For most of the 2000s, USC football has been a dominating force, some would even call it a dynasty. Agree or disagree, it is hard to argue the validity of how great USC football has been and continues to be year in and year out. Pete Carroll has mixed in his boyish enthusiasm with his laid back California attitude to build one of the best college football programs in America.
While these past few seasons have been very successful for the Trojans, many critics think it is championship or bust every year. However, 2009 is a new season for SC that brings us a lot of new faces and names. Predictions for this USC team have varied drastically; I have heard from some that they may win it all, others have said that this is the year USC finally loses its top spot in the Pac 10 and may finish outside of the top 10 nationally for the first time in nearly a decade.
The season is just around the corner and with all of the questions surrounding this year's USC team, there are certainly some positive and negative things to watch for.
1. The quarterback situation: There is no denying that the biggest question hoovering over this years Trojan team is their lack of experience at the quarterback position. First we have Aaron Corp. Corp is a highly-talented and tremendously gifted athlete, but he has very little game time experience.
This lack of experience may show up in loud and difficult environments like Ohio State's Horse Shoe. How will he handle possible audible situations at the line of scrimmage? How will he handle a consistent pass rush if the offensive line is having trouble communicating?
If Corp doesn't get the starting nod, then it looks like at this point that true freshman Matt Barkley may get it. He is probably the highest rated quarterback recruit in USC history, and due to his high expectations, people should realize he may not be the savior right away. He has an incredible arm that many are comparing to Carson Palmer's, yet he has no NCAA experience and rarely ever do true freshman quarterbacks succeed.
Lastly we have Mitch Mustain. Mustain is the highly rated transfer from Arkansas who came to USC because of their passing playbook... much to his dismay he has hardly seen the field. He has a great, accurate arm but the problem for him is his lack of adjustment to USC's pro style offense. He comes from a spread offense, even in high school, where he hardly ever had to drop back and read coverages across the field. Mustain has been showing some promise as of late but something tells me Carroll doesn't trust him just yet.
Overall, USC has plenty of talent at the quarterback position, it is just the matters of maturity and development that may hinder this season's team. Yesterday Carroll announced Matt Barkley as the starter. I have questions, but knowing that the USC staff is this impressed with a freshman makes me feel a lot more comfortable with the idea.
2. The Defensive Line: Not only is this year's defensive line rather inexperienced, there has been a contagious rash of injuries spreading throughout the d-line this summer. Armond Armstead is probably the Trojan that most people should keep an eye on; unfortunately, he has a broken foot and will be out 6-8 weeks. His surgery is scheduled for Monday (August 24).
Spicer is another defensive lineman that Carroll and company are expecting big things from, but he has recently been slowed down with some minor injuries that have him out for about two weeks. The backups are obviously very capable but again the big issue here is inexperience... how will the d-line develop? They have the talent but they need health and maturity to follow.
3. Brand new set of Linebackers: Without Rey Rey and Cushing the Trojans linebacking crew may look quite a bit different this season. Junior Michael Morgan, Junior Malcom Smith, and Sophomore Chris Galippo are going to be the main names that college football fans will be hearing this year in regards to thje class of '09 at "Linebacker U."
All have tremendous size and athleticism but as redundant as this may sound... where is the experience? None of these guys have seen much playing time because of the past stars that are now millionaires in the NFL. How will they handle a mobile quarterback like Terrelle Pryor and how will they shut down Mr. Best from Cal just as their predecessors did last season? It is a question that we will all have answered by week two!
4. Joe Who? When Reggie Bush left USC for the NFL just a few seasons ago, USC fans everywhere were sad to see him go but were excited when they heard the "Next Reggie Bush" chose SC over LSU.
Joe Mcknight is one of those runners that doesn't come around too often, so we thought. He has been a big disappointment to many critics and has experienced a ton of injuries. Mcknight is very gifted... fast, quick, agile, and smart; yet he appears to be injury prone which often times slows his motor significantly. At times he has shown that he can be similarly great to Bush, while other times he shows a lack of toughness. If USC wants it all this year, Mcnight needs to show what he is capable of.
5. Coaching Changes: New offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator, and a new Director of Football are just a few of the staff changes the Trojans have had to endure this off season. New offensive coordinator Johnny Morton will have a tough task of trying to prepare young and inexperienced quarterbacks for weekly battles. The new defensive coordinator Rocky Seto will have a huge task on his hands as he needs to turn a very young front seven into a game-changing defense.
5a. Tough schedule: USC's schedule this year will be arguably the toughest road schedule in the nation. At no. 6 Ohio State, at no. 12 Cal, at no. 16 Oregon, at no. 23 Notre Dame, and even in a possible down year a game at Arizona State may not be easy.
1. The Secondary: Although the Trojan's defense as a whole may not be quite as good as last year's team, the secondary I believe will be better. Each and every corner and safety has had pretty extensive game-time experience and there is no secondary in the nation that has as many big hitters.
