Top Offensive Player
GP - I will give this to Steve Smith. There have been different games with different players who have stood out but Steve's performance in the Washington State game is what separates him from the others. The Cougars probably gave the most legitimate scare and there's no way we win that game without the standout performance from Smith. That's what senior leaders do, they step up when the team needs them most.
BM - To me, there is no clear cut top player in this department. We have seen solid performances throughout the year by numerous players, including a few surprises. My top offensive player throughout the first have of the season would have to be Steve Smith. Smith has repeatedly stepped up in a time of need, and proven that he is more then capable of carrying this team. Smith made big catch after big catch against Washington State, helping seal what was a very close victory.
DR - Chauncey Washington, a big physical running back is what USC has needed after three weeks of losing the back up to the back up full back.
GK - Tackle Sam Baker. He has been the most consistent offensive performer with center Ryan Kalil a close second.
MJD - Chauncey Washington. More than any other guy, he took the team and put it on his shoulders and secured a huge win, almost in a huge solo effort. He played through pain and has shown everyone what he can really do and just how he beat out Reggie and Lendale for the first carries when they were all freshmen.
TD - Ryan Kalil. Why, because without him this offense just doesn't move. Kalil built an on-field following for his quarterback, John David Booty within the ranks of the team, and has been the catalyst for game-by-game improved offensive line play. He's also a heck of a good guy.
GY - My choice may be a surprise to some who have posted negatively, but I believe this team's offensive success rests with John David Booty. His 13 TD's with only 4 interceptions are better than I expected from a new quarterback. So what if JDB is not yet as good as Carson or Matt. He's still the most important player on the offense and we are 6 – 0. It is too bad he had an off day against ASU but that doesn't negate a great first half performance. A 63% completion average up to this point is very good and his QB rating is third best in the Pac-10.
DN - Steve Smith. The guy keeps the chains moving. He might not get all the TD's, but he gets the first downs and he does all the dirty work such as crack blocking LB's.
JBB – Chauncey Washington. Even at 75% in the early part of the season he was impressive; now closer to 100% he is absolutely dominant.
EM - From the first day of fall practice, it was apparent that we would be witnessing the best season in Steve Smith's career during 2006. To this point, he has done nothing to disappoint. He leads the team with 29 catches, 423 yards and four touchdowns despite being slowed by a recent injury. His performance against Washington State was the reason that USC escaped the Palouse still undefeated and his presence on the field while Dwayne Jarrett missed games with an injury forced teams to account for the Trojan passing game.
Top Defensive Player
GP - Keith Rivers. No player has benefited more from the defensive alignment switch than Rivers. By moving him from the outside to a spot that more resembles a middle linebacker, we've seen a more dynamic and aggressive player. Keith is able to use his speed to track down plays and his pass defense skills have been better than expected.
BM - To me, this is the easiest one to call. My choice for the top defensive player of the first half of the year is Keith Rivers. Rivers was one of the more highly criticized players last year, and was even labeled an "arm tackler" by many. Rivers has had an injury plagued Trojan career, but he has really shown his skills over the first half of the year when healthy. Rivers has even been projected by many pro scouts as the top overall player in the Pac-10.
DR - Rey Maualuga. His motor is always running.
GK - Keith Rivers. I am afraid if Keith keeps it up, he will be a strong "early entry" candidate.
MJD - Keith Rivers; At this time, he is the one guy who seems to bring it every single game and he seems to have taken that step up. In my opinion, he is now player like the star we all thought he would be.
TD - Keith Rivers. While his younger counterparts, Brian Cushing and Rey Mauluaga have been getting all the attention, Keith has gone about his business of blowing plays up all over the field. He's only going to get better and I only hope he sticks around for his senior campaign, as the NFL is already in love with him.
GY - Keith Rivers is the man on defense. He is playing more under control this season and that is making him very effective. His display of speed and power are a pleasure for me to watch. Keith's already made 41 tackles and 4 have been for a loss. Important in my decision is that several tackles have been down field, over 30 yards from his position when the play began.
DN - Keith Rivers. Really earning the 55 this year. He is either taking on blocks, rushing the passer, or roaming sideline to sideline. Just is all over the field.
JBB – Keith Rivers. He is a monster and he is everywhere, living up to the number 55.
