USC Season Preview (Well, 11/13ths of it anyway)
For this belated Season Preview of the USC football team I haven’t concerned myself with typical journalistic staples like accuracy, objectivity, or integrity. I am not a sports writer or blogger (I’ll leave the heavy lifting to guys like Scott Wolf and Ben Malcolmson). What I am is a USC graduate with an extremely biased view of Trojan football and semi-regular Internet access.
In the exhaustive research I put into writing this, I have come to the conclusion that USC is good at football. Perhaps not as good as Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh would have you believe, but pretty, pretty, pretty good.
This view is shared by ESPN, who determined that USC has been the best college football program of the last ten years (1996-2006). I’m hesitant to validate these ridiculous lists from the same people who brought you the Who’s Now? debacle, which prompted arguments like: ‘Steve Nash is obviously way more ‘Now’ than Serena Williams’. Fuck you ESPN. The only thing on TV that inspired more rage in me than those segments were episodes of MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen. But delirious ranting aside, it’s hard to argue that the Trojan’s success in recent years has not catapulted them to the top of the college football ranks.
In the Pete Carroll Era the Trojans are expected to compete for the National Championship every year, and this year is no exception. An experienced USC team was ranked #1 in most preseason publications including the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll, and fans hope this team can replicate the success of the 2004 squad that went wire to wire ranked #1 before crushing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to become consensus national champs.
Like Matt Leinart in 2004, John David Booty returns at quarterback with a year of starting experience under his belt as well as a persuasive campaign to win the Heisman Trophy. Reggie Bush actually employed similar tactics in 2005 and while he won, the campaign was a bit hairier. When the two previous starting QB's both win Heismans it goes without saying that expectations are high, but Booty seems comfortable in his role at the helm of the offense. His numbers from last season are comparable to those put up by Carson Palmer and Leinart the year before they each took home their Heismans, and it'll be interesting to see if Booty can replicate the success each of them enjoyed during their second year starting in Carroll's offensive system.
USC's ground attack has been dominant thus far, racking up over 300 yards and averaging 8.3 yards per carry against Nebraska. Despite a reshuffled offensive line that saw true freshman Kris O'Dowd start his second game at center, the line opened holes big enough to literally drive trucks through. With an abundance of talented backs behind Booty (the alliteration writes itself) it seems like it will again be running by committee with a renewed Stafon Johnson leading the charge. C.J. Gable also figures to get some touches, and while senior Chauncey Washington was slated to play a prominent role, a shoulder injury may limit his carries early in the season. Talented redshirt freshman fullback Stanley Havili's five receptions against Idaho and 52 rushing yards in Lincoln add a nice dimension to the offense, but it's still unclear if he can top former fullback Mike Brittingham's academic prowess.
Last season's top two receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith have both gone to the NFL, but David Ausberry, Travon Patterson, and Vidal Hazelton all seem eager to get their hands (ne--hand) on the ball. Patrick Turner and tight end Fred Davis both have quality experience and are the returning leaders, but Turner sat out the Idaho game and dropped three balls against Nebraska. Despite the early season growing pains, I think the group will emerge as a surprise this season.
Despite all the talent on the offensive side of the ball, most people point to the defense as this team's strength. Pete Carroll's passion clearly lies on this of the ball, and players like nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and Samoan Warrior/linebacker Ray Maualuga give him the pieces to build his dominant defenses. As ridiculous as it sounds, it's plausible that every single defensive starter from this year's team will make an NFL roster at some point in the future. Despite the overall talent level and depth, the defense still needs to improve its the ability to create turnovers, a staple of Carroll's defenses that was lacking last year.
The Trojans most certainly have the talent to make it to the Sugar Bowl (this season's BCS Championship Game) but their path getting there may be a bit bumpier than in previous seasons. Top to bottom the Pac-10 appears to be the second best conference in the country behind the SEC, and the gap seems to be narrowing unless you believe Les Miles. In fact, Pac-10 doormat Stanford seems to be the only remaining guaranteed conference win on the schedule. It's gotten so bad in Palo Alto that their hilariously ironic band (look at those zany uniforms!) has turned to petty vandalism, and their beloved mascot has developed a serious drinking problem.
The biggest test of the season will probably come November 10th when the Trojans travel to wookie infested Berkeley to take on talented receiver DeSean Jackson and the Cal Bears. Other tough road games include a surprisingly competent Washington team, Oregon at always-raucous Autzen Stadium, and Arizona State, where there can be plenty of distractions. USC also travels to South Bend this year but it doesn't figure to be much of a game as Notre Dame's season, and Charlie Weiss' tenure in general, has reflected the coaches botched gastric bypass surgery. Both started with the best of intentions, but ended up a bloody, hemorrhaging mess that ultimately solved nothing. Notre Dame still sucks and Charlie Weiss is still fat.
Once again USC caps their regular season against UCLA, this year at the Coliseum. Last year the Bruins upset the Trojans and dashed their hopes of another national title, but I still view the current football rivalry (USC has won 7 of the last 8 games) like the relationship between squabbling siblings. UCLA is the little brother who managed to get in a lucky shot and punch his big brother in the nuts. There's a moment of shock for both as the older brothers feels severe pain emanating from his manhood, and the little brothers realizes he is about to be chased down, throttled, and humiliated in one of a dozen ways. Needless to say I don't think USC will overlook this game again.
With all that said, one never knows what will happen in college football, just ask Lloyd Carr (that actually may be a bad example because Lloyd Carr knows exactly what's going to happen to him--he's getting fired). Injuries have already plagued the Trojans this year, and last season two tipped passes made all the difference in the world. But I have faith in Pete Carroll, and hopefully in the wee hours of January 7th I will be one of many Trojan fans celebrating another National Championship, stumbling through the French Quarter and talking shit to downtrodden LSU fans. Dare to dream Trojan fans. Dare to dream.