SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  USC Trojans

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Pete Carroll (3rd year, 17-8)
2002 record: 11-2 (Beat Iowa 38-17 in Orange Bowl)
Pac-10 finish: T-1st
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 142.5 ypg
(3rd in Pac-10, 65th in nation)
Pass: 306.8 ypg (2nd, 8th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 83.2 ypg (1st, 6th)
Pass: 201.8 ypg (2nd, 42nd)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
SE   1   Mike Williams   So.  
FL   83   Keary Colbert   Sr.  
LT   77   Jacob Rogers   Sr.  
LG   78   Lenny Vandermade   Sr.  
C   62   Norm Katnik   Sr.  
RG  57  Fred Matua  Fr. 
RT   71   Winston Justice   So.  
TE   81   Alex Holmes   Sr.  
QB  11  Matt Leinart  So. 
FB  28  Brandon Hancock  So. 
TB  34  Hershel Dennis  So. 
Defense (6)
DE   94   Kenechi Udeze   Jr.  
NT   99   Mike Patterson   Jr.  
DT  84  Shaun Cody  Jr. 
DE   56   Omar Nazel   Sr.  
SLB   6   Matt Grootegoed   Jr.  
MLB  58  Lofa Tatupu  So. 
WLB   51   Melvin Simmons   Sr.  
CB  30  Kevin Arbet  Sr. 
CB   8   Marcell Allmond   Sr.  
FS  27  Jason Leach  Jr. 
SS  20  Darnell Bing  Fr. 
Special Teams
14  Tom Malone  So. 
16  Ryan Killeen  Jr. 
KR  24  Justin Wyatt  So. 
PR  30  Kevin Arbet  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at Auburn 
Sept. 6  BYU 
Sept. 13  Hawaii 
Sept. 27  at California 
Oct. 4  at Arizona State 
Oct. 11  Stanford 
Oct. 18  at Notre Dame 
Oct. 25  at Washington 
Nov. 1  Washington State 
Nov. 15  at Arizona 
Nov. 22  UCLA 
Dec. 6  Oregon State 
There is more than a faint resemblance now to the good ol' days. A USC football program that had plunged to the bowels of the Pac-10 three years ago came thundering back last season, winning its final eight games, demolishing Iowa in the Orange Bowl and celebrating its first Heisman Trophy winner in 21 years.

Coach Pete Carroll has forced all those disgruntled Trojan alums to dust off their cardinal and gold sweaters and return to the L.A. Coliseum, where USC once again seems geared for a run at not only the Rose Bowl, but maybe even a national championship.

All the Trojans have to do is replace Heisman winner Carson Palmer. Of course, that's like saying all the Denver Broncos had to do was replace John Elway. It's not that easy.

"Really, we have one big question mark and that's the quarterback spot," Carroll said. "Other than that, we're pretty solid throughout."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

It's never easy to lose the best football player in America at the most important position. But if USC can find someone even moderately competent to replace Palmer, the Trojans should be very effective on offense, even if they do look a little different.

Without Palmer's arm strength, offensive coordinator Norm Chow is likely to go back to more of the controlled pass plays he featured when he was at BYU. It will look more like the West Coast offense than the one that spread the field for USC a year ago. The problem is finding the right player to run it. No one stood out in spring drills, but Carroll's early choice is Matt Leinart, a 6-foot-6 lefthander who might be the most accurate thrower on the team. However, don't count out freshman John David Booty, the top quarterback prospect in the nation -- from the class of 2004. He graduated high school early and will join the Trojans in the fall.

Whoever ends up at quarterback will find one of the finest pair of wide receivers in the country. Flashy Mike Williams broke two freshman NCAA records and tied another. Keary Colbert is a perfect, sure-handed complement on the other side. Touted freshmen Whitney Lewis and Steve Smith should contribute immediately, too.

Backfield depth isn't as impressive. But sophomore Hershel Dennis is the kind of combination runner/receiver Chow loves at tailback, with Brandon Hancock the likely fullback. The offensive line should be even better with only one starter missing. The bookend tackles, Jacob Rogers and freshman All-American Winston Justice, are the names to remember.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Carroll's specialty is defense, and this should easily be his finest yet at USC. "The Wild Bunch II" leads the way up front, with sack specialists Kenechi Udeze, Omar Nazel and Mike Patterson, along with tackle Shaun Cody, maybe the best player of the bunch, who missed half of last year after knee surgery.

Matt Grootegoed is an All-Pac-10 linebacker, with Melvin Simmons and newcomers Lofa Tatupu and Frostee Rucker joining a gifted unit. The Trojans suffered a tragic loss in the offseason when linebacker recruit Drean Rucker, a prep All-American from California, drowned while swimming off the coast of Huntington State Beach.

There is plenty of talent and experience in the secondary, but the player everyone wants to talk about is Darnell Bing, a freshman strong safety who is so highly regarded that USC athletic director and former Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett is allowing him to wear his old No. 20 jersey.


SPECIAL TEAMS:

All last year's specialists return, which can be good and bad. Punter Tom Malone and place-kicker Ryan Killeen are both solid. But USC finished last in the Pac-10 in punt returns and kickoff returns and ninth in kickoff return coverage. So obviously Carroll will try to do a patch-up job there.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Thanks to his best recruiting class yet, Carroll has USC's program on the verge of returning to the days of dominating the Pac-10. With an extraordinary defense that should keep it in every game, this team has an excellent chance to match, or even surpass, 2002's 11-2 record. But the key, of course, will be the performance of Leinart, or whoever takes over at quarterback. If he can play efficient, mistake-free football and find a way to get the ball to those exciting playmakers at wide receiver, the Trojans should score plenty of points.

Either way, they'll be a Pac-10 force, now that Carroll once again has them looking at the world through Rose-colored glasses.

Click here for complete index of 2003 team previews

To purchase the 2003 College Football Preview from Athlon Sports, click here.

 


 
CNNSI