EM - With the defensive line unable to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Trojan linebackers have been in some difficult situations. Quarterbacks have had all kinds of time to locate underneath receivers on crossing patterns or backs coming out of the backfield, but the USC linebackers, and Keith Rivers in particular, have done a great job at limiting those plays. Rey Maualuga may have been among the 12 finalists for the Butkus Award, but Rivers has been the team's most significant defensive player. He is the fastest of all the linebackers, able to read and react to the running game and he has become extremely valuable in defending the passing game. Several times this season Rivers has broken up passes to tight ends after coming out of nowhere to knock them down. He's been a rock this season and the most valuable member of the defense.
Top Special Teams player
GP - Mario Danelo. 9 of 10 on field goals and 21-22 on extra points. I feel pretty comfortable when #19 lines up to kick these days.
BM - It is not an easy job replacing one of the greatest punters in USC history, but that is exactly what Greg Woidneck has done. Woidneck has performed admirably in the absence of Malone, playing a large role in this year's version of the USC offense. Another candidate for this spot is Shareece Wright, who has been solid in punt coverage all year while making some key plays.
DR - The play of Troy Van Blarcom has been outstanding. Out of 31 kick off attempts 27 have landed inside the twenty, and 24 of those have gone for a touch back. His million dollar leg has been able to mask a chronic concern for USC under Pete Carroll's leadership.
GK - Placekicker Mario Danelo. This guy has been a game saver up to this point.
MJD - this is a tie between Shareece Wright and Vincent Joseph. As gunners, these guys have both brought it time and again. Both are equally effective. Joseph was a gem of a pickup; not as highly sought as some others, but every bit the player once he got to USC
TD - Desmond Reed. He gets the nod just for the heart it took to ever make it onto a football field again. It's tough not to choose between any of our three kickers, as each has brought a much improved level of play from the 2005 season but the Trojans would not be as solid if it weren't for Desmond Reed.
GY - I'm impressed with Van Blarcom's kicks but my vote goes to Mario Danelo. This game is about scoring points and Mario is doing that for us. He is 9 for 10 in field goals and 21 of 22 in extra points. He is the fifth leading scorer in the Pac 10 with 48 points. I no longer look away when we attempt a field goal.
DN - Troy Van Blarcom. Might be team MVP. Field position is so important for this team to win and Troy has made sure that SC wins the field position battle every week. He gives our D a long field to work with. It is very hard for teams to go 80 on this team.
JBB – Mario Danelo. Field goal kicking is especially important this year, and Mario is money.
EM - Troy Van Blarcom deserves to be mentioned here, but Greg Woidneck's game-saving catch and kick against Washington State, as well as his steady performance throughout the year, gives him the nod. Punters are always overlooked, but one badly handled snap or one shank off the side of a foot can put the spotlight directly on them. Thus far, Woidneck has performed exceptionally in a position that was completely up for grabs heading into the season.
GP - The inability of our defense to force more turnovers. Right now we are +3 in the turnover ratio against our opponents but in recent years we are usually in double digits by this point in the season. The numbers through the first half do not reflect the Pete Carroll mantra for the program "it's all about the ball".
BM - The biggest surprise of the first half of the season may be the play of Mario Danelo. Danelo has been lights out so far on the season, helping the Trojans to an undefeated record in a couple very close games. Many forget about the importance of special teams, but when the games are close, it is often the special teams that will make or break the game.
DR - Has to be the lack of presence of Lawrence Jackson. After being featured on the cover of ESPN "The Magazine", Jackson has struggled through injury in training camp and mentally overcoming the changes in adjusting to the new defensive philosophy, (i.e. hybrid 3-4 defense). The lack of identity of the USC offense is a bit of a surprise! Or is it? Have we placed too great of expectations on an offense that entered the season with so many question marks?
GK - Desmond Reed. Considering his injury, to have him play is a real tribute to his "Fight On" spirit.
MJD - The biggest surprise was the huge victory over a tough Arkansas game. I think Ryan Powdrell was instrumental in that game and had he remained healthy, I have no doubt that he would have been the nations top true fullback.
TD - The impatience of the media and Trojan Faithful in the development of this latest version of the USC football team. Despite a clear knowledge of the talent that departed early for the NFL or was lost to injury, the nation has been filled with a near bloodlust for the teens Pete Carroll and company have attempted to turn into a contender. This was encapsulated when a writer for the LA Times bemoaned Pete's latest battle cry "Just win baby!" When did winning not become enough?
