USC Trojans (2000: 5-7)
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Coach and programWhoops! Student body right was no longer a sweep at USC last season. It was the chase after a fumble.
Although the Trojans led the Pac-10 in total offense in 2000 at 415.9 yards a game, they threw away games with reckless abandon. Thirty-six turnovers, the team’s most since 1977, doomed what could have been an impressive season.
Those turnovers cost Paul Hackett his job as head coach, and in his place comes Pete Carroll, whose fate won’t be much better if he can’t get his players to hang on to the ball.
Carroll has hired offensive guru Norm Chow, the longtime master of all those tremendous BYU offenses, to run the show at the Coliseum. Chow left BYU to take the offensive coordinator’s job at North Carolina State, and having rejuvenated the Wolfpack’s offense, found Carroll’s high-dollar offer much too lucrative to turn down.
Trojan boosters are willing to go into their pockets to hire the best because they long for the days when USC was a regular member of the Top 10 club. Of course, that is no longer the case. The power of the Pac-10 has headed north, to such places as Eugene, Ore., Corvallis, Ore., and Seattle.
USC no longer has to maintain its tradition. It has to dig itself out of a hole. Chow is the quick-fix solution, a guy who can squeeze offense out of a plastic kicking tee. He has been handed junior quarterback Carson Palmer (6-5, 220), the league’s top wide receiver in junior Kareem Kelly (6-1, 185) and an outstanding tailback in junior Sultan McCullough (6-0, 185), and told to produce -- now.
Nobody is going to be focusing on the defense much in Los Angeles unless it starts losing games for the team. The eyes will focus on Palmer, who appears ready to have a breakthrough season, with or without Chow. He is fifth all-time on the team’s completion (397) and total offense (5,050 yards) charts.
Add Kelly and McCullough to the mix and opponents are going to have a rough time making defensive plans.
Chow down on that.
OffensePalmer is the complete story here, a guy who could develop into a Heisman candidate under Chow. Last season he had 1,914 yards passing as he racked up the second most completions and yards in school history.
All was not good, though. Palmer also tossed 18 interceptions, a statistic that could kill USC if repeated.
“Some were just bad luck,’’ he said. “Some balls would hit off a receiver. But there were a couple bad decisions, too.’’
Although the emphasis will be on the passing game, USC is loaded with talent at tailback. McCullough should put up monster numbers if given the carries.
However, the talent doesn’t stop with him. Backup Malaefou MacKenzie (6-0, 215), a senior, has rushed for 765 yards and has 37 receptions during his career so Chow will be thinking of ways to get him involved.
Kelly will make a run at major national awards this season, especially with Chow turning the offensive focus toward him. Why not? He has caught a pass in every game he has played for USC. He had 55 catches for 796 yards last season.
It will be more difficult for Carroll to find a tight end. The big surprise of spring camp was the successful move to tight end by senior linebacker Kori Dickerson (6-4, 230), who is a 6-8 high jumper for the track team.
Defense and special teamsThe Trojans have holes to fill. Tackle Ennis Davis, who had 146 tackles (36 for loss) during his career, is gone. So is Sultan Abdul-Malik (22.5 career sacks) and Shamsud-Din Abdul-Shaheed, who had 74 career tackles, and two-year starting defensive end Matt Childers.
USC will be depending on several part-time players from last season’s team to handle jobs on a full-time basis. Players such as senior Ryan Nielsen (6-5, 275), who has 76 career tackles and split time last season with junior Bernard Riley (6-3, 305)..
The marquee star of a small recruiting class was defensive end Shaun Cody (6-5, 255), who was honored by USA Today as its National Defensive Player of the Year. At Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights, Calif., Cody had 105 tackles and 22 sacks.
The one-two punch of Zeke Moreno (285 tackles during his career with 33 for loss) and Markus Steele (152 career tackles, 29 for loss) is gone. Dickerson, who had 32 tackles, has been moved to tight end. To say the linebacker position is wide open would be putting it mildly.
Junior Aaron Graham (6-1, 225) started four games last season and made 26 tackles. It looks like he will nail down an inside spot. Inexperienced junior Mike Pollard (6-0, 230) is listed as No. 1 at one outside position.
The steadying force on defense should be junior strong safety Troy Polamalu (5-10, 210), who returns after being the second-leading tackler last season with 83. He also had seven deflections.
Bottom lineThe question at USC is whether Carroll can do the kind of job that Dennis Erickson did at Oregon State, taking a team and getting immediate results. Certainly, Carroll has more offensive weapons on hand than Erickson did at OSU. However, Carroll has some major work to do on defense.
Unfortunately for Trojan fans, the team might not be able to develop quickly enough to make a run at a Pac-10 championship. After facing San Jose State in the opener, Carroll’s inexperienced defense will have to handle the Kansas State offensive machine at the Coliseum. That’s a tall order for a team using so many new defensive linemen and linebackers.
It is quite possible the Trojans could drop a couple of games early, and then everyone will get a good look at Carroll’s ability to hold everything together. That was a problem for the Trojans under Hackett as they tended to fall into some ugly funks and couldn’t pull out of them.