O/NSO - 2005 preview edition

The most anticipated commencement exercise in the annals of the University of Southern California begins this Thursday morning as the storied USC Trojan football program begins the long awaited quest for an unprecedented third consecutive national title, a story that is capturing the imagination of a nation.

The Obvious – The most anticipated commencement exercise in the annals of the University of Southern California begins this Thursday morning as the storied USC Trojan football program begins the long awaited quest for an unprecedented third consecutive national title, a story that is capturing the imagination of a nation.

The Not So Obvious – With a myriad of star-studded college names such as Leinart, Bush, White, Smith, Jarrett, and Bing, is it really the Trojans national title to lose? For those that follow this cardinal and gold club closely, the road to gridiron immortality is fraught with both visible and invisible danger signs, making the 2005 season anything but methodical. Perhaps a bigger question IS the Big Questions and the O/NSO dutifully provides a "Deuce" Lutui-size amount of those.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – While it seems everybody but Oprah Winfrey has placed heavy odds on the Trojans making college pigskin history, there are many unanswered questions that will be revealed in the coming months. Will the pressure of such a monumental challenge ambush the 2005 Trojans and will coach Pete Carroll's undefeated November record be the turning point… if the Trojans can survive the challenges of September, October and that little rivalry tussle on Dec. 3rd?

The Obvious – While the 2004 national championship schedule was tailor-made for success with big games at home against Cal, ASU, and Notre Dame, the Trojans still had tough road games with Virginia Tech, Stanford, Oregon State, and UCLA.

The Not So Obvious – The 2005 Trojan schedule, however, is tailor-made for cardinal and gold potholes in more than one venue. With away games at Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, and Cal, in a "normal" season, any two combinations of those games would be cause for concern. The fact that Oregon and ASU come in the first four games on the road back-to-back, The Irish are talkin' some serious coach Weis smack, and Teford's Cal comes in early November, may cause most Trojan fans to reach for their cherry-flavored Pepto-Bizsmo, early and often. This is a road schedule designed NOT to win a national championship and, hence, the big challenge.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Are too many road games in the townships of Eugene, Tempe, South Bend, and Berkeley too much even for a juggernaut of talent like the Trojans and will the final four of fives games in the Coliseum seal the deal?

The Obvious – Pete Carroll, who begins his fifth season as head coach of the fabled USC Trojans, on the official Trojan athletic site says, "We have a chance to be a good team. I think we're going to be hard to beat. Teams that beat are going to have to play really well. That's the design of this thing. They better play really good football."

The Not So Obvious – With supremely confident words like that, it's almost like Carroll wants the other teams to see and hear the additional pressure in preparing and playing the 2005 Trojans. With a Trojan career record of 42-9, Carroll has a better record in his first four years than legendary John McKay, who was 26-14-1. Although it could be argued that Carroll had ten more games (51) than McKay (41).

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – If Carroll can guide the Trojans to a third consecutive national championship, how many more wins and additional seasons will it take before Pete is considered the greatest Trojan football coach of all time and can a long term run also place him right up there with Rockne, The Bear, Wilkinson, Royal, and JoPa in his prime?

The Obvious – The Trojans begin practice Thursday morning with a new group of assistant coaches highlighted by a new hierarchy of offensive coordinator leadership that took on a positive direction, thanks to a successful spring practice of interaction.

The Not So Obvious –. Based on what we saw during some of the Trojan camps for high school players in early summer, returning Trojan players may be in for surprise at the intensity of emotion that some of the "new" coaches displayed during these camps. In fact, in the case of new offensive line coach Pat Ruel and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, veteran Trojan players might think that former Trojan coaches Tim Davis and Ed Orgeron have come to Howard Jones and Brian Kennedy Fields in Halloween disguise.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions - While on the surface the transition of coaching change appeared positive and well received, there is the little matter of "heat of battle" interaction. As the stakes get higher and the pressure grows more intense with each week's Trojan challenge, how will the players and new coaches adjust and how will that offensive play-calling chain of command of Lane Kiffin to Steve Sarkisian to Pete Carroll play out?

The Obvious – The Trojans return eight starters on offense, an offensive that some pundits claim may be the best in the school's history.

The Not So Obvious – In winning 22 games in a row, the Trojans have won by an average of 25.2 points per game.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – As much pub as this offense is receiving, the Trojans won four games last season by a total of 22 points, even with a stellar defense; therefore, is this offense really so equipped with unparalleled weaponry that it can carry a rebuilt defense early and how much will the missing four All-Americans from the heart of Carroll's defense go unnoticed?

The Obvious – The Trojans return 2004 Heisman Trophy winning senior quarterback Matt Leinart (6-5, 225), a two-time All-American and national and local media darling.