Shareece Wright and Kevin Thomas will control the corners and both have solid experience and did I mention they know how to hit? The safeties are no doubt the best combination in America, All-American Free Safety Taylor Mays and strong safety Josh Pinkard. This secondary will not give up big plays down field and if you test them, they will hit you hard... just ask Penn State and Cal.
2. A bundle of five-star running backs: There is no arguing this... USC has the best team of running backs in the nation, hands down. The depth chart as of now shows that USC's top runner this year will be Stafon Johnson who was also last year's go to runner.
Second is Joe Mcknight, but do not be surprised to see his overall role in the offense much bigger than anyone else. Mcknight has speed, moves, quickness, and according to the entire caching staff Mcknight is one hundred percent healthy for the first time and looks better than ever.
Third we have C.J. Gable, who is similar to Stafon Johnson but a little faster and a little softer of a runner. Gable to me has the best potential in the NFL and I think Johnson and Gable will share the most carries.
Next we have Allen Bradford who is a flat-out beast. He is 5'11 and weighs in at 235 pounds. Thus, it becomes rather obvious that when USC wants to pound the ball this year, they will turn to Bradford... not a bad option at all.
The fifth option for the Trojans would be the first option for any other team; Marc Tyler, a bruising five star sophomore running back. Tyler's role may be limited this year but he has a bright future which he showed glimpses of last year.
Lastly, we have Curtis McNeal, a true freshman. He is the smallest of the running backs by a long shot (5'8 180 pounds), but he is also the fastest running back on the team. There have been some practice reports that have said that McNeal will definitely see some playing time this season because the coaches are eager to use his explosiveness. All in all, USC is certainly living up to its nickname... "TAILBACK U".
3. Wide receiver group: USC typically has pretty solid receivers, but usually not too many with breakaway speed. This year's receiving corps is maybe the best overall group they have had in a long time and several of the wide outs have great speed.
This year's top target will be Damian Williams who had a very solid season last year. Williams has decent speed but has incredible route running skills that seem to always give him a gap to make a catch.
On the other side of the field, Matt Barkley will be eyeing the speedster from Michigan, Ronald Johnson. He will most certainly be used as the deep threat and possible trick play receiver.
Their backups or guys that will see the field in three or four receiver sets will be: Travon Patterson who is similar to Ronald Johnson in size and speed, next there's David Ausberry who is the Taylor Mays of receivers, 6'4 and 235 pounds, last there's Bryce Butler who is their highly talented freshman with probably the best hands on the team. It's fairly easy to see that if freshman quarterback Matt Barkley can get the ball to them than they will most certainly make plays.
4. Powerful offensive line: Last year's offensive line was criticized at the beginning of the year for being too inexperienced and too small, and now? Well, I would argue that USC's offensive line will produce at least two first round draft picks in the 2010 and 2011 NFL drafts. This group is another year older and is even bigger and stronger than ever.
This is how SC's o-line will look: 6'6 295 pound tackle Charles Brown, 6'6 270 pound tackle Tyron Smith, 6'4 285 pound guard Jeff Byers, 6'5 280 pound guard Nick Howell, and last there's the 6'5 300 pound center Kristofer O'dowd. If the o-line manages to avoid serious injuries, then it is a safe bet that the Trojan's running backs will have nice holes to run through and Barkley will have the necessary time in the pocket to make the right throw.
5. New offensive coordinator, the return of Jethro: One of the most important things that happened to the USC program this past off-season has gone rather unnoticed... the return of Jethro Franklin. Franklin is the new defensive line coach and according to the entire team, he has made a huge difference especially for Defensive End Everson Griffin. He was once a part of the Trojan program but opted to go work in the NFL for a few seasons.
Now he is back, and it couldn't be a more perfect time. Even though the defensive line is young, it would not surprise me one bit if they exceeded expectations because of Franklin's influence.
Lastly, USC has yet another new offensive coordinator, Johnny Morton. Jeremy Bates will also be sharing the offensive coordinator duties and will mostly be calling the plays. Bates coached for the Denver Broncos the last few season and worked with Jay Cutler. Many people think this could be a step back for USC; I however, think this will be a step forward.
Steve Sarkisian was a solid offensive coordinator but in my opinion as well as most Trojan's faculty, fans I have spoken with, Sarkisian's play-calling held USC's offense back at times. He called a very conservative game and at times it was very predictable.
Bates has more of a reputation of challenging the offense and calling plays that may catch opposing defenses by surprise. I do think Sarkisian will bring Washington back to glory after a couple of seasons, but as far as a play-caller goes, I don't think he will be missed nearly as much as some media outlets insist.
5a. Team chemistry: In some sports team chemistry can be overrated but that is definitely not the case in college. Chemistry is huge and if players are willing to do what's right to help each other, they will be successful. This year's team has the best chemistry yet according to many sources and it is videos like this that make you believe it is true!
*Watch the entire clip, it gets better and better.