O/NSO Polling Place edition

As the USC Trojans embark on their second week of practice by donning helmets and shoulder pads, the buzz around the world of cardinal and gold is that the Pete Carroll's boys could challenge for the top spot in the country before the end of September, thanks to the USA Today Coaches' Poll that has the Men of Troy ranked No. 3 in the nation.

The Obvious – As the USC Trojans embark on their second week of practice by donning helmets and shoulder pads, the buzz around the world of cardinal and gold is that the Pete Carroll's boys could challenge for the top spot in the country before the end of September, thanks to the USA Today Coaches' Poll that has the Men of Troy ranked No. 3 alongside Notre Dame and breathing down the necks of No. 2 Texas and No. 1 Ohio State, both of whom will play an elimination game in Austin on Sept. 10.

The Not So Obvious – With a Trojan cry on Thursday of "USC 2006 has begun!" so has the polling place race to the national championship. Considering that co-No.3 Notre Dame will host Michigan on Sept. 16 while the Trojans, on the same evening, entertain Nebraska, it's very realistic that, if the Trojans don't stub their toes against Arkansas, Nebraska, and Arizona, they could make a serious bid to return to No. 1 before October. Although the USA Today poll was taken before the dismissal of Oklahoma (No. 5) quarterback Rhett Bomar, in which the Sooners had collected 13 first-place votes to the Trojans 1, who knows how those precious first-place votes will be next dispersed the next time? The first month of the season will leave voting coaches with very informed impressions as have the first four days of Trojans' practice for the O/NSO. So take what you've already gathered from our crack WeAreSC.com staff reports and add this to your preseason knowledge bank.

The Obvious – All three freshman running backs, C.J. Gable, the prodigy out of Sylmar, Dorsey's Stafon Johnson, and Texas stud Emmanuel Moody have displayed why they were so highly recruited.

The Not So Obvious – Gable has impressed us with his glide between the tackles and some have compared him to Justin Fargas, the former hard running Trojan tailback who is hoping stay in the NFL this season. On Sunday, Johnson showed a fine change of direction and "The Prince" runs with Marv Albert "authority." As for Moody, he, too, runs with attitude and has an assortment of jelly leg moves. Moody had freshmen moment on Sunday when he was stripped of the ball and was soon sent on a "penalty lap" around the field as a reminder of "ball security" at all times.

The Obvious – The current starting running back at Tailback U., to the surprise of nobody, is junior Chauncey Washington with sophomore Michael Coleman behind him.

The Not So Obvious - Coleman, who is in just his second season as a pure running back, is coming off hip surgery. The O/NSO asked Michael about his health and the former Inland Empire Player of the Year said, " I am feeling good and my stability is back. I am cutting well and feeling no pain." Asked about the running back unit, Michael said, " We've got Chauncey and Stafon (Johnson) as the power type backs and C.J. Gable and (Emmanuel) Moody as the speed backs." Asked what the hardest thing is for these new freshmen backs, Michael smiled and said, " Learning the plays." As for his roll on the team, he said, "I don't know. I just want to support the team and do what I have to do for a run at another national championship."

The Obvious – The Trojans offensive line showed some new wrinkles to start the season by sporting Mohawk haircuts.

The Not So Obvious – Well, not everybody bought into the new look as senior center Ryan Kalil was still sporting his Samson look and redshirt freshman tackle Charles Brown passed on the opportunity. Oddly enough, the best-looking and intimidating Mohawk belonged to ineligible lineman Matt Spanos, who is still with his teammates helping them get ready for the coming season.

The Obvious – One of the more anticipated freshmen is wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, who has more than impressed his teammates in his conversion from high school to college football.

The Not So Obvious – At the end of the first day of practice, not to mention an all-star, one-handed grab on the second and third day, Hazelton ran a crossing pattern and caught a pass from quarterback John David Booty. Showing no fear and perhaps surprising menacing linebacker Rey Maualuga, there was a collision in which Vidal laid a forearm into the chest of the powerful. Trojan linebacker. Vidal showcased his New York City "don't back down" mentality, but one couldn't help but think that Mr. Maualuga will remember the Big Apple greeting at some point during the donning of full pads. As they say in business, "Let the buyer beware." Of course on Saturday, linebacker Brian Cushing represented Rey Rey with a crushing shot on Mr. Hazelton.

The Obvious – The Trojans' prodigal sophomore linebacker Brian Cushing, who has been nothing short of sensational thus far, is coming off shoulder surgery.