The Not So Obvious – Last year there was an article in a major sports publication claiming that Leinart could go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play collegiate football. Cynics everywhere shook their heads and lowered their brows. Well, one Heisman, two national titles, and 22 straight victories and nobody is smirking now. With sophomore John David Booty (6-3, 195), perhaps the best reliever in the country this side of a healthy Eric Gagne, there is not a college football team in America that can compare with the Trojan QB depth chart.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – With the potential of early game blowouts or an unfortunate series of quarterback injuries, does freshman Mark Sanchez (6-4, 215) and if the admission by Matt Leinart that he threw at only 75% last season due to his elbow pain, just how accomplished will Lefty be throwing at 100%?

The Obvious – The Trojan running back position returns junior Heisman finalist Reggie Bush (6-0, 200), junior LenDale White (6-2, 235), and sophomore Desmond Reed (5-9, 180) at tailback along with fullbacks senior David Kirtman (6-0, 230) and junior Brandon Hancock (6-1, 230).

The Not So Obvious – Bush and White speak for themselves, the best one-two punch in the nation. Desmond Reed, however, could be as much of a linchpin in the Trojans historic run for greatness, should something sinister happen to Bush, America's most explosive performer. Reed may be the most underrated player on the West Coast, and fullback Kirtman can be thrown into that category as well. We have always liked Kirtman's game and the Washington native is what a team sport is all about.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Talented but injury prone junior fullback Brandon Hancock returns, but how long will this talented hulk last based on history and should Hancock go down, might we finally see the likes of sophomore Jody Adewale (6-0, 230)?

The Obvious – The Trojan offensive line, consisting of sophomore left tackle Sam Baker (6-5, 305) and junior right tackle Winston Justice (6-6, 300), sophomore left guard Drew Radovich (6-5, 300) and junior right guard Fred Matua (6-2, 305), and junior center Ryan Kalil (6-3, 285), is considered by most as one of the best in the country.

The Not So Obvious – With the seasonal loss of sophomore Jeff Byers, the real battle of competition of comes down to the left guard position where Radovich will need to continue his fight to hold off the potential presence of senior Taitusi Lutui (6-6, 365), who started last year at right tackle before being supplanted by the returning Justice.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Is this really, as some pundits suggest, the best Trojan offensive line of all-time and how much more effective will the Trojan ground attack be with the return of NFL-caliber tackle Winston Justice?

The Obvious – The Trojans return arguably the finest returning receiving unit in the country in junior Steve Smith (6-0, 195), sophomore Dwayne Jarrett (6-5, 200), and senior tight end Dominique Byrd (6-3, 260).

The Not So Obvious – Byrd may be the key to the passing attack as he showed at Oregon St. and in the 2005 Orange Bowl. When healthy, the Minnesota senior is the wildcard in the Trojans' offense. The return of sophomore Whitney Lewis (6-1, 225) and the growth and experience of junior Chris McFoy (6-1, 200) gives this group the depth and athletic ability that pushes this unit to the top of the charts. The advancement of senior William Buchanon (6-3, 185) will be interesting to watch, for he could be the Jason Mitchell of 2005.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Based on summer workouts and all-star game performances, how big and how soon will 6-foot-5, 220-pound freshman Patrick Turner impact the receiving corps and is this the make or break year for talented Whitney Lewis?

The Obvious – The Trojan will initially rely on sophomore walk-on placekicker Mario Danelo (5-10, 185), son of former NFL kicker Joe Danelo, early in the season to handle the extra point and field goal responsibilities.

The Not So Obvious – It is said that nobody is more competitive in the area of placekicking than Mr. Danelo. With some experience in competition with the departed Ryan Killeen, it figures that No. 19 will fight to the finish to hold on to his kicking spot with the arrival of heralded freshman Troy Van Blarcom (6-3, 210), who averaged a record 59.3 yards per kickoff and is a field goal threat from 60 yards on in.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Will freshman Van Blarcom be kicking off for the Trojans in Hawaii and can the former Orange Lutheran star supplant the "veteran" Danelo as field goal designate in the limited preseason workouts?

The Obvious – The 2005 Trojan defense returns six starters, but the loss of four All-Americans in the middle of the defense is a cause for Winchell's donut concern until proven otherwise.

The Not So Obvious – Pete Carroll seems to be less concerned about his defense than some of the "experts" and the rabid Trojan following. However, perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this rebuilt defense, as Carroll knows, is the offense they practice against every day on campus. If the Trojan offense truly is the best in the land, then this defense may be in predator in disguise thanks to Leinart and company.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Without Cody, Patterson, Grootegoed, and Tatupu, how will opposition offensive coordinators attack the Trojans' defense and which freshmen will earn Carroll's promise of early playing time?

The Obvious – The Trojans look solid on their rebuilt defensive line consisting of sophomore end Lawrence Jackson (6-5, 265) and senior end Frostee Rucker (6-3, 260), sophomore nose tackle Sedrick Ellis (6-1, 285) and senior tackle LaJuan Ramsey (6-3, 290).

