Since the last group of recruits signed their letters in February, there has been much anticipation as to who would actually qualify, what would happen in the offseason and what late recruits might be brought into USC. It's time to get down to business, so let's see what might be going on. First, what is going to happen with that absolutely, less than anemic offense we all witnessed last year? At times there appeared to be glimmers of hope, but the dismal performance against Utah in the Bowl game put a big exclamation point behind the idea that the SC offense needs help, and it needs it right now, if not sooner. Will SC finally be able to run the ball? Will Carson Palmer have the breakout season that just about every single fan and coach has anticipated and hoped for since the day he signed with the Trojans? Just how much difference will it make to have Justin Fargas, Sultan McCullough, Mal MacKenzie and both Daryl Poston and highly touted Hershel Dennis? Will the offensive line actually gel into a competent, if not formidable unit? And finally, will the receivers live up to their reps? Will they actually catch the ball and when they do, how about those YAC's, yards after catches?
It's just my opinion, but yes, I do believe this team will run the ball better than the team has run it in the last two years. Guys like Jacobs, Vandermade, Katnik, and Steinbacher are all fourth years juniors and that makes a big difference. Want to see a traditional, non option team suffer with the running game? Just stick in all frosh or sophomores on the Oline and watch. These guys don't have to be unusual athletes to block better. Their time, training, attitude and experience will finally begin to show. It will also help that the quality of tailbacks SC has is somewhat reminiscent of the glory days. In the three seniors, there is a tremendous combination of speed, strength, experience and talent. It has been a very long time since SC has had three quality seniors in the tailback spot at one time. As for Carson, it is simply now or never in college. He should benefit from continuity at the coaching position, an improved group of blockers and most of all, the presence of Fargas, McCullough and MacKenzie. We might also see some real production from the fullback position with Sunny Byrd, Chad Pierson, and Brandon Hancock. It is just impossible to know if Carson's decision making will improve, but with his raw physical talent, experience, desire to excel in his last college year and improved running game, I can't imagine anything but improvement in the passing game. As for the receivers, this is Kareem's last year to show that he has improved since his frosh season. Colbert looks to be a go to guy this season, big things are expected from frosh Mike Williams, Buchanon will have his chance to play and hopefully, Grant Mattos will show those hands of glue that he seemed to posses prior to his season wrecking injury last year. We will also have the added benefit of seeing any of the three tailbacks lining up in the slot and causing potential havoc. How would you like to have to defend a group that included both McCullough and Kelly coming off the line? That is really legitimate speed, perhaps the best we have seen in a long time. Finally, this might also be a big year for Alex Holmes. Some question his speed, but nobody ever questions his hands. He is possibly the most sure handed receiver on the team. Perhaps he will finally get the chance to carry part of the Offense on his big shoulders. I have yet to see any D, take him out of the game. We just have to get him the ball!
How about the Defense on this team.? Hard to know for sure, but it looks to be a fast, tough, attacking unit, with some question lingering in my mind as to whether or not it is big or strong enough to stop a power running team. On the Dline, the inside will likely consist of Bernard Riley, Shaun Cody, and Mike Patterson. There will need to be another inside guy to step up, but there is no known commodity at this time. Perhaps it will be Daye, but thusfar he has not shown that he can do it in a game. Most likely SC fans are just going to have to wait to see how this unfolds; right now it's unpredictable. The DE position looks solid with BKU, a stronger Omar Nazel, and one guy who, if nothing else, absolutely passes the look test and that is Van Brown. Nobody likes to depend on an unproven newcomer, so depth might be an issue. Of course there is also Austin Jackson and I was told that he has made major strides and another newcomers named Urquhart. The down seven look talented, but there is a big question in my mind concerning depth. Realistically, a major injury here could be a tremendous problem. I would not be shocked to see a frosh like Ramsey or even Fred Matua, currently slated for the Oline, end up playing on the dline should SC have a major injury or two. So how about the linebackers and db's? I have significant concerns about the linebacking position. SC has absolutely been vulnerable to other teams that could run the ball, especially with big backs. It is not inconceivable that the starting linebackers might be Grootegoed, Melvin Simmons and Mike