody doubts that the best coaching and recruiting has played a huge role in this rebirth of USC Football and in its return to its rightful place amongst the elite teams in the country. However, one could also argue that even with the best coaching in the world, a team still has to have major talent to win and to win consistently in a big-time fashion. So here comes a huge question! How stringent should the academic standards be enforced?
I don't pretend to have the answers to the questions that I have asked and will continue to pose. I am quite sure that many who follow USC Football disagree when it comes to what I call the "bookpart" of college football. Is it realistic to expect the ballplayers to have the same academic qualifications and abilities as the student body in general? If so, from all published reports that I have read, it would mean that the average kid on the football team would have an SAT score ( based on the old format with a max of 1600-the new format based on 2400 has yet to become standard) of well over 1200 and perhaps as high as 1380 or thereabouts. I won't hesitate to say that if that were enforced, Pete Carroll could be the best ever--and maybe he is already just that--but he would not be able to field much of a team, let alone a national champion. So what should be enforced? Are minimum NCAA Requirements adequate? If so, will such a student who meets the NCAA standards but falls far beneath the qualifications of his fellow students, really be able to successfully compete at a rigorous school? Note that I am not giving answers here. I am asking questions that come to my mind at this time of year when it becomes apparent that some kids, even after really trying their best, simply can't get the academic part done.
About now, some readers might be boiling over for any number of reasons. Some will claim that if a kid even tries and shows up for class, he will pass. Others will claim that it is like this at every school, where each May a bunch of kids flunk out and others are forced to go to summer school to maintain eligibility. There is that group that feels that football players and jocks in general should not receive academic breaks of any kind. And of course, there are those like my buddy known by many as Bill from San Clemente who feel that at the least there should be some type of football curriculum or maybe the kids shouldn't even have to go classes at the university; perhaps they should be "hired" by them. I do not agree with that extreme viewpoint and I readily agree that would hardly be viewed as a mainstream opinion, but I mention it because it exists. It is obvious that the NCAA is trying to do something and the number of scholarships available for a school will eventually be tied by some hard to understand formula to the graduation rate. When that happens, perhaps things will hit the fan, so to speak. I do suspect that no matter what happens, things will never be on an equal playing field so long as some schools have the oft described "Mick courses" while others have no such courses or curriculum. There is a strong rumor that one school in the Big Ten, a school with an otherwise strong academic reputation, actually has one curriculum to which it directs its football players. At the same time, I have been told by some that at USC, getting into the university for some of the players has not been the major problem as of late. The much bigger issue is how to keep some relatively weak academic kids eligible. There just does not seem to be that "easy tract" for some of the kids to follow.
So, other than stirring the pot a bit with qustions about eligibility at this time of year, what else comes to one's mind about now? Well, of course, trying to guess depth charts, transfers and lineups and the like is discussed as well. It sure looks like SC will be a force on offense. Even without the highly acclaimed Norm Chow, USC certainly appears to be in position to have one of the great offenses in the country, and just possibly, one of the greatest units of all time. That is some claim I just made, but now I am going to back it up. At wide receiver, how many teams in the country have a better duo returning than Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett? I refer all challengers to the tape of the Orange Bowl Game before answering that question. Chris McFoy and the ultra fast William Buchanon will also have a chance to make a statement and a guy who will not disappoint anyone, Patrick Turner will also be on hand to give opposing Defenses real fits. In Dominique Byrd, USC has a kid who catches the ball and gets down field as well as any tight end I have seen in college football in a long time. A healthy Byrd will be a huge plus for the Trojans. I realize that nobody on the SC offensive line made preseason All-American Teams, but that is simply because the people who choose them have short memories, are brain dead or both. How many Right Tackles in the NCAA are better than Winston Justice? HMMM?? This time, the line will be experienced, deep and very athletic. The Trojans can put any number of combinations on the field and if power running gets the call, SC can put some real beef out there in Lutui and Malu along with the other guys whereas guys like Byers, Radovich and Kalil move very well and can use quickness and technique with the best of them. Of course, when talking about a great offense, the real dream team exits in the backfield. Reggie and LenDale are as potent a pair of tailbacks as any in recent memory and that includes the much acclaimed Auburn pair from last year, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown. In David Kirtman and Brandon Hancock, SC has a duo at fullback who can really play some ball; they can run, catch and block. And last, but certainly not least, there is that other little position--quarterback. Anyone care to guess which quarterback in America is better than Matt Leinart? That's what I thought.
How about the defense? Well, there certainly do appear to be legitimate questionmarks. Not only did SC lose its top two DT's in All Americans Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, they have also lost the number one backup in Manny Wright. So what's up now? Personally, I think the unit will develop into a fine unit, but a fourth guy needs to emerge. From what I hear, there are three top notched kids right now in Fili Moala, LaJuan Ramsey and Sedrick Ellis. Of course, a fourth guy is urgently needed to provide the depth needed, but from the group Travis Draper, Walker Ashley, Lawrence Miles, Travis Tofi and newcomer Averell Spicer, I just can't help but feel that fourth guy will emerge. I am confident that the defensive ends will be even better than last year. Schweiger, LoJack, Frostee and Rashaad Goodrum are all a year older, faster and stronger. I am also hoping that Chris Barrett can get healthy, because as a frosh, he was actually ahead of Lawrence Jackson and one thing is for sure, Chris is one physically imposing young man. Linebacker is very interesting. USC lost two All-Americans in Groots and Lofa, but Keith Rivers is a stud--simply no other way to put it. As for the middle linebacker spot--it is going to be a war. Will it be a veteran such as Lua or Powdrell or will one of the young guys like Rey M or Luthur Brown take over? Only time will tell on that one. As for the defensive backs--who in America will have better safeties than Darnell Bing and Scott Ware? There will also be pretty good backups in Josh Pinkard and Kevin Ellison among others. Of course that does leave the ever important cornerback position. The potential loss of Eric Wright looms large to say the least. However, the starting duo is most likely going to be Justin Wyatt and Terrell Thomas and that is not a bad way to start. As for backups, gulp and say some prayers cuz they are likely to be green, untested kids to say the least. If early PT was what Cary Harris and Kevin Thomas were looking for when they signed on with SC, they came to the right place. It will be interesting to see if Pete adjusts his blitzing schemes and coverages with so much youth in the corner or if he will throw them into the fire early on.
Special team could be fun as well. Kickoff returns with Desmond Reed, Reggie Bush and who knows who else will be interesting as will punt returns. With all the great athletes coming on board, coverage teams might be better than ever, especially considering the fact that Pete will play talented kids there to get their feet wet. The punting game is in great shape with Mr Tom Malone back for his senior campaign and placekicking--well, let's just wait and see.
And how is recruiting going about now? Of course, that is a topic that gets tons on interest and it is the focus of many full time internet guys at this time. Not too many public verbals have surfaced for USC as of this time, (in fact have any?) but that does not mean SC is not in good shape. This staff has great recruiters and it starts at the top. Having Oline and Dline Coaches who have just come from the pros does not hurt and Coach Todd McNair is just awesome or so I am told. It certainly appears that SC is mentioned by an incredible number of out of state kids, but one can't help but wonder if some of them are not just playing games to try to enhance their own reps. Of course, Pete is amazing, so just watch him wrap up a couple of kids who started out kind of playing with SC, but before they know, they will be swept off their feel and they will end up in Cardinal and Gold. After all, Pete Carroll is not an easy guy to turn down.
So there it is. No games to analyze, no camps to discuss in specific details. Rather just hanging around on a Sunday after spending time on my favorite non-family topic in the world...USC Football.