In 2003, USC had a daunting task of replacing Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Carson Palmer, and there were no clear replacements for him after spring ball, even though Norm Chow felt Matt Leinart was the best choice.
I'm not sure if there has ever been a spring practice and a Trojan spring scrimmage at the end of spring ball that was worse than the spring scrimmage at the Coliseum in 2003. But Chow, being the genius he is, and Pete Carroll, chose Matt Leinart to be the starting quarterback for the 2003 season heading into fall camp.
Leinart diplayed an ability to lead the team and get the team out of the huddle in a timely manner and Matt became the starting quarterback over Matt Cassell, Brandon Hance and Billy Hart.
Leinart didn't have an impressive spring or fall camp, and many were worried USC would struggle after losing Palmer to the NFL. But Leinart had an impressive debut at Auburn, completing 17-30 passes for 192 yards and one interception. It was a huge victory for the Trojans considering some publications ranked Auburn the pre-season No. 1 team.
This season, USC doesn't have to replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, but the Trojans will have to replace a first-round-NFL-draft pick QB in Mark Sanchez.
The Trojans have Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley, Mitch Mustain and Garrett Green competing for the top spot. As talented as the quarterbacks were when Leinart was competing for the starting gig, this group is far more talented. And I believe, either Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley will be the starting quarterback in 2009. I'm leaning toward Barkley getting the nod. In my opinion, he's the most talented quarterback USC has signed since Palmer. Give him a few more months to learn the playbook, and he'll be ready.
And USC needs a quarterback, much like in 2003, to simply be a ball distributor to the vast number of playmakers the Trojans have. Barkley has a strong arm and will make throws that appear dangerous, and Corp is a smart quarterback who can run the ball more effectively than any quarterback SC has had since Rodney Peete. That could end up getting him the starting gig over Barkley. Plus Corp has been in the system much longer, knows the offense better and has become a team leader.
In the end, the most important player in 2009 will be Barkley or Corp IMO. You can't win with an inept quarterback, and the good news is, neither Corp nor Barkley are inept. They simply need to do what John Morton and Jeremy Bates ask them to do. I believe the coaches will keep things simple, at least early on in the season, for whoever leads the team at quarterback, and the USC offense will be far more prolific than most believe in 2009.
Aaron Corp will lead the Trojans' offense in 2009.
Kevin Carden, Editorial Director, SCPlaybook.com
Most Important: Everson Griffen
It's hard to argue against the quarterbacks as being the most important players in 2009, but I am going to go with Everson Griffen, because I think Corp and Barkley will be more than adequate leading the offense, especially with nine returning starters.
Everson Griffen has really responded to the coaching of Jethro Franklin and emerged as a dominant force off the edge this spring. There has never been any question about Griffen's potential, but he hasn't been able to put it all together until the arrival of defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. If Griffen can continue to learn and grow under Franklin's tutelage then the Trojans will have one of the most feared pass rushers in the Pac-10, if not all of college football.
Last season, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound end recorded a disappointing 4.5 sacks while losing his starting spot to Clay Matthews, and many observers questioned his maturity and work ethic. That certainly wasn't the case this spring when Griffen showed up to practice with a new found focus and was a disruptive force in the backfield every single practice.
The Trojans have a young, but very talented defensive line and if Griffen can step up and become a real difference maker, then they have the potential to be a very special group, which would be a very positive sign for a defensive unit that has arguably the top secondary in the nation.
I think the play of the junior defensive end will be a great indicator as to just how good Pete Carroll's defense will be in 2009.
Another defensive player that will be vital the Trojans' success is middle linebacker Chris Galippo.
Everson Griffen could be an elite pass rusher in 2009.