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Right in the middle of a $106 million construction master plan that is raising buildings faster than the students can lower their convertible tops, USC Football Coach John McKay is living in the lap of poverty. His office is on the second floor of the dreary, old Student Union Building, a structure the wreckers have somehow ignored. He can be found at the end of a long, dark corridor that is flanked by cubbyholes so small that one of the Trojans' 250-pound linemen—and there are plenty of them around—can hardly be wedged in for a talk with an assistant coach. Nor are USC's practice facilities any better. The football squad has to share a field with the track team in the spring. "This is one of the few places in the world," says McKay, "where you are liable to get speared with a javelin while running off tackle."
But don't pity the plight of McKay too long, for a phalanx of javelin throwers may be needed to stop USC. "We'll be better than last year in all ways," says McKay. "Better defense, better offense, better passing, better running, better punting. What else is there?" And the team that McKay is mentally being better than was good enough to go to the Rose Bowl.
One reason for McKay's confidence is that most of that 1966 team is back. It lost only 11 regulars to graduation, and of those just three were the kind that give a coach a lump in his throat as he waves goodby. The most obvious attribute of the USC team is going to be the speed of its backfield. The fullback is Mike Hull, a 6'4" 220-pounder who has an unusual ability to get started quickly. Last year he spurted through opponents' lines for a total of 502 yards. Supporting Hull at flanker is Jim Lawrence, a 9.6 man in the 100-yard dash—not the type a defender can amble up to and tackle at leisure. But most exciting of all is a junior-college transfer who has yet to carry the ball for the Trojans, O. (for Orenthal) J. (for James) Simpson. O.J. handles the 100 in 9.4, is big enough, at 6'1" and 202 pounds, to break tackles—much in the style of Mike Garrett, who has been instructing him this year—is a fine feinter and a superb pass catcher. In two seasons at San Francisco City College he scored 54 touchdowns, and he already has a national reputation, though not with a football; he was on the Trojans' 440-yard relay team that set a world record last spring. This chore on behalf of Trojan track limited O.J.'s football practice to 10 days, and it was never quite clear where he was to fit into the backfield. He is going to start at tailback, but his pass-catching ability has led McKay to give him the playbooks for flanker and split end, as well. Learning USC's shifting-I attack will be Simpson's biggest problem, especially learning it from three different positions.
If McKay has a serious concern, it is who will direct this fleet-footed attack. He has to decide whether to go with Toby Page, who was Troy Winslow's understudy at quarterback last year and is a good runner but no more than an adequate passer, or take a tempting chance on a sophomore. The newcomer is Mike Holmgren, a strong 6'4" youngster with imposing passing credentials, including the completion of 14 for 21 against UCLA's freshmen last season. "He can throw the ball a mile," says McKay. "That's a switch for us. Lately our long passes have averaged about eight yards." But Holmgren is basically a drop-back passer, and in the spring game he had difficulty scrambling away from a rush. McKay's offense calls for a sprint-out type quarterback—like Page—and the chances are that Page will start the season, with Holmgren taking over on occasion to loosen up defenses. Either way, USC will not hesitate to throw the ball. Especially with fast receivers such as Ron Drake, who caught 52 passes last year, Simpson, Lawrence and Earl McCullough, who usually plays defense, around. McCullough last summer tied the world record of 13.2 for the 110-meter high hurdles.
Even with two JC transfers—Steve Lehmer at guard and probably Jerry Coleman at center—the Trojans will have a good front line. Mike Taylor, a tough 238-pounder, has been switched from defense to join Ron Yary, the 255-pound All-America, at tackle. Bob Klein, the tight end, is 235 and Guard Mike Scarpace is 245.
The defense is just as impressive, and even bigger. The front five average 230 pounds, and quarterbacks will find it difficult to throw over the huge ends, Tim Rossovich, 6'5", and Bill Hayhoe, 6'8". The tackles are sophomore Willard Scott, 235, and Gary Magner, 220, while Ralph Oliver, the middle guard, weighs in at 220. If they miss anyone, Linebackers Adrian Young, who is up to 220 pounds now, Jim Snow and Ty Salness will be there to back up. The secondary looks capable, too. Halfbacks Bill Jaroncyk and Pat Cashman are both experienced, and sophomore Sandy Durko is so good that he chased Mike Battle, the regular safety, over to the offensive team as a split end.
The crosstown rivalry in Los Angeles could hardly be more exciting this season: USC is a football team with quarterback worries and UCLA is a quarterback with football team worries. The odds are that the team will beat out the quarterback for the Pacific Eight championship. But USC's national ranking is a slightly more precarious matter because of its stifling schedule. A five-week stretch that includes Texas, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Washington (at Seattle) may be too much to bear. "If we live through that," says McKay, "you'll hear from us." If USC lives through that, it will already have been heard from.
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