The Not So Obvious – While Lawrence Jackson looks like All-American material in the making and Frostee Rucker evolves as an emotional leader, it appears that Sedrick Ellis has convinced coaches Carroll and Jethro Franklin that he is more than capable of replacing Mike Patterson at the same stage. The overall effectiveness of this unit may come down to the health of senior LaJuan Ramsey, who if he can avoid the injury bug may be the key to the defensive line engine.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Forget about the starting group, which figures to be formidable. How big a contribution will backup redshirt freshman tackle Fili Moala (6-4, 300) and redshirt freshman nose guard Travis Draper (6-4, 295), who is making the unusual transition from offense to defense, make as a replacements for Ramsey and Ellis and will talented sophomore end Jeff Schweiger (6-4, 260) push Rucker to the point of depth chart reevaluation?

The Obvious – The Trojan linebackers will have some big shoes to fill, but the outside backers are very intriguing with dependable senior Dallas Sartz (6-5, 230) and super sophomore Keith Rivers (6-3, 220), but there could be a real War of the Worlds during the season at middle linebacker.

The Not So Obvious – Heading into camp, junior Oscar Lua (6-1, 240) is slated to start at middle linebacker and figures to stay there for kickoff at Hawaii. However, don't rule out the impact of senior Collin Ashton (6-1, 220), who can play anywhere. This kid plays with a huge heart and is very smart, a quality that made graduated middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu so special.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – At what linebacker spot will sophomore Thomas "Hitman" Williams (6-3, 230) finally settle and is it realistic to think that freshmen like Rey Maualuga (6-3, 238) and Luthur Brown (6-3, 235) are really ready to man one of the main positions in Pete Carroll's complex 4-3 defense?

The Obvious – The Trojan secondary is full of lethal destroyers in junior strong safety Darnell Bing (6-2, 220) and senior free safety Scott Ware (6-2, 215), while the cornerback positions are anchored by senior Justin Wyatt (5-10, 185) and emerging sophomore Terrell Thomas (6-1, 185).

The Not So Obvious – With critical early Pac-10 games against experienced Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens and ASU's confident Sam Keller, Trojan fans will get a eagle look at new starter Terrell Thomas, who replaces departed corner Eric Wright. The depth here is intriguing with sophomore SS/FS Josh Pinkard (6-1, 200), true freshman SS Kevin Ellison (6-1, 220), and the addition of a highly recruited group of freshmen. Shhhhh, did we mention the mysterious sophomore corner transfer Mozique McCurtis (6-1, 225), whose physical number defy imagination? Scouted personally by Carroll, McCurtis is certainly one newcomer that will deserve special attention during the coming practice weeks.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Will lethal hitting free safety Scott Ware survive the season considering how hard he hits and will teams look to avoid the Trojans hard-hitting safeties by confusing them with sophisticated passing attacks and gifted tight ends and is this finally the rewarding senior season for athletic corner John Walker (6-1, 200)? Whew!

The Obvious – The Trojan coaches will finally get their first real look at their nationally acclaimed recruiting class, a group that still has the recruiting gurus buzzing.

The Not So Obvious – The names of Sanchez, Maualuga, and Turner, speak for themselves, but we are also eager to watch the early going of SLB Brian Cushing (6-4, 235), WLB Kaluka Maiava (6-0, 220), DB Kevin Thomas (6-1, 190), NT Walker Lee Ashley (6-5, 295), and DE Kyle Moore (6-7, 265).

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Just how many of these touted freshmen will eventually see their position changed during their initial Trojan season and which ones will make the quickest impact on special teams and regular units?

The Obvious – Senior punter Tom Malone (6-0, 205) may be the best in the country at his position.

The Not So Obvious – Malone's 44.5 career punting average is currently the best in Trojan history and slightly below the all-time Pac-10 record of 44.6 set by UCLA's Kirk Wilson in the mid-1950s.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – Are Trojan fans witnessing the best punter in USC history and will the Trojans' offense be so productive that Malone gets a minimal amount of kick?

The Obvious – Last season, the Trojans established a Pac-10 record for home attendance average (85, 229) and school records for total home attendance, overall attendance average, and total overall attendance.

The Not So Obvious – While it was curious to get a recent e-mail from the Trojan athletic department announcing "non renewed season tickets" are now available for purchase, it figures that Trojan fans will be more severely challenged to get away game tickets as the Trojans are currently The Beatles of college football.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions – If the Trojans continue with their remarkable win streak, which home game will NOT be a sellout and just how much will scalpers and Coliseum parking lots charge after each preceding Trojan victory?

The Obvious – This is probably the most anticipated season in the history of the Cardinal and Gold.

The Not So Obvious – The only years we recall that may have approached this coming season's anticipation would be 1963, 1968, 1973, 1975, 1979, and, of course, 2004 – all years that followed a national championship season. However, nothing compares to this 2005 season in terms of college football history, streaks, and media and fan interest, both locally and nationally.

The Not So Obvious Big Questions - Are we ready?… Are we ready??… Are we ready… for Y'all???

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