The first group of "true believers" put their faith in Pete Carroll and his staff, and their ability to recruit and rebuild, and see no reason why the 2006 Trojans won't be playing in the BCS Championship Game. Trojan fans have quickly grown accustomed to life at the top.
The second group of "doubters" point to the percentages of the offense that departed with Leinart, Bush and White. After all, seven of the eleven offensive starters from 2005 are now on NFL rosters. It's easy for this group to point out that this type of "program dominance" just hasn't happened before – i.e., can't you Trojan fans learn from history?
So who's right? I'll tell you in January, but here are some things I do know: (1) USC has done it before – remember 2003 after losing Carson Palmer? (2) Pete Carroll is motivated by history. The fact that it hasn't been done before seems to be the point of his existence.
So where do I stand in this debate? I think Trojan fans need to be looking for "who's next," meaning, USC's ability to keep the dynasty rolling is dependent on finding the next Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Darnell Bing, etc. – the next players who aren't just talented, but posses those intangible and almost indescribable attributes that cause them to be poised under pressure, smile at adversity, and rise up to make plays in the clutch. It is true that we immediately re-loaded after a strong 2002 year and went on to an incredible run of national championships, Heismans, and more… but we did so with players who many people feel only come along every generation or so. So does USC have those players now? Again, I'll tell you in January.
And what do I think after the Arkansas win? I liked the play of the defense – fast and aggressive and will no doubt get stronger. We don't look nearly as raw on that side of the ball as we did last year. If our defense returns to the dominance it had in 2004, it will more than make-up for not having the offense we had in 2005. As for the offense, I thought they stayed the course and recovered from the slow start to show some unstoppable form both in the running and passing game. It was great to see Booty play well, but even better seeing him look so in command. Arkansas is a much better team than last year, and I would bet that this win looks more impressive by the end of the season.
As a final thought as we head into the bye week… what should Trojan fans be thinking? I have told people all offseason that I am more concerned about the first 6 games of the season than the last six, not because of the strength of schedule, but because of the youth of our team. Remember 2003? Even though we had Leinart, Bush and White, the Trojans suffered an early season road loss to Cal that was the only blemish on that team's record. And Pete Carroll's teams get better from beginning of year to end more than any other coaching staff, which is again why my biggest worry is the early part of the year. I'm not predicting an upset, but don't be surprised if the Trojans end up in a tight game late in the fourth quarter in Pullman or Corvallis.
Beat the Cornhuskers!
Jeremy Hogue is a former Academic All-American offensive lineman at USC who started 28 games over the course of his career, including the 1996 Rose Bowl victory over Northwestern. Jeremy later graduated from Harvard Law School and is now CEO of Sovereign Healthcare. Beginning this month, he will also serve as the Trojan analyst for the Fox Sports West USC Live shows following Trojan games. His column will appear after each game on WeAreSC.