GY - Any time a walk-on becomes a starter I'm surprised. When he is among the Pac-10 leaders at his position, then I'm really surprised. Our punter, Greg Woidneck has done a superb job and is averaging 42 yards per punt. Equally impressive to me is that out of 8 opportunities to place the ball inside the 20-yard line, he has been successful on 7 with only 1 touchback. That's good punting.
DN - is that we are 6 -0 and people are disappointed. This team is still growing and will keep getting better. Remember we are replacing the Greatest College QB ever and TWO All American RBs. Did we really expect there not to be ups and downs and close games?
JBB – Emmanuel Moody. With all of the injuries at the position, he came in out of no where and is making everyone pay attention.
EM - This was supposed to be one of the best defenses of the Pete Carroll era, but the stunning lack of turnovers has made it much less feared than it should be. Against Arkansas, the Trojans forced fumbles and intercepted passes like nobody's business, but with just one turnover in the past three games, the defense isn't allowing the offense enough possessions (especially with a short field) to put up a serious number of points. It's impossible to ask a defense to force a three-and-out on every single possession, but looking for a fumble or interception here or there doesn't seem like too much to ask for; which is exactly why the shortage of those big plays has been so surprising.
Players who need to step up in 2nd half
(Offense and Defense)
GP - Chauncey Washington. He has gradually worked his way back into the line-up while rehabbing a sore hamstring and now he is healthy and ready for the stretch run. That's a good thing because we will need him to provide a steady running attack to power us through the remainder of the season.
BM - On offense, I am really looking forward to watching John David Booty progression as his receivers return to full health. Booty has had a solid opening, but he will need to step up and make some big throws down the stretch with the schedule remaining. With Oregon, Notre Dame, UCLA, and Cal still left, Booty will need to step up and lead his team.
DR - is (Lane Kiffin), Oops, I meant to say John David Booty, I have little to complain of how he manages games, the concern I have is how well does he read his progressions. I would like to see him "react" to what the defense gives. The accuracy and touch on passes will come with repetition. I feel that those are correctible. John David Booty reminds me of well… Me covering high school football for Fox Sports Net "Prime Ticket". When starting a new job with limited experience and a narrow perspective it is very difficult to do all of the little things well. Booty has not reached that level of conscientious competence that athletes reach when the game begins to slow done. When he reaches that conscientious competence where he sees the whole field we will be speaking of John David Booty in the manner of Palmer and Lineart versus Notre Dame 4th and 9… You know the story. He will get better as he trusts his ability to read the defensive coverage and locate the vacant areas on the field. As will I get better at covering High School games for Fox.
GK - From our perspective, although he has been hurt, WR Dwayne Jarrett needs to step both physically and emotionally.
MJD - Without a doubt, this has to be John David Booty. He has to be the leader of this team and he has to learn how to succeed with the youngsters at receivers as well as with the veterans. It all starts with the quarterback.
TD - John David Booty. Despite performing as well as most could expect for this stage in the season, it's time for Booty to take his play to another level if the Trojans hope to finish the year in Cardinal and Gold fashion. Right now Booty is locked on certain receivers and missing others more wide-open and further down field. Booty's a smart competitor so I expect him to respond positively to the challenge.
GY - For offense I'm picking a position rather than a player. We need an effective fullback. If Brittingham and Adewale can step up their effectiveness, that would be great. When Havili comes back, he could really be the answer. Bradford's first game at FB was a good start; maybe he's the answer. Maybe it will be fullback by committee, but the problem with that approach is that defenses can frequently predict our plays based on the personnel we put on the field. So I would like to find a first sting player and stick with him.
DN - Chauncey Washington must have a big second half for USC to win out. He will help out John David Booty and our Defense more just as Justin Fargas did in 2002.
JBB - John David Booty. Raw talent is there, just needs more confidence; a look at his second and third options couldn't hurt, either.
EM - He's coming off the best game of his career, but Chauncey Washington needs to be the dynamic offensive threat that we all know he can be over the next six games. None of this is to say that Washington has been a disappointment thus far, with injuries limiting his effectiveness, but after what he did against Arizona State, he should start seeing the ball between 20 and 25 times per game and if he can't put up solid numbers, the USC offense will stall. He won't break every run for a long touchdown, but those tough runs up the middle are going to be what this team is about over the next six games, which makes his performance the most important aspect of the remaining 2006 season.
