It may be time for Traveler III, USC's mascot, to change his pregame routine. Instead of galloping full tilt straight down the field like a tailback, perhaps he could run a 10-yard hook-and-go or a post pattern. Yes, this may be the year the Trojans come out throwing. Three reasons: They don't have a tailback of Heisman Trophy caliber; they do have two talented passing quarterbacks; and Ted Tollner is in charge.
Tollner was a quarterback (and baseball pitcher) at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, and his star pupils when he was an assistant coach included quarterbacks Jesse Freitas and Craig Penrose at San Diego State and Jim McMahon at Brigham Young. In March 1982, former USC Coach Jim Robinson hired Tollner for the express purpose of getting the Trojan offense off the ground. Nine months later, Robinson resigned and recommended Tollner for the top job. Tollner is no stranger to Dame Fortune. A junior at Cal Poly in 1960, he was one of 26 survivors of a plane crash in Toledo, Ohio that killed 22 people, 16 of them teammates. Tollner suffered only a fracture and dislocation of the left ankle.
"I certainly feel fortunate to be where I am," says Tollner, 43, "but that doesn't change the fact that I'm capable of getting this job done. I've paid my dues [11 years as a junior college and high school coach, 10 as a major college assistant], and I'm ready to be a head coach."
Senior Todd Spencer, whose father, Thad, was a ranked heavyweight boxer in the early '60s, will open the season as the first-string tailback, after three years of alternating between fullback and tailback. "I think Tollner's is my style of football," says Spencer, Southern Cal's leading ground gainer—596 yards on 141 carries—last year, when for the first time since 1971 USC didn't have a 1,000-yard Trojan Horse. "I feel I'm the right man for the new era." He may be, because he's the best pass catcher among the running backs, but the right tailback for any era could be talented sophomore Fred Crutcher, who has come back, albeit slowly, from knee surgery. More explosive than either of these two is senior Michael Harper, the opening-game starter last year before he went down with a severely sprained ankle.
Junior Quarterback Sean Salisbury says a lot of good things about each of his tailbacks, but then the garrulous Salisbury says a lot about a lot. Here's how Salisbury explains the team's mixed feelings about the 1983 season, the final year of a two-year NCAA probation that will again keep Southern Cal out of postseason competition: "We feel sorry for the seniors, of course, who won't get a chance for a bowl, but the rest of us know we'll have another chance, but we'll do everything we can to make it great for them, but we'll never blame anybody for anything that happened, but...."
Before suffering a knee injury in last season's seventh game, Salisbury had completed 57.7% of his 142 passes. He'll start unless left-handed Tim Green, who looked good during spring practice while Salisbury was still recovering, takes the job away from him. As the premier junior college quarterback