Posted: Wednesday August 17, 2005 11:40AM; Updated: Thursday August 18, 2005 12:07AM
Is a brutal schedule enough to stop Dominque Byrd and the Trojans?
Team on the rise
Team on the decline
Most favorable schedule
Coach on the hot seat
Karl Dorrell, UCLA
Newcomer to watch
DeSean Jackson, WR, Cal
Game of the Year
USC at Arizona State, Oct. 1
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
This is USC's league until proven otherwise. The two-time defending national champions have gone 22-2 in conference action the past three seasons. They return Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett -- need we go on? -- on offense. They've proven immune to personnel losses under Pete Carroll, who keeps bringing in the nation's top recruiting classes.
But let's face it, no one's invincible, even the Trojans, who will be without the guidance of offensive guru Norm Chow and fiery defensive assistant Ed Orgeron for the first time in the Carroll era. And their schedule, which includes early road games at Oregon and Arizona State, a trip to recent nemesis Cal and a November non-conference game against giant-killer Fresno State, does them no favors. Does anyone want to dethrone the champions?
The most logical candidates to do so are Arizona State, which returns the nucleus of last year's 9-3 team, and Cal, which is coming off a 10-2 campaign and was last team to beat USC, two years ago. Then again, the Sun Devils lost 45-7 to the Trojans last season, and the Bears are in the midst of replacing QB Aaron Rodgers, RB J.J. Arrington and a host of other standouts. The wild-cards are the Ducks, who retooled their offense following their first losing season in 11 years, and UCLA, which has upgraded its talent base but has been wildly inconsistent in two seasons under Karl Dorrell. Both teams should be improved, but all are still looking up at the Men of Troy.
CLICK BELOW TO SEE STEWART MANDEL'S PROJECTED STANDINGS