USC Trojans at the 2009 Halfway Point

Sam KlineCorrespondent IOctober 22, 2009

As we approach the middle of the 2009 college football season, the USC Trojans seem to be in a similar spot they have been in previous years. Good offense, great defense, solid coaching and leadership, and that one conference loss serving as the lone blemish that prevents college football pundits from showering Southern Cal with the same level of praise as the three undefeated teams ranked ahead of them.

While USC’s current No. 4 ranking is well-deserved (only Florida, Texas, and Alabama stand in front of them), it lends credence to the notion that if you must lose a game in college football, it’s better to get the loss out of the way in September, as pollsters tend to have short memories as the season winds down.

The Trojan’s current ranking is reflective of their superior talent and depth on both sides of the ball, their coaching staff, which seems to flourish in spite of annual attrition of key members, and USC’s tough road victories against ranked opponents.

However, the performances of Ohio State, Cal, and Notre Dame over the rest of the season will be a factor in determining where USC finishes in the AP and BCS polls. In other words, Trojan fans need to root for the Buckeyes, Golden Bears and Fighting Irish over the second half of the season so that, come late December, the BCS committee will deem USC as having defeated “quality opponents.”

Trojan nation has to be thrilled with the maturation of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. Not only is he coming off his biggest game after throwing for 380 yards and a pair of touchdowns against an improved Notre Dame defense, but he is also undefeated as a starter. Had he not hurt his shoulder and missed the Washington game, perhaps we would still be discussing who could serve USC with their first loss of the season.

The Trojan running game has consistently kept the chains moving in spite of the absence of senior Stafon Johnson, whose season ended when his throat was crushed in a horrific weightlifting accident a few weeks ago.

This near-tragic event seems to have galvanized the rest of the team, as fellow running backs James McKnight, Allen Bradford, CJ Gable and Stanley Havili have all played well with heavy hearts since then.  However, the Trojans were treated to a pleasant surprise last week when Johnson visited them in practice .

Johnson does not figure in coach Carroll’s immediate plans, so USC will have to continue to make do without him. Furthermore, the fullback Havili is doubtful for the Oregon State game with a shoulder injury, so the Trojans may turn to DJ Shoemate at fullback if Havili can’t go this Saturday.

The receiving corps has flourished with junior transfer Damian Williams leading all Trojan wideouts with 28 catches, 467 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Perhaps if Williams had not transferred from Arkansas to Southern Cal, the Razorbacks might have upset Florida last week.

As things currently stand, Williams is one of the most gifted receivers in the Pac-10, and he has turned in three consecutive 100-yard receiving efforts since the upset at Washington, when backup Aaron Corp started under center.

Another reason for the USC faithful to get excited for the second half is the development of 6’5” senior tight end Anthony McCoy. Not only has McCoy displayed great hands, but has also showcased a rare combination of size and quickness that is seldom found at his position.

His five-catch, 153-yard effort will be studied in depth by Oregon State’s coaching staff as they prepare for Saturday’s game in the Coliseum, and should have caught the attention of NFL scouts as well.

The Trojan defense continues to play at an exceptional level. While they don’t pitch shutouts with the same frequency as they have in previous seasons, the unit, led by All-American safety Taylor Mays and stud linebacker Chris Galippo, always keeps USC in the game.

While the three points surrendered at Cal on October 3 provides a season highlight for the defense, last week’s goal-line stand against Notre Dame in South Bend, which preserved a 34-27 victory, stands to serve as a perfect microcosm of the Trojan defense’s bend-but-don’t-break performance this year. Their biggest challenge will come on Halloween when they travel to Eugene to face the Oregon Ducks, currently the only team undefeated in conference play in the Pac-10.

Southern Cal should have little trouble with the remaining home games on their schedule, but the aforementioned Oregon game next week could prove to be problematic if USC is not properly prepared for their trip to Eugene, one of the most hostile environments to play football.

With that said, the Trojans need to not look past Oregon State, the program that derailed USC’s BCS championship hopes last year when they upset the Trojans 27-21 in Corvallis, Oregon. USC will, no doubt, be out for blood as they look to avenge last year’s lone loss at the Coliseum this Saturday by shutting down talented Beaver RB Jacquizz Rodgers and the improved OSU offense.