BM - On defense, I am really waiting for Lawrence Jackson to have a breakout game and build up some confidence. We have all seen what LoJack can do, but now is the time to make some big plays down the finishing stretch of the season.
DR - Lawrence Jackson must find a way to become the dominate player that he is capable. However, I think he has reached a level of conditioning after six games to where we should notice more of a disruptive performance from the pre-season All-American.
GK - on defense we would like to see LB Rey Maualuga become a more disciplined player to fulfill his vast potential.
MJD - Sedrick Ellis. He must provide that awesome force in the middle that penetrates and gets some much need sacks.
TD - Dallas Sartz. This year's Trojans are as young as I can remember. Leadership will be key to the Trojans' success through the end of the year. Dallas is one of only five seniors starting for USC on either side of the ball. With the uber-talent lined up at linebacker with him, Sartz needs to teach his brethren by example how not to over-pursue and instead, play within the system the coaches have designed.
GY - For defense I select Rey Maualuga. He's doing OK now even though he is still learning to play the position at this level. But his upside is so much greater. I think Rey has the potential to be a star player of National proportions. My observation on his play at this stage is that he is not often blocked but that he is running himself out of too many plays. (That's a little like what Keith Rivers was doing last year). Come on Rey, keep working hard and become the player we know you can be.
DN - On the other side of the ball, Lawrence Jackson must find a way to get to the QB. Getting pressure on the QB is a must. This will help create turnovers and take pressure off of our Offense.
JBB – Lawrence Jackson. Would be nice to see a quarterback sack from him before the season ends.
EM - Lawrence Jackson and Dallas Sartz have been almost amazingly transparent over the first half of the season. Jackson still looks bothered by a groin injury he suffered at the start of camp while Sartz just looks out of it. If the defensive line, led by Jackson, continues to provide no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Trojan defense will be picked apart by the likes of Brady Quinn and Nate Longshore. The season isn't over yet for Sartz, who looks like the long layoff from last season might still be affecting him, but he'll need to start making solo tackles in the open field and providing more of an impact in run defense to end the season on a positive note.
GP - Taylor Mays. All he's done is step in for the guy many feel was the best athlete on our defense and, after five weeks, he's become so reliable that we don't even worry about his ability to do the job anymore.
DR - Not to take anything away from the performances of the "Baby Backs", Taylor Mays has done a remarkable job filling in at free safety. After the very disappointing loss of Josh Pinkard, few will argue that the secondary has struggled because of his lack of experience.
GK - RB Emmanuel Moody but FS Taylor Mays is coming on strong.
MJD - CJ Gable. Even though he has fallen behind Moody, I believe CJ has become the most effective tailback to run the sweep, also known as Student Body right or left, since Marcus Allen. Note who the coaches bring in when they want to score on the sweep. He is also a potentially great kickoff returner. I would love to see him get a shot at punt returns. I would also love to see him get more balls thrown his way.
TD - Emmanuel Moody. Despite being a near afterthought with all the other talented running backs Pete Carroll brought in for the 2006 class, Emmanuel has proven to be the most precocious. This young man has turned nothing into something more times than not and never once bemoaned the idea of following in the footsteps of Reggie Bush.
GY - This is very hard choice for me. Obviously Taylor Mays is a starter and is on the field for nearly every defensive play – that is impressive. Emmanuel Moody has started at least one game for us at tailback and has the best yards-per-carry average on the team, 6.4. In the open field, Moody provides the thrill that comes when our runner avoids tackles with deception and drive. I'm going with Moody as my choice on the basis of making more spectacular plays so far.
DN - Taylor Mays. Was forced to play so much sooner as expected and has not been beaten over the top. He has learned our Defense so fast. His growth is the reason that Kevin Ellison was able to Blitz against ASU.
JBB – Emmanuel Moody, not quite Reggie yet, but holding his own just fine.
EM - With so many freshmen making significant contributions this season, there are plenty of good answers for this spot. But, CJ Gable has asserted himself both on and off the field and deserves the recognition. After starting in the season opener and performing very well, his role has diminished, but not his effort. He has owned the kick returner spot from the moment he was put back there and his intermittent carries from the tailback spot will increase as the season goes on. He runs with such authority for a true freshman and his athleticism will allow the coaches to use him out of the backfield and as a wide receiver.