Let everyone else around USC fret over which of five candidates will replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer. To the rest of the Trojans, "it's just not a big deal," says senior wideout Keary Colbert. "In this offense the focus isn't on who's throwing the ball—it's on the rest of us making his job easier. The line has to block, and we have to get open and catch the ball."
Colbert did a good job of getting open and catching the ball last year: His 71 catches and 1,029 yards ranked second on the team to freshman phenom Mike Williams (81 catches, 1,265 yards) and left him 66 receptions shy of Kareem Kelly's school record of 204. "Whoever is quarterback is going to be real fortunate," says QBs coach Steve Sarkisian. "His supporting cast includes two All- Pac-10 receivers, five offensive linemen who started [including All-America candidate Jacob Rogers at left tackle] and all three tight ends from last year. He doesn't have to be the guy who puts this offense on his shoulders and goes off to win us the national championship."
Palmer's successor—entering preseason camp, redshirt sophomore Matt Leinart, a 6'5" lefty, had the edge over junior Matt Cassell, sophomore Billy Hart, junior Brandon Hance and true freshman John David Booty—will have the added benefit of coach-defensive coordinator Pete Carroll's quick and aggressive D, which is essentially a college version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning defense. All eyes will be on freshman strong safety Darnell Bing, whose potential is so great that Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett, the 1965 Heisman winner, agreed to let Bing wear his retired number 20. The defensive line, perhaps the best in the nation, will be anchored by 6'5" tackle Shaun Cody, who was honorable mention All- Pac-10 despite missing the second half of last season with a knee injury.
"They mauled us in spring ball," Sarkisian says of the defense, which held nine opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing last year. "I don't look forward to playing them in the 20-something practices before our first game, but I am excited they are on our side."
If the Trojans can win that first game, at SEC powerhouse Auburn, they'll be on their way to restoring the glory USC fans once took for granted. "We want to recapture that winning atmosphere," says Sarkisian, "because when we win, this is a fun place to be."
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