4.) Southern California Trojans
What You Need to Know
In the conversation of teams of the last decade, clearly USC has a death grip on that title. No matter how you evaluate that honor, chances are head coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans have a resume bullet that exhibits their dominance. Under Carroll the Trojans have racked up not only the hardware (two AP National Championships, 1 BCS Championship) but also the finer points of success. 7 straight 11+ win seasons, 7 consecutive PAC 10 championships, 53 players selected in the NFL Draft, three Heisman Trophy winners, and 25 All American First Teamers all are impressive, not to mention the fact that the Trojans became the only team in history to win three consecutive Rose Bowls.
Through this decade, USC has made their living recruiting the best athletes in the country to easily transition between personnel changes for graduation or early entry to the NFL Draft. This year, the ability to seamlessly transition will be put to the test as USC loses valuable skill players on offense as well as an unbelievable number of defensive starters. Luckily for Carroll and the Trojans, there are a host of players on the roster ready to step in and be the next All-Stars.
Last season the Trojans had one minor blip which cost them a chance for a national title when they were upset at Oregon State. Their only loss dropped them from the #1 ranking and overshadowed their victory against #5 Ohio State the week prior. After that loss, the Trojans were simply dominant and ended their season with a 38-24 decimation of Penn State in the Rose Bowl. This season, the Trojans are gunning for their 8th consecutive season with a PAC 10 title and their 8th straight appearance in a BCS Bowl Game, both goals well within reach for this talented group of players and coaches.
Offensively, the Trojans lose only 2 starters in QB Mark Sanchez and WR Patrick Turner, but those 2 starters were integral parts of USC’s offensive attack last season. This year in fall camp a QB battle has begun between sophomore Aaron Corp and freshman Matt Barkley, with junior and former Arkansas Razorback Mitch Mustain waiting in the wings. Regardless of who wins the position battle, they will have an offense capable of great things and big plays. Last season the Trojans averaged 37.5 points per game, along with 455 yards. They return 4 of their best 5 rushing options from 2008, as well as 8 of their top 9 receivers. On the offensive line, the Trojans return all of last year’s starters, as well as all of their backups, making the Trojan offensive line one of the deepest and most talented in all of college football. Also mixed in with the transitional issues is the replacement of former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian with John Morton when Sarkisian left for the head coaching job at Washington.
Defensively is where many of the losses will be felt for the Trojans, as 8 starters are lost from a unit that was dominant throughout 2008. The Trojans held opponents to 9 points per game with 222 total yards, and only 134 through the air. Of the three returning starters, 2 of them are in the secondary with senior CB Josh Pinkard and senior FS Taylor Mays. The only other returning starter is junior NT Christian Tupou, meaning of the Trojans’ front 7, 6 of them will be new full time starters. The most notable departures are the exceptional linebacking crew of Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Kaluka Maiava who are all on NFL rosters now. The majority of the USC defense’s new folks has playing experience, but hasn’t started consistently. How quickly those players develop into consistent playmakers in a starting role will determine how good this season is for USC. With Carroll and defensive coordinator Nick Holt at the helm and the talent these players possess, that should be an easy transition.
The Trojans have a schedule which features a remarkably challenging non-conference games in their road trips to Ohio State and Notre Dame as well as road games against some of their toughest in conference matchups. At home this season, the Trojans get San Jose State in their season opener for their only non-conference home games. In conference the Trojans host Washington St., Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona. They must travel to Washington, Cal, Oregon, and Arizona State.
For the Trojans, they are facing a season in which many pundits and college football experts are consumed with Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. However, with the schedule they have, should the Trojans win out, they are a virtual certainty to play for a national title.
Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Stafon Johnson: 138 att, 705 yds, 9 TDs
WR Damian Williams: 58 rec, 869 yds, 9 TDs
FS Taylor Mays: 53 tkls, 2 TFL
Game to Watch
All eyes will be on the Trojans September 12th for their contest in Columbus against Ohio State. A win puts the Trojans in great position to challenge for a national championship. After that, their road contests against Cal (10/3) and Oregon (10/31) will be their biggest roadblocks to winning their 8th consecutive conference crown.
They’ll Do Well If…
… the players new to the starter slots live up to their lofty expectations and their prior performances. It’s not like USC is replacing NFL caliber talent with people that wouldn’t starters at any other program in the country. Additionally, most of the folks, aside from the QB position, have significant playing experience.
USC comes into this year’s season a consensus top 5 pick for most every major writer, coach, and preseason publication. Ironically enough, despite that lofty ranking, very few people are giving the Trojans much of a shot to push their way into the title conversation, reserving those sorts of talks for Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida. For USC, their out of conference schedule is simply brutal, road contest at Ohio State and Notre Dame are long travels and great teams in impressive home environments. In conference, trips to Cal and Oregon will be challenging. Look for a loss against either Ohio State or Notre Dame, which will knock the Trojans out of national title contention, but I expect the Trojans to run the table in the PAC 10. 11-1 overall, 9-0 in conference, and USC will be making a return trip to a BCS Bowl, their 8th straight.