Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CFI Countdown: #7 USC Trojans

2008 Record: 12-1 (Pac-10 8-1)
Bowl Game: Won Rose Bowl vs. Penn St. 38-24
Location: Los Angeles, California
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Stadium (92,000)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Overall: 88-15 (9th season)
@ USC: 88-15 (9th season)
Link to USC Football Page

Since arriving in sunny Southern California, Pete Carroll has been so successful it has become difficult to truly appreciate the high standard of excellence he has established. An average season ensures they will be in the mix for a national championship, and who is better in big games? With only three starters back on defense and a true freshman set to start the season under center, this could be Carroll’s most challenging campaign since taking over as the Man of Troy.

When the Trojans Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: John Morton (1st season)
Scheme: Pro Style Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner, K David Buehler

Most of their losses from last season come on the defensive side of the ball, but the biggest individual loss is likely that of quarterback Mark Sanchez. The eventual top-five pick surprised many by declaring for the NFL, including Carroll who voiced his concerns over the decision. So instead of getting ready for a Heisman run for the Trojans, Sanchez will be starting in the NFL. This is new territory for Carroll, which is why we are seeing a first under his command—a true freshman starter in Matt Barkley, who beat out other highly-touted signal callers in Aaron Corp, as well as Mitch Mustain. Many rate Barkley as the top freshman coming into this season. Working in his favor is a strong offensive line and a stockpile of skill players. Senior left tackle Charles Brown will protect his blind side and the man snapping him the football, sophomore center Kristofer O’Dowd (may miss opener with knee injury), could be the best in the game. The rest of the line consists of a nice blend of solid veterans, such as sixth-year senior Jeff Byers, and talented youngsters, like tackle Tyron Smith. Their best receiver from a year ago, former Razorback, junior Damian Williams, returns to provide a go-to target and big play option. However, with Ronald Johnson going down (broken collarbone) over the weekend there are some concerns regarding depth at the receiver position. They need junior David Ausberry to start playing up to his high school accolades. Picking up some slack will be tight end Anthony McCoy who is a dangerous weapon in his own right. To say there is depth at tailback is an understatement. Stafon Johnson, C. J. Gable, Joe McKnight, and Allen Bradford are all talented and capable starters. Gable is shifty and a solid pass catcher, Bradford brings power, McKnight is the home run threat, and Johnson may have the best combination of running skills. Not to be forgotten is junior fullback Stanley Havili, who can run, block, and catch—one of the nation’s most underrated players.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) C Kristofer O’Dowd (JR), 2) WR Damian Williams (JR), 3) OT Charles Brown (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Rocky Seto (1st season)
Scheme: Multiple 4-3
Starters Returning: Three
Key Losses: LB Rey Maualuga, LB Brian Cushing, LB Clay Matthews Jr., S Kevin Ellison, DT Fili Moala, DE Kyle Moore, CB Cary Harris, LB Kaluka Maiava

Eight Trojan defenders were drafted last April, including four linebackers, with starters Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews Jr. going in the first two rounds—that’s a lot of talent to replace, even for a program like USC’s. This might be the toughest challenge to the reloading vs. rebuilding model—normally USC does the former. Stepping in will be juniors Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith and they’ll flank sophomore MIKE Chris Galippo. They could follow their predecessors into the NFL, but it is hard to believe they will be as good from day one. Up front, senior defensive tackle Averell Spicer and junior end Everson Griffen do have experience, with many expecting an All-American type season from Griffen, a pass-rushing demon. The undisputed leader of the secondary, and the entire defense for that matter, is senior free safety Taylor Mays. The Trojans are happy he decided to return after many assumed he would be headed for the league where they play for pay. Mays looks the part and possesses excellent speed despite the fact he is bigger than many college linebackers. It would be safe to say that no defensive back hits harder than Mr. Mays. Josh Pinkard, who’s had an injury riddled career, looks to slot in next to Mays at strong safety, with corners Kevin Thomas ready to take over full-time as long as he can stay healthy. Shareece Wright was slated to join Thomas until it was announced yesterday that he is academically ineligible to play this season.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) FS Taylor Mays (SR), 2) DE Everson Griffen (JR), 3) LB Chris Galippo (SO)

The Schedule

The Men of Troy have one of the toughest travel schedules of any team in the country. Out of conference they make the trip to the Horseshoe in Columbus to take on a group of Buckeyes smarting to knock off a big time program in week two. The same could be said of Notre Dame, who hopes to use a victory over USC in South Bend to catapult into BCS Bowl territory. In conference, the consensus challengers are California and Oregon, with USC making trips to both Berkeley and Eugene. That’s four road games against pre-season ranked teams. They also travel to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils. They do host rival UCLA and Oregon St. in a revenge game.

Pivotal Point

We can talk about the talent they have to replace at linebacker or the durability and depth concerns at defensive back, but when they a named a true freshman as the starting quarterback, he became the pivotal point of the season. Talk to anyone who has seen Barkley play and they will tell you the talent is there, but the fact he is a true freshman can’t be overlooked until he proves himself on the gridiron. There is legitimate concern that Barkley is playing a year too early, and he could have been red-shirted had Sanchez returned to USC. There are also questions whether or not he would have beaten out talented sophomore Aaron Corp had Corp stayed healthy throughout fall camp. No one doubts Barkley’s bright future, but his present could be a little hazy. We should also mention that the Trojans are breaking in new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

CFI Final Analysis

Everyone knows the Trojans have as much talent as any team in the nation. What they lack is experience. The last time they had to replace this many key players on defense was in 2005, when they allowed 360.9 yards and 22.8 points per game and were lit up by Texas for 41 points in the BCS Championship game. Since 2004, they have not allowed more than 16 points or 295.8 yards per game in any one season (other than 2005). The most points allowed in another BCS game under Carroll? Last year, when Penn St. scored 24 in the Trojans’ 14-point win, which is also the smallest margin of victory in their six BCS wins under Carroll. But, you say, they did make the BCS Championship game. True, but in 2005 they also returned the likes of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and Dwayne Jarrett—that was a proven and dynamic offense. Expect the 2009 Trojans to take a step back, which in Pete Carroll land means a fall all the way to number seven.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs

Photos Courtesy of College Press Box, Illinois Sports Information