The No So Obvious – Cushing spent some time with the O/NSO after Sunday's practice and pronounced his health as outstanding. Brian said, " I feel great, unbelievable. I was a little nervous at first for the first hit, a little nervous. I had never been injured like that before and never have missed five games. I know I am good to go now." Asked about this season, Brian said, " Last year we knew who the stars were and everything was in place. We will have stars this year but not everything is set. That Texas loss was very bitter, but it is very motivating and it will make it us better." Brian has also been a help to Vidal Hazelton and his adjustment to the West Coast. "I knew Vidal before he came here. I am New Jersey and he's New York. He's a good kid and we reflect upon our East Coast stuff. It's just different out here. The people are real laid back compared to the East where everybody is intense and very busy. Heck the temperature is so different. In December I am in shorts out here and back home everybody is indoors and the Christmas tree is in the corner."

The Obvious – The Trojans look to be increasingly toying with their "experimental" 3-4 defense, that allows four of their wealth of linebackers to be on the field at the same time, thus giving more playing time to a treasure trove of depth at linebacker.

The Not So Obvious – While Sedrick Ellis is a natural at the nose guard position and Chris Barrett remain the true defensive tackle, the big adjustment is the movement of sophomore Kyle Moore from defensive end to a modified defensive tackle. The O/NSO mentioned in the past that Moore could grow into a defensive tackle and with this "tentative" 3-4 alignment, it ushers Moore into an inside presence. At 6-6 and long arms, opposing quarterbacks will find the former Parade All-American from Georgia an imposing obstacle. The only question is can Moore hold his own as the target of a physical point-of-attack rush?

The Obvious – Much of the spotlight of the opening of practice has focused on the Trojans backfield of quarterback John David Booty and tailback Chauncey Washington and both have not disappointed.

The Not So Obvious – It won't get much attention until it's fourth down and punt formation, but the battle to replace departed all-star punter Tom Malone continues to be intense. Walk-on Greg Woidneck, a well-traveled mercenary from Brea Olinda HS to Mt. Sac to Arizona State to USC, is making quite a statement in practice to put the "boot" to sophomore walk-on Taylor Odegard, who came into camp listed as No. 1. Woidneck looked good again on Sunday and might have the lead at this point. Speaking of kickers, transfer David Buehler has raised some impressed eyebrows with his seemingly effortless kickoffs that caught the attention of national defense satellites.

The Obvious – Junior All-America offensive left tackle Sam Baker announced that he will return for his senior year and forego any NFL aspirations after this season.

The Not So Obvious – We haven't even played a down of in 2006, but looking ahead to 2007 with Super Sam's return basically means that at least three starters from this season will return, if you count guards Jeff Byers and Chilo Rachal. Considering last year season's Trojans mass exodus of early entries into the NFL, Baker's announcement should have received even more ink. While folks know Sammy's dad, David Baker, who administers the highly popular Arena Football League, don't forget that daddy holds a degree from UC Irvine, so that USC sociology degree is highly valued in the Baker household.

The Obvious – Speaking of the offensive line, one of the more important members of this year's offensive is junior lineman Drew Radovich, the former prep All-American from Mission Viejo, who has spent most of his Trojan career fighting injuries.

The Not So Obvious – It now appears that Radovich has finally recovered from his 2005 hip surgery. Regarding his health and current playing status, Drew told the O/NSO, " Physically, I am 100% recovered from my right hip injury and I feel fluid in my steps. The surgery went great. The rehab went great and I am good to go." As for this year, Drew also commented on his roll on the offensive line by saying, " I like left guard. That's where I see myself. As far as competition, everybody probably gets a better opportunity here than somewhere else. I like the opportunity to battle Jeff (Byers). I think our offensive line this year will be bigger and better than last year. Ryan (Kalil) and Sam (Baker) are as solid as a rock and Kyle (Williams) has been here five years and is very experienced." Trojan fans would also be wise to follow No. 60 this season.

The Obvious – If there is one player you want getting off the team bus to impress the opposition's fans, our vote goes to nose tackle Sedrick Ellis.

The Not So Obvious – As the intimidating Ellis, who has looked good in the early going, was entering Goux Gate, Arena Football commissioner Dave Baker, said to Ellis, " Be easy on the offensive linemen." The muscular Ellis, with a sly smile, replied, " They should be easy on me." For some reason, nobody much believed the junior nose guard's plea.

The Obvious – There has been much interest in the progress of massive offensive tackle Thomas Herring, a former 2003 Parade All-American, who was rumored at one time to be leaving the Trojans' program.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSOS caught up with the massive redshirt freshman to find out about his progress, especially now that he has worked his way to second unit right tackle. Of his new found attitude, Thomas revealed, " The coaches are making sure that I am fighting and working hard, taking one play at a time. We have a great line coach. He stands on me. I don't have a father and Coach Ruel is like having a father for me, not only just a coach. I am just trying to get better and keep a low pad level. My goal is to get in some games, start, and just get better. My ACL is doing good and I am continuing to rehab." It would appear that after missing all last season, Big Thomas (6-6, 330) seems have turned on that proverbial "switch" and the Trojan program and fans couldn't be more pleased.