Pollard, though Chris Prosser , Aaron Graham and Lee Webb might also be in the mix for major minutes if not the starting positions. Some are already touting Oscar Lua as a future star in the middle, but a team that plays a true frosh at MLB for significant minutes often lives to regret that as the kid learns on the field. Our potential starters are small, often taking on ballcarriers who are bigger and stronger. Speed is a wonderful attribute, but I have definite questions in my mind as to how well we will stop running teams, especially when those teams have a big back and a mobile quarterback and who run the sweep as well. Our defensive backs will tell much about the success of this team. For Coach Carroll's schemes to succeed, the corners have to play on an island and the free safety has to excel. We are going to have guys like Rideaux, Arbet and possibly D. Hill take giant steps forward. It will help a great deal if John Walker and Marcel Almond become the players I think they can be. Look for Justin Wyatt to be the next superb cornerback and I will not be surprised if he plays ahead of many others. In fact, I liken Wyatt to Daylon McCutheon, a kid who started from the time he was a young freshman. Make no mistake. If the db's are not up to the task, this team will be vulnerable and the gambling that Coach Carroll likes will yield some big plays if these guys don't perform. For what it is worth, I think guys will do it,and I really like the trio of Rideaux, Wyatt and Almond at corner, with Arbet being an outstanding nickel back who makes play after play in space. And of course, it never hurts to have the nations top strong safety, Troy Polamulu, supervising the whole thing and just waiting to make whatever play needs to be made.
I really do envision a much improved special teams. Tom Malone may very well prove to be the most valuable of all the newcomers. If he can consistently boom those punts and occasionally kick some to the coffin corner, the help to the team will be immense. It is hard to overstate the benefit that a consistent punter will bring to the table. It is a luxury that SC Football has not had in recent years. There are also reports that Ryan Kileen will handle the kickoff duties and he has the reputation of kicking the ball into the endzone on most of his kicks. We will also have the services of Dave Davis for another season. He proved to be a very valuable weapon last year and there is no reason to believe that he won't continue to improve and be even more powerful than he was last season. As far as kickoff returns and punt returns go, I am hoping that perhaps we will finally have a couple of breakaways on KO returns. They have been few and far between in recent years and there is nothing more exciting or invigorating than having a kickoff go all the way back. It would also be nice if the kickoff coverage tightens up and does not allow so many productive returns. There is no doubt in my mind that SC got the worst of that exchange last season. One has to wonder if either Justin Wyatt or Frank Candela might provide some excitement in that department. Similarly, it will be nice to see SC gain the edge on punts returns. The coverage needs to remain tight and the returns could stand to improve as well, though to my recollection, the punt returns were not as much of a disappointment as were the Kickoff returns last season. An overall improvement in special teams is something that I really do anticipate.
Finally, one comes to that all important aspect of college football, namely coaching. At this time last year, many, if not most fans wondered who this guy Pete Carroll is and what is he about. I think many are now convinced that he is energetic, interested and he has a non-stop motor. His offseason hiring of Tim Davis to help with the Oline looks to be huge and we are all hoping that the dividends of that move will be nothing short instant and significant. From all reports, Davis' contribution is right on schedule and it will show on the field. This is also the second season of another terrific hire named Chris Carlisle. The current SC football team might be the strongest in its long and glorious history. Having seen Chris' work at the University of Tennessee, I can state unequivocally that his techniques work and they will pay off. Of course, Coach Orgeron seems to get the attention of his guys. After last year, I do believe it is fair to say that there are questions about the offensive side of the ball, and most are anxiously awaiting this season to see if Norm Chow's system begins to really take hold at SC. Few would applaud the results seen in season number one. As a long time SC fan I do have one additional hope as far as this season goes. I am starving for the season when I can say, game after game, that the SC staff outcoached the opposition. That has not been easy to conclude for a very long time, but perhaps in this upcoming season, we won't have to be satisfied thinking that the SC staff works as hard as anyone. Won't it be great to think, gee, Carroll and Chow really took it to them and SC won on the field and in the pressbox and on the sideline. That will really be a dream come true.