One Man's Opinion - 2 weeks to go

Finally, we are within a mere two weeks of the day when the University of Southern California opens the season with a real chance to compete for and win the national championship of college football for the third year in a row. It seems like forever since the Trojans dismantled the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl and every fan I know is eagerly awaiting the start of this season against the University of Hawaii.

Despite the loss of four All-Americans from last year's defense, namely Matt Grootegoed, Lofa Tatutpu, Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson, the ingredients necessary to make yet another phenomenal run are in place. I cannot remember any team in the modern SC era that returned a more awesome group of offensive stars; All World Reggie Bush, returning Heisman Trophy Winner, quarterback Matt Leinart, power tailback supreme LenDale White, arguably one of college football's best Offensive Lines with the guy I personally believe will be the first tackle taken in the next draft--Winston Justice, a guy at tight end who can run and catch with any tight end I have ever seen--Dominique Byrd and as fine a receiving corps as I have ever seen on one team with Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, Chris McFoy, speedster William Buchanon and superstar in the making, Patrick Turner among others. I am not one who usually labels a kid as such prior to his first collegiate game, but if I am wrong in this assessment of Patrick, I will be back to take the critical hits I have coming my way. On the defensive side, what USC lacks in established stars, they should make up for with what appears to be increased speed and athleticism as compared to last year's nationally ranked Defensive Unit.

At last night's Salute to Troy, there were huge lines of autograph seekers at a number of players' tables, but I am told that two of the more highly sought youngsters were actually Patrick Turner and Kyle Moore. What does that say about some of the young talent on this squad already filled with proven stars who are now experienced veteran plans and some are also upperclassmen? Obviously, Coach Carroll and his great staff have done an outstanding job of bringing in highly skilled players and of keeping that stream of talent coming into school in each and every recruiting class. The atmosphere was filled with enthusiasm and a great time was had by most everyone. What a thrilling event this must have been for the entire team and staff to get their first chance of this season to mix and mingle with the fan base on a large scale which shows such great support of such a tradition filled and honored football program. Tomorrow's unprecedented "free to the public" scrimmage at the Coliseum should be like frosting on the cake for the players as well as for the fans.

So, now that Fall Camp is in full swing, what have we learned and what is going on? To my way of thinking, a few things have come to light. First, on defense, it certainly seems to me that the one single guy who is proving most difficult to replace is Lofa Tatupu. Many fans questioned his wisdom in going pro when he did, but evidently he might turn out to be the steal of last year's pro draft. Although he was not a first rounder, according to his coach, Mike Holmgren, Lofa has grasped his defensive assignments very well, and of all the guys SC lost, it sure looks like Lofa is the one who might actually see the field as a starter first. Thus, it is no wonder that the SC defense seems to miss him at least as much as any other single player. However, it does appear that Oscar Lua has taken the lead for the starting role and in my opinion, it is likely he will do a most commendable job. What will be very intriguing to my way of thinking is to see whether or not Oscar will be able to hold off the challenges of talented freshmen Rey Maulagua and Luthur Brown as the season progresses. Either way something very good is going to happen. If Oscar is good enough to keep the starting position, it means he is mastering the position and getting the job done. If not, it means the raw talent of the new kids is such that they are just too good not to play major minutes.

In the world known as the internet message boards, one often reads about "wasted scholarships" or this guy will never contribute and that guy was a bust etc. etc. I have always felt that in the case of some of these kids, it truly "ain't over till it's over" and this year, in my opinion, we are going to see a couple of great illustrations of that very point. The two names that come to my mind are William Buchanon and John Walker. Up to this point in time, neither has had a huge impact on the field during games for Southern California. Both have seen some limited action, but neither has yet to play extensively. In William's case, he was part of an experiment with moving to the defensive side of the ball, but that never really worked out. I had the privilege of talking with his Dad, former All-Pro Willie Buchanon and I remember him telling me he really thought William was more of an offensive player. This season, unless something very strange happens, or unless Williams is injured, he should get his shot at finally making that huge impact. As unlikely as it initially appears, the 6'3, 185 lb William Buchanon is the second fastest kid on this team and he is the only receiver USC has who would be classified as a burner. All the other kids are "fast enough" but the only other offensive player who can fly like William is actually Reggie Bush and as we all know, Reggie is not a wr as such. (Reggie is simply the best offensive threat in college ball today from any number of positions on the field). It just might be William who is used to keep defenses honest and it is William who will be able to really stretch those D's and help prevent them from cheating up at the line. With regards to John Walker, he not only should play a big role for this defense, he could actually play a pivotal role. With the off season loss of Eric Wright, the cornerback position has become precariously thin. It has to be somewhat reassuring that John has stepped way up and has in fact become one of the trio of starters with Justin Wyatt and Terrell Thomas being the other two. With Pete Carroll loving to play lots of tight man to man when SC blitzes, and with so many nickel packages in the Defensive arsenal, I would not be surprised if John Walker is one of the most crucial members of this year's defense. I guess, as the saying goes, only time will tell.

There is lots of buzz about this year's fall camp and whether or not the offense is truly unstoppable or whether the defense is not up to snuff. Of course, nobody can know the answer for sure, but one can't help but get the idea that there is probably a little bit of both elements in play. One fair question that was actually posted on the message boards is this. "Just how does one go about stopping this USC offense?" I would never profess to be an expert at the X's and O's of the game and many folks who read this site are more knowledgeable than I will ever be. Yes, I have an idea and others will disagree. In my opinion, few, if any teams SC plays has the talent on their defensive units to match up very well with this incredible Trojan Offensive Juggernaut. Even without Norm Chow, I have no doubt that Sarkiffian, as Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian have been called at times, will be more than able to get great game plans together and to call outstanding games. Thus, defenses will be tested severely. Here is my opinion. If Matt Leinart has time to throw, and/or if the Oline opens holes, the opposing Defense has no chance, none, to put the lid on this offense. So, defenses had better get to Matt and stuff the run. Failure to do either of these, and I just don't see how SC won't score a ton of points this season. Keeping this in mind, one can't help but ask, "Is it any wonder that our Defense has had its share of problems in this camp putting the clamps on the first string Offense.?"

On the other hand, one should not forget that the defense does have its moments and the play of the dline, especially the defensive ends has been very encouraging. On various occasions, LoJack and Frostee, as well as the backups, Kyle Moore, Chris Barrett and outside rushing specialist Rashaad Goodrum have been able to get to the quarterback. The defense has also been experimenting with various linebacker combinations, sometimes because nobody has stepped up and at other times because of injuries. How valuable will this experience be come game time? I suspect that nobody really expected Brian Cushing to be pushing for real playing time, but if Dallas does not heal up really fast, we just might see this ultra tough true frosh get the starting nod against Hawaii. And just how unstoppable will number 55, Keith Rivers be when he does not have to hold back when going after the other team's quarterback? The defensive backs are starting to gel as a unit and come game time, one can't help but suspect that the foursome of Bing, Ware, TThomas and Justin Wyatt will be a formidable unit. As for the inside down guys, Ramsey and Ellis are getting better and better and Moala is a competent backup. Who will emerge as the fourth guy is a really good question, but right now it seems like Travis Tofi might be to this Defensive Line what Eric Torres was to the Oline a couple of years ago. The now bigger Tofi is seemingly capable of playing any position on the Dline. And one other little thing had best not be overlooked!. On those occasions when the number one USC Offense plays against the USC number one defense, the SC defense is playing against an offense that is better than any other single offense that they will face for the rest of the year. Does anyone think that will not pay dividends as the season progresses??!!

As the final two weeks of camp approach, and as the game plan for the game against Hawaii is being implemented, should we all be optimistic? You bet we should. This team has about everything anyone could want their favorite college football team to have. With the possible exception of not having unreal depth on the interior defensive line, I simply can't think of any major holes. Yes, some new kids are getting their chance and they are replacing stars from last year's squad. However, these replacements are not lacking talent and reputations of their own. They are either awesome newbies or talented veteran players who have patiently waited their turn. Either way, USC is truly reloading. This is one amazing group of players and coaches and the sky is the limit. Anything can and usually does happen during the course of a long college football season. It has been a very long time since USC has lost a football game and it has been even longer since they have lost a game at home. For SC to run the table and win its third consecutive national title everything has to go just right, but I certainly like the Trojans' chances more than any other team's chances. And come to think of it, that is about all one could hope for before any game is actually played.


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