2007 RECORD: 11-2; PAC-10: 7-2
Won Rose Bowl vs. Illinois 48-17
LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
STADIUM: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (92,000)
HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll
OVERALL: 76-14 (7 seasons)
AT USC: 76-14 (7 seasons)
USC won the Pac-10 and reached 11 wins—the sixth consecutive year they have reached those benchmarks. The Men of Troy finished the season third in the final AP Poll which was their, you guessed it, sixth straight top four finish in the AP Poll. So in other words…they had an average season by Pete Carroll’s standards. What does this year have in store? No team lost as much as talent as the Trojans: they had two players selected in the top ten, four in the first round, seven on day one and ten in total. Yet, the expectations are for more of the same—at the very least.
WHEN THE MEN OF TROY HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Steve Sarkisian (2nd Season/4th at USC)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 4
KEY LOSSES: John David Booty, Chauncey Washington, Sam Baker, Chilo Rachal, Fred Davis, Drew Radovich
Everyone knows about the stockpile of four- and five-star recruits USC has on this side of the ball, especially in the backfield. Stepping in at quarterback is Mark Sanchez, a strong-armed signal caller who beat out a pair of highly-touted QBs in Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp. Sanchez’s status for the opener remains up in the air, but once healthy he will be the man leading the way. When Sanchez does return, he will have a plethora of talent to work with. Wide receivers Vidal Hazelton, Patrick Turner, Ronald Johnson, David Ausberry and Damian Williams all have size and they can all run, which also sounds a little like their backfield. If speedy sophomore Joe McKnight is the next Reggie Bush with his array of moves in the open field and explosive running ability, then junior Stafon Johnson is the LenDale White, more of a power back who pounds away at defenders. C. J. Gable was the starter last season before his injury and at FB they have Stanley Havili, one of the nation’s most underrated players. The biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball is the O-Line, where they have one of the least experienced lines in all of college football. That can hinder any offense, even Pete Carroll’s.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) RB Joe McKnight (SO), 2) RB Stafon Johnson (JR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Nick Holt (3rd Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Keith Rivers, Terrell Thomas, Thomas Williams
As talented as their offense is, the defense is where the Men of Troy are most gifted. Their linebacking crew is likely the best in the nation—MIKE Rey Maualuga could be the best player in the country regardless of position, with amazing size and speed for a linebacker. Flanking him is Brian Cushing, who has as much potential as Maualuga, with the ability to be a tremendous pass rusher. Their safeties are among the best, if not the best in the nation—both Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays can run, and with Ellison checking in at 225 pounds and Mays 230 pounds, the duo is bigger than many linebackers. The Trojans must replace first round picks Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson, but appear to have done just that with senior DT Fili Moala and sophomore DE Everson Griffen, who looked every bit the man as a true freshman a year ago. Replacing Ellis’ penetrating skills will not be easy. They also could be somewhat vulnerable at corner.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) MLB Rey Maualuga (SR), 2) OLB Brian Cushing (SR)
They will play as big of a game as one can in September when they host the Ohio St. Buckeyes. The winner will take the early lead in the race to make the BCS Championship game, which is what the Trojans are playing for every season. They do benefit from the fact the Buckeye’s come to the Coliseum, as do the Trojans’ top three Pac-10 challengers Arizona St., California and Oregon. Their first five games could dictate whether or not they will compete for a national championship this season. Oregon, ASU and OSU all stop by for early visits while the Trojans make trips to Virginia and Oregon St.—all five were bowl teams in 2007. Of course, it’s not always the tough ones that get the Men of Troy—last season they lost to 41-point underdog Stanford, and two years ago they lost to unranked foes Oregon St and UCLA (with three wins over ranked opponents in between).
Potential = Production: Here is the list of five-star recruits among the offensive skills positions (according to Rivals.com): QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner, RB Joe McKnight, RB Allen Bradford, RB C.J. Gable, RB Stafon Johnson, RB Marc Tyler, WR Vidal Hazelton and WR Ronald Johnson. Wideouts David Ausberry and Damian Williams, and tight ends Anthony McCoy and Blake Ayles are only four-star recruits. That is a lot of talent, unmatched by anyone. However, Sanchez has thrown seven touchdown passes and six interceptions in his career, none of the backs has rush for as much as 700 yards in a season, and no receiver has had as many as 600 receiving yards in a season. The offensive line doesn’t have much more of a resume, with senior Jeff Byers the only one with more than three career starts entering 2008. Voters (present company included) are buying the Trojans on spec.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
The Trojans continue to win at high level…just not as high as the days of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. It is an unfair standard, but it is their standard. A seventh straight Pac-10 title, 11-win season, BCS Bowl appearance and maybe even a top four finish should be in the offing. However a third national championship for coach Carroll to add to the mantel might be out of reach for a third straight season. But raw talent isn’t the issue and if they can hold off the Buckeyes in game two, the Men of Troy could win it all.
Photo Credit: Sam Haythorn (Ray Maualuga), Chris McGuire (Patrick Turner)
Monday, August 25, 2008
2007 RECORD: 11-2; PAC-10: 7-2