The Obvious – Following the NCAA guidelines for preseason practices, Pete Carroll's Trojans used part of the opening day of Thursday's practice to do a morning walk-thru.

The Not So Obvious – There were no violations, but it sure looked like a practice without the use of footballs and equipment. In other words, plays were ran with an "invisible" ball and nobody was worse for wear. Watching John David Booty and Mark Sanchez throw pretend balls to receivers who pretended to catch them would have made Marcel Marceau give a pantomime smile. Speaking of smiles, the Trojan coaches looked content with their new all-black Nike coaching shirts and shorts.

The Obvious – Each player and coach that comes into practice walks through Goux Gate and touches the top of the entrance.

The Not So Obvious –After entering, most go to their respective units to begin "before-horn" workouts with their position coaches. However, some like prized junior defensive back Terrell Thomas drop to one knee and give thanks to a higher source. In the case of Thomas, who has twice suffered serious injuries that have stymied a promising career, there is a lot to be thankful for and, perhaps, a little prayer asking for good health in 2006 can't hurt.

The Obvious – Much has been made of the Trojan off-season issues with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett and some have even carried over to the start of practice with the Brandon Ting steroid allegations.

The Not So Obvious – The day before practice began, the Trojans' athletic department held an important parents meeting for all football players and some of these various issues were discussed in order to better inform the parents of Trojan players the do's and don'ts. Pete Carroll and Dennis Slutak, director of football operations, addressed the parents along with a pamphlet. Parents signed a letter concerning their awareness of potential problems. According to a source, there will be another parent meeting in hopes that even more parents of players will attend.

The Obvious – Freshman wide receiver and ultimate speed burner Jamere Holland from Woodland Hills Taft will miss the season with shoulder surgery.

The Not So Obvious – It's a strange irony that Holland, a candidate to receive kickoffs, has yet to be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse. For Holland, however, this storm could end in a rainbow since the speedster could be available for track and the surgery gives him a redshirt year to separate from the Trojans wealth of receivers, class wise. If there is one position the Trojans could take an injury hit, it's certainly at wide receiver.

The Obvious – In the O/NSO 2006 Preview edition, we raised the question of who would take the place of Lawrence Jackson if the preseason All-America went down with injury.

The Not So Obvious – Well, wouldn't you know it that on the afternoon session of the first day, Jackson collided with left tackle Kyle Williams and suffered a groin injury. You don't think the heartbeat of backup Alex Morrow started pumping a little faster as trainers wrapped the left thigh of Jackson, the All-Pac-10 selection? Well, Morrow got dinged up the next day and was walking around with an ice pack on his shoulder and now what do you do? The O/NSO asked defensive line coach Nick Holt the same question. Holt said, " We make adjustments like moving one of the linebackers, like (Brian) Cushing and Michael Morgan. We kind of mix and match. We can move Kyle Moore or Jeff Schweiger."

The Obvious – The Trojans have a highly heralded group of blue-chip freshmen defensive linemen.

The Not So Obvious – So how are Butch Lewis, Alex Parsons, and Derek Simmons doing in the first week? After Sunday's practice, defensive line coach Nick Holt told the O/NSO, " All three are doing a nice job. They need to get in great shape, but they are coming along a lot faster than I thought."

The Obvious – 2006 Trojan season tickets began arriving at mailboxes across the cardinal and gold universe.

The Not So Obvious – On one hand, Trojan fans had the Christmas morning feeling upon the ducats arrival. On the other hand, followers of Tommy Trojan were in full debate over the photo presentations and the "3-D" effect, each ticket matching a Trojan helmet and the visitors' helmet. The ticket illustrations were certainly a departure from past tickets, which showcased pictures of returning stars. Forget about that competition battle between Booty and Sanchez or Lua and Maualuga, it's about the tickets, man, the tickets. Next thing you'll know, fans from across the land will be arguing who has the most creative and eye-appealing tickets. Whose ticket strips are No. 1? Only hardcore fans could make it into a major issue and isn't that how it's supposed to be?

The Obvious – Media members attending the 2006 SEC Football Media Day predicted the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Trojans opening opponent, to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division according to a vote.

The Not So Obvious – And that was BEFORE the injury to star Razorback tailback Darren McFadden, who may be lost for the Trojan game following a fight in the early morning that delivered his toe to a surgeon's knife.

The Obvious – Former Trojan wide receiver Ryan Ting was listed in the depth chart as the projected 2006 starting punt returner.

The Not So Obvious – Senior wide receiver Steve Smith was listed behind Ting and this position should be interesting to what evolves. There is some speculation that perhaps freshman Stafon Johnson could be given a strong opportunity. There is the school of thought that Smith might be too valuable to take a chance of injury fielding punts.

