Five Questions Facing USC and Pete Carroll Heading into Spring Ball
WIth the Men of Troy's spring ball kicking off last Saturday, there are lots of noticeable changes around Howard Jones Field. The squad and coaching staff have a much different look than just a few months ago at the Rose Bowl.
Once again, Pete Carroll loses double-digit players to the next level and must cope with loses on his coaching staff as well.
But Pete Carroll is capable of burdening himself with the challenge of another Trojan season. He isn't regarded as one of the best coaches and recruiters in all of college football for nothing! So, with that, let me pose to you some questions facing Southern Cal, and how Pete and the staff might answer them in the coming months heading into summer, fall ball, and eventually the 2009 regular season.
Who Will Replace Sanchez?
USC has depth at every position. And the quarterback spot is not exempt. But when quarterback Mark Sanchez unexpectedly declared for this month’s NFL Draft, Pete Carroll and the rest of the Trojans faithful (including myself) were caught off guard.
Almost everyone was expecting to see Sanchez wearing Cardinal and Gold this coming fall, but the star quarterback had other ideas.
Nevertheless, Pete is left with more than one capable replacement, but a tough decision still awaits him. Who to start at QB in ’09?
On one hand, there’s redshirt junior and former PARADE Magazine National Player of the Year Mitch Mustain, who once led the Arkansas Razorbacks to nine wins and the SEC title game as a true freshman. And on the other is redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp, who possesses an ability not seen in Trojans quarterbacks in quite some time: effective scrambling and elusiveness in the pocket.
History clearly favors Mustain. The big-armed, gun-slinging QB boasts accuracy and leadership that will probably give him the upper hand. Corp has a slightly larger frame at 6’4”, but a weaker arm and less in-game experience. Carroll wants a QB that can handle the pressure and atmosphere of playing an upper-echelon, out-of-conference opponent on the road in front of a nationwide audience. Such is the case when Southern Cal travels to Columbus to face off with the Buckeyes of Ohio State in the second week of the ’09 season.
Nevertheless, Carroll has deemed the position open competition heading into spring ball last Saturday. Both star QBs will get equal snaps to see who deserves the spot more.
The wild card in this situation is Matt Barkley. The true freshman QB was the nation’s top recruit by ESPN.com’s rankings, and perhaps the most coveted football recruit in history—more so than other recent stud quarterback recruits Terrell Pryor and Jimmy Clausen. If the youngster impresses new offensive coordinator John Morton and the rest of the coaching staff enough, Barkley could start the season opener. It would be his first in a Trojan uniform, and something no one else has ever accomplished at SC. Keep in mind Barkley was the first Mater Dei quarterback to start for varsity all four years (something even fellow alum Matt Leinart didn’t accomplish).
Who Will Step Up and Fill in the Voids Left at All Three LB Spots?
With the Trojans losing a quartet of senior linebackers to the NFL Draft later this month, three of which are projected to be taken in the first round (Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews), there are some considerable holes to fill behind the defensive line—along with nervous anxiety from SC faithful. There’s an unprecedented void in the Trojan’s defense after losing all three starting LBs. To add insult to injury, backup and frequent starter Kaluka Maieva graduated as well.
But, as with every other position, USC reloads, not rebuilds. Waiting in the wings are Luther Brown, Malcolm Smith, and Chris Galippo—all of whom were highly-touted high school prospects. Junior Mike Morgan and sophomore Uona Kavienga, along with redshirt freshman Marquis Simmons, will also challenge for the trio of opened LB spots.
Brown has struggled with injuries throughout his Trojans career and will try to vilify his high-prospect grade and hype with his performance this season.
Galippo, the biggest and most promising prospect of the bunch, was forced to redshirt last season due to back surgery for a herniated disc. He was the top rated prospect by ESPN in the Class of 2006 and the third highest graded prospect overall (behind teammates Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler).
These young linebackers are out to prove that they are indeed capable of the task of replacing these Trojans stars, as they began their conquest last Saturday on the first day of spring ball.
Also, keep an eye out for true sophomore Nick Perry to make an impact as he recently converted from DE to OLB. He set the Michigan high school record for sacks in a single season during his senior year in 2008.
How Will the Team React to the Seismic Offseason Coaching Changes?
The Trojans experienced unprecedented turnover during the Pete Carroll Era within their coaching staff this offseason.
Offensive coordinator/QB's coach/assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian bolted for the head coaching job at Washington right after the regular season concluded, taking Trojans defensive coordinator Nick Holt with him for the same position. Replacing Sark is former QB's coach John Morton, and Carroll chose DB's coach Rocky Seto to replace Holt. Jeremy Bates was hired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff to become QB's coach.
Jethro Franklin will also have a bigger coaching role this season. With all these coaching changes, the Trojans have to mesh the players with the new staff. This adjusting process will be short-lived because of Pete Carroll’s brilliance. Expect the staff to adjust very successfully.
Will New OC John Morton Be Able to Satisfy the Plethora of Capable USC RBs?
The Trojans boast an uncanny stable of running backs unmatched throughout the college football nation. Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford, Marc Tyler, and Curtis McNeal are any RBs coach's dream to manage. But it remains to be seen if new offensive coordinator John Morton can utilize all of the RBs at his disposal—and in a balanced effort. This year will show whether or not Morton can please the Trojans' six-pack of stud running backs.
How Will the Defense Recover from Numerous Losses from the 2008 Squad?
With another season comes another squadron of Trojans shipped off from SC and into the NFL.
This year, the defense was hit particularly hard, losing six senior starters to the next level.
Replacing DE Kyle Moore, DT Fili Moala, CB Cary Harris, and LBs Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga will be the toughest challenge for new defensive coordinator Rocky Seto.
The defense carried USC during last year’s campaign. The Trojans were number one in the nation in total defense and allowed less than 10 points per game. They were, in a word, dominant. That "G" defensive unit was so incredibly successful because of amazing overall team speed—and the young replacements have plenty of it.
Sophomore CB T.J. Bryant showed various signs of promise during minimal play time last season and will most likely fill the shoes left by Harris.
Armond Armstead, Averell Spicer, Jurrell Casey, and Da’John Harris will compete for Moala’s spot on the line. And Malik, Jackson, Wes Horton and true freshman mega-prospect Devon Kennard will battle to replace Kyle Moore at defensive end.