Posted: Tuesday April 11, 2006 10:22AM; Updated: Tuesday April 11, 2006 2:22PM
Ryan Powdrell was the Trojans' leading rusher in the spring game, but USC could be relying on an untested freshman come fall.
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"It does make it tough," acknowledged senior receiver Steve Smith. "I'm hoping one of the freshmen [running backs] can come in and show he's a real stud."
Quarterback isn't as huge a concern for USC, seeing as Booty should be throwing again by mid-summer, and his replacement, freshman Mark Sanchez, has shown star potential since the day he arrived on campus last summer. Observers say Sanchez, who went 13 of 21 for 146 yards in the spring game, is already further along in his development than Leinart was prior to becoming a starter.
"We've gotten to see Mark in some different situations," said Kiffin. "He's gone against the first team [defense] exclusively, which is good experience for him."
Clearly, the 2006 season will be the greatest reloading test to date for Carroll's offense. The Trojans do return two proven receivers in Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, and the offensive line should be solid. However, the weight of expectations cast by USC's recent dominance will place an extreme amount of pressure on a first-year starting quarterback, be it Sanchez or Booty (neither of whom will have the tutelage of QB whiz Norm Chow like Leinart did when he made his debut in '03), and a group of running backs who haven't yet made it to their senior prom.
The best-case scenario for the 2006 Trojans? The same thing that happened in 2003.
The worst-case? Something more closely resembling Oklahoma last season.
Spreading the field
If you saw any of Oklahoma's televised spring game last Saturday (lay off, it was raining outside), you saw Adrian Peterson cutting and accelerating like the Peterson of old. Unfortunately, since Peterson was wearing a no-contact jersey, the officials kept blowing his carries dead as soon as the first defender put a hand on him, leaving him with a highly nonindicative final stat line of five carries for two yards. Other observations: Converted quarterback Paul Thompson looks far more comfortable at receiver, where he broke several big plays, while sophomore quarterback Rhett Bomar still has some work to do in his decision-making.
Another year, another defensive stud in Tallahassee. Florida State junior linebacker Lawrence Timmons, expected to step in to the strong-side spot vacated by Ernie Sims, was voted the 'Noles' most dominant defensive player of the spring. Meanwhile, highly touted freshman safety Myron Rolle -- who enrolled in January -- wasted no time making his presence felt, returning an interception 64 yards for a touchdown in last Saturday's spring game. Another encouraging sign for the 'Noles: Second-year QB Drew Weatherford, who threw 18 interceptions last season, went nearly the entire spring without throwing a pick in a scrimmage.
It's too early to say for sure, but my money's on ballyhooed Georgia freshman Matthew Stafford to assume the starting job at some point next season. Stafford, an early enrollee, threw a 64-yard touchdown pass in last Saturday's spring game and completed 5 of 12 passes for 102 yards. Two of his primary competitors, senior Joe Tereshinski and redshirt freshman James Cox, combined to throw six interceptions in the scrimmage. (Sophomore Blake Barnes missed the game with a thumb injury.) Tereshinski, the lone contender with game experience, is the safe bet to start the season, but coaches won't be able to keep Stafford on the bench for long.
In the stands prior to the NCAA men's basketball title game, Florida coach Urban Meyer told me quarterback Chris Leak had "his best practice as a Gator" the previous day, and has been singing a similar tune to reporters in Gainesville. "[Leak is] a completely different human being right now," he said. "It has something to do with confidence, it has something to do with leadership, it has something to do with commanding respect." Meyer was less enthusiastic, however, when asked about the progress of the offensive line and tailbacks, two weak spots last year. "They've got a long ways to go," he said with a grimace.
Finally, while many teams are trying to find one reliable quarterback this spring, having a surplus of talent at the position isn't always a good thing, either. Plenty of coaches have bungled QB derbies over the years (see Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer last season).
That's why it will be interesting to see what LSU coach Les Miles does this fall with the burgeoning controversy surrounding Matt Flynn and Ryan Perriloux, who have both shone this spring (Flynn also played well in the Peach Bowl) while incumbent JaMarcus Russell was out recovering from wrist surgery. Russell is expected to be back this fall, but is not guaranteed to retain the starting job. Miles has also talked about playing more than one quarterback.
Another intriguing battle is taking place at Arizona State, where senior Sam Keller is trying to reassert himself after missing the last five games of 2005 with a thumb injury, during which his replacement, freshman Rudy Carpenter, led the nation in pass efficiency.