The Obvious – Florida prep offensive lineman James Wilson gives a verbal commitment to the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious – Well, the O/NSO celebrated his birthday by receiving a new computer monitor and some gift cards from Circuit City, but the best birthday gift was provided by James Wilson. After all the late conjecture that the final destination of the young Mr. Wilson would be South Bend, it reminds me when I was a young boy and my grandmother would surprise and give me toys instead of clothes. While Wilson is highly ranked on most recruiting list, we pay close attention to the rankings of the Orlando Sentinel's Bill Buchalter, who ranks Wilson the No. 1 offensive lineman in Florida and, for those interested Trojans, fellow Sunshine State and Trojan OL recruit Kevin Bryant of Hallandale No. 6.

The Obvious – Reaching back to the successful recruitment of Mike Williams and Keith Rivers and considering the degree of difficulty in the venture, the Trojans have managed to "sneak" another nugget out of Florida in James Wilson.

The Not So Obvious – At last Tuesday's press conference, Wilson, however, told the Florida Times-Union, "I've only lived in Florida for three years, so I haven't ever felt like a Florida guy. I grew up in Denver." All, of course, which brings a Trojan smile from all-time USC tackle Tony Boselli, and current cardinal and gold performers Jeff Byers and Butch Lewis, who caught the eye of observers in the first couple of days of practice. According to the Florida Times-Union, Wilson is the first local product to pledge to the Trojans. Of course, it ain't official until the papers are signed next February.

The Obvious – James Wilson's verbal and the possibility of Arizona's Kris O'Dowd's in the future could bring the Trojans offensive line recruiting into the out-of-this-world category.

The Not So Obvious - Speaking of recruiting battles with Notre Dame, former ND coach, Bob Davies, told me at Pac-10 Media Day that when he was coaching in South Bend, Oaks Christian quarterback Jimmy Clausen would never have been admitted into school. No sour grapes here about Clausen going to ND. Davies' point, as he explained to me, was that timing is everything in recruiting. A new coach taking over for a losing coach gets an academic honeymoon and a new coach succeeding a successful coach does not. And don't try to find Trojans' offensive line coach Pat Ruel and ask what he thinks of Wilson's Trojans decision. The coach is probably is probably off popping corks and toasting his own victory over the Fighting Irish and ND offensive line coach John Latina, especially after Wilson said, "Pat Ruel (OL coach) was big in this decision as well."

The Obvious – Offensive line coach Pat Ruel has not only proven to his Trojan linemen that he is a top-notch teacher, but his recruitment of James Wilson, Martin Coleman, and Michael Reardon should end questions about his recruiting prowess.

The Not So Obvious – The coach also has shown a sense of humor. On Sunday in leading his offensive linemen down the field, he seemed to enjoy the antics of sophomore guard Chilo Rachal, who found a spray can of water and squirted the H2O at Ruel while running side by side with the coach. Both had large smiles on their faces during the prank.

The Obvious – Longtime Arkansas Razorbacks' radio voice Paul Eells, 70, was killed last week in a car accident near Russellville, Arkansas.

The Not So Obvious – The play-by-play voice of UA would have entered his 29th year calling Razorback football and he was also he host of The Houston Nutt Show, which has been broadcast into SoCal during the season, thanks to cable. We were looking forward to our trip to Fayetteville and tuning in on Eells' game broadcast to get some Razorback prospective. It is, indeed, a sad time for all Arkansas fans.

The Obvious – Reggie Bush's signature with the New Orleans Saints is reportedly worth up to $62 million, with a little more than $26.3 million guaranteed.

The Not So Obvious – Which begs the questions, if you knew your high profile son would sign an NFL contract for up to $62 million, why the alleged rush, impatience, and instant gratification to cash in early while your son is still playing college football? We asked a knowledgeable source of these types of matters who has seen these types of issues first hand and the source said, "Parents and kids do it (the early money) because that's what they think they're supposed to do and believe it's just part of the culture." The O/NSO will take it a step further; it's just plain greed and impatience.

The Obvious – The Trojans will put on full pads for the first time Monday morning.

The Not So Obvious – Monday's first practice in full pads presents the freshmen with their first real physical taste of big time hitting. Pete Carrroll, will conduct a 7:00 a.m. practice for freshmen "hitting" along with some selected veterans. The rest of the Trojans will gather in the afternoon. The first full scoobie-do for the entire club will be Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. There is no better day of practice, outside of games and preseason scrimmages, than the first day of collisions with a full compliment of players. With a scrimmage coming later this week, those glorified freshmen will get their first taste of game intensity from the likes of Rey Maualuga, Josh Pinkard, Sam Baker, and Ryan Kalil. Welcome to the big leagues, rookies, for this week promises to leave a cardinal and gold imprint, both literally and figuratively.

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