With the 2009 college football season looming, the USC Trojans have perhaps more questions to answer than anytime in recent history.
Some of these questions were anticipated due to graduation (Linebacking corps), some were not (Mark Sanchez).
In all cases, the 2009 Trojans have enough areas of concern to warrant further consideration as they look to extend their NCAA record of seven straight PAC-10 titles and top five national ranking finishes.
With eleven players drafted by the NFL and a reshuffling of the coaches ranks, there are bound to be gaps in the cohesion necessary to ensure football success for this 2009 version of the Men of Troy.
Bridging these gaps will be the focus of Pete Carroll and his staff as the USC Trojans and their preseason top five ranking take the field for the 2009 season.
Here are five key areas of concern for the Trojans for the upcoming season:
When Mark Sanchez shocked Pete Carroll and USC fans by declaring for the NFL draft after the 2008 season it was assumed that the Trojans offense would take on a different identity for the 2009 season.
Although mega recruit Matt Barkley enrolled early at USC to participate in spring practice, some thought that the quarterback race would simply be a matter of finding a leader who could direct the offense without making mistakes.
While this is still true to some extent, loftier expectations now reign supreme as Aaron Corp has displayed the necessary characteristics to not only make the safe play but also brings a different component to the position with his speed at the quarterback position.
Corp can make plays with his arm or his legs and this is something that opposing coaches have not had to game plan for in past Trojan quarterbacks.
Aaron Corp enters fall practice as the leader to start at quarterback for the Trojans in 2009.
Hot on his heels however, is Matt Barkley who has made no secret of his intent to overtake Corp as the starting quarterback for the Men of Troy.
Three practices into the fall session finds Matt Barkley firmly entrenched as the main competition for Aaron Corp with former backup Mitch Mustain, who started and won eight games for Arkansas as a freshman now a distant number three.
According to Pete Carroll, he has never had a quarterback at USC who displayed so much ability at such a tender age.
The Aaron Corp-Matt Barkley competition will provide a fascinating study as fall practice continues and whoever wins the job will be a key component to the 2009 Trojans success.
Regardless of who that is, look for the Trojans to rely heavily on their running game at least early as the new quarterback finds his way in the offense.
This group is the area of most significant personnel turnover after the 2008 season.
With the entire starting linebacking corp drafted by the NFL, including significant backups who saw a lot of playing time, the new Trojan linebackers, Michael Morgan, Chris Galippo and Malcolm Smith will be counted on to provide constancy to a defense that will have largely a new look for 2009.
Now, as fall practice ensues, the linebacking group has taken further hits.
Frankie Telfort, a highly recruited and very talented weakside linbacker who was being counted on to provide significant minutes, was found to have a serious heart condition that has forced his permanent departure from football.
Add to this the academic and injury woes of Luthur Brown, and the linebacking questions not only are those of experience but also of depth.
To address these concerns, Shane Horton has been moved from safety where he will bring speed to the position as he tries to add weight.
Also, very highly regarded Jarvis Jones, a top linebacker recruit from Georgia, has looked very good in early fall practices and has displayed all of the instincts at the position to motivate high compliments from Carroll.
This group has immense talent and the only thing separating them from greatness is experience.
The key for this group is to acquire that experience and keep winning while they do it.
2008 offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has taken his act to Washington as head coach of the Huskies.
Along with him goes Nick Holt who was the defensive coordinator of a unit that ranked in the top five nationally in many defensive categories.
For most programs, this would constitute a major crisis in terms of cohesion and unity.
However, despite the warnings of concern by national pundits, the impact of this turnover is mitigated by the hands on approach of Pete Carroll who is significantly involved in all facets of Trojan football.
To address the loss of Sarkisian, Carroll has lured Jeremy Bates, the former offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos to team with John Morton to run the offense for 2009.
Morton, who coordinated the passing game in 2008 for the Trojans and Bates, who is very highly regarded in terms of offensive scheming, provide a dynamic duo that will take advantage of a offense that returns nine starters.
Taking over for Holt, whose departure was not appreciated by Carroll, is Rocky Seto.
The style of coaching between Holt and Seto is like night and day.
Holt, a screamer who motivates through aggression, has a style that diametrically opposes Seto's, who coaches with a laid back serenity that exemplifies his deeply religious beliefs.
Seto's players truly love him and will work just as hard if not harder to please Seto and with the defensive coordinators many years under Carroll, the transition, from a defensive standpoint, should be an easy one.
Also moving up the coaching rung is linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who will assume much more responsibility in the defensive game planning.
Although much continues to be made of these coaching changes by those who cover college football, expect the transition to be fairly smooth from a philosophic and strategic standpoint.
Special Teams (Kicking):
This is an area that is undergoing a major transformation for the 2009 Trojans.
Both kicker David Buehler and punter Greg Woidneck will have to be replaced.
Buehler, the human touchback machine who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys will be sorely missed.
Woidneck, who was steady if not spectacular, will probably be easier to be replaced in 2009 with Jacob Harfman making a serious run for the starting position with an impressive beginning to fall practice.
Harfman and Joe Houston will compete for place kicking duty in 2009.
The kicking game transition will be a major component in USC's success for 2009 and how Harfman and Houston respond to this challenge will go a long way to answering the question of how well the Trojans do in this upcoming season.
Wide Reciever Depth:
The starting positions for the 2009 wide receivers have been pretty much set since the end of the 2008 season.
With only the departure of Patrick Turner to be accounted for, Damien Williams, Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry have been set in stone for the 2009 season at wide receiver.
However, behind those three, the backup wide receivers are woefully short on experience.
Brice Butler, who had a terrific spring, will be one of the first that Pete Carroll counts on to spell the three starters.
Butler, a redshirt freshmen, has great upside and will be a star for Trojans in the upcoming seasons but will need to garner game experience in a hurry to gain the offensive coaches trust.
Brandon Carswell is another young receiver who has a lot of talent and will be counted on to provide depth at the wider receiver position.
Carswell runs great routes and has soft hands but is a redshirt sophomore who has little game experience.
Jordan Cameron, a redshirt junior, is 6'5", and tremendously talented. His impressive spring has been followed by an equally strong start to the fall session and he has added weight to become a very physical presence at the position.
In a recurring theme however, Cameron has little game experience.
Travon Patterson, possibly the fastest of all of the Trojan receivers, has talent but....you guessed it....not much game experience.
This is also a group that is very short on experience and it will be incumbent on the individuals in this corp to set themselves apart in terms of reliability when game time rolls around.
Wide receiver depth is one of those things that you don't miss as long as everyone stays healthy. But health is not something that can always be counted on in college football.
Of course there other questions that surround the 2009 football version of the Men of Troy but these are the main ones that come to mind as the college football season draws near.
As stated before, the 2009 season finds USC very highly regarded in terms of national ranking.
If USC can address these five key areas in a satisfactory manner, they may very well find themselves in a position to compete for the national championship.
However, if any of these areas finds itself falling short of expectations, the road to championship success may be a hazardous journey.
With an early season tilt at Columbus against the mighty Buckeyes in front of a national audience looming, many of these keys may make themselves apparent in a hurry.
As is the beauty of every college football season, only time will tell.