A Look at the Reigning Pac-10 Football Champs, USC

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A Look at the Reigning Pac-10 Football Champs, USC
(Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

In a few weeks, as the NBA Finals wrap up, the Southern California sports world will begin to focus back on our boys in blue in Chavez Ravine, and those rally-monkey fueled Angels down the 5 freeway. Baseball dominates the early summer landscape here, just as anywhere else.

But as the days and weeks wind through the blistering heat of another LA summer, we inch closer and closer to the rumble of one of college football's most dominating programs coming out of their famed tunnel in the LA Coliseum.

They'll burst onto the historic field, with the Thundering Herd rabid to their right, and begin another season as the reigning Pac-10 Conference Champs slotted to repeat, again.

This year they'll be coming down the tunnel without eight of their eleven starters on defense, all of whom found their way to NFL rosters and a handful whom figure to find immediate playing time on Sundays this fall.

They'll also be missing their motivational leader and QB Mark Sanchez who opted out of his final year at USC, unlike his previous three predecessors John David Booty, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer.

Palmer and Leinart both won the Heisman, and most projections at the end of the 2008 season had Sanchez on the list of potential Heisman candidates. It seems Sanchez was more interested in gracing the pages of GQ and making a run for Tom Brady's title as pro football's leading man.

But let's be clear: there isn't another program in the land that suffers from such a ridiculous embarrassment of riches as the Trojans do, especially in the quarterback position...and at tailback...and at wide receiver, and at...ad naseum.

Leading the race towards the fall's starting QB job is Aaron Corp, "the best runner at the position we've had since [I've] been here," said Head Coach Pete Carroll. While that's not saying a lot, as all of those who came before him have had knee problems of one kind or another, watching him run with the ball will really drive home the point.

I'm sure the rest of the Pac-10 was happy to see the confident and commanding Sanchez defect to Sunday football, but probably just rolled their eyes when they watched tape of Corp.

He throws well, has a great understanding of the offense, and can run, as Carroll said, better than anyone USC has had behind center since perhaps Rodney Peete. He is a joy to watch.

But don't write his name in for the starter in pen...don't forget that the 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Mater Dei's Matt Barkley, is hot on his heels, and aiming for the starting job as well.

And the coaching staff says that Barkley came in and starting competing from day one. Oh yeah, and the 2005-2006 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Mitch Mustain, is in the mix as well.

Whoever wins out and starts against San Jose in September will be flanked by 2008 breakout wide receiver Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson, both fourth-year juniors and stellar talents.

He'll also have the freakishly-sized and gifted David Ausberry at the ready, who at 6'4", 235 lbs. looks like Taylor Mays (but bigger) and has had his best spring in his time at USC. And it doesn't even come close to stopping there.

Senior tight end Anthony McCoy returns, as does Junior Fullback Stanley Havili, who are both big, punishing blockers and pass catchers. With those receiving weapons, USC is sure to have a balanced and varied passing attack to complement their unbelievably talented running back corps.

Every single one of USC's running backs that slashed, struck and ran over defense after defense last fall is back.

Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, and C.J. Gable will all compete for carries, and feel the pressure from sophomore Marc Tyler and freshman Curtis McNeal, who had more carries than any other back in the spring.

No one has broken out from the pack yet though, so it may be another year of running back by committee, which worked out just fine last year.

The front seven on the defensive side of the ball were completely decimated, and while the backfield is anchored by three-time All-American safety Taylor Mays, it remains to be seen whether the Trojans D will suffer from the departures.

Carroll is very positive on the linebackers, and has even suggested that Chris Gallipo and Malcolm Smith might be faster than the duo of Cushing and Maualuga, who struck fear into the hearts of every offense facing the Trojans for the last four years.

However it turns out, it's going to be an exciting year for sure. Their first big test comes against QB Terrel Pryor in Week Two, at Ohio State. They follow that up with a game against Sarkissian's University of Washington squad in the Trojan Kryptonite confines of windy Husky Stadium, and road games at Cal, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Arizona State.

The Trojans have plenty of competition in the Pac-10 for the title, and without a solution for the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year (and National Freshman Player of the Year), Oregon State's TB Jacquizz Rogers who ran up and down USC last year in Corvallis, OR, the Trojans might be in the passenger seat halfway into the conference schedule.

But make no mistake, they have the talent, the leadership, and the passion to pummel anyone who gets in their way this year.

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