It wasn't long ago that USC head coach Pete Carroll entered a season with unproven talent in his backfield. Anybody remember 2003? That's when a little-known redshirt sophomore named Matt Leinart made his debut at quarterback, and two freshmen -- Reggie Bush and LenDale White took their first reps at tailback. Leinart and Bush won Heisman trophies and teamed with White to lead the Trojans to 37 wins in 39 games and a pair of national titles.
In 2006, Carroll hopes to repeat the success he had three years ago. With the graduation of Leinart, and the probable early-departures to the NFL of Bush and White, USC will lose the most productive members of its prolific offense. How well their replacements play will determine whether the Trojans finish in the top 10 next fall. Here's a look at how the backfield will likely shape up:
There's talent here. Backup John David Booty will be a junior. He has been a loyal soldier the last three years, so Carroll and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin are probably going to give him every opportunity to win the job. Word on the street, however, is that freshman Mark Sanchez closed the gap on Booty as the season progressed. There will be a pretty fierce competition for the job throughout the spring and summer. Both quarterbacks were highly regarded recruits, so the Trojans should be pretty comfortable about whomever enters the season as the starter.
There are several question marks here. Many people forget that senior Hershel Dennis started all 13 games for USC in 2003. He took a backseat to Bush and White in '04, and redshirted this fall after tearing up his left knee before the Trojans victory over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Will he be ready? He'll probably face competition from as many as three blue-chip recruits -- Stafon Johnson of Los Angeles, C.J. Gable of Sylmar, Calif., and Emmanuel Moody of Coppell, Texas -- who are reportedly considering signing with USC. It's a well-established fact that Carroll, who believes in making players compete for their jobs every week, won't hesitate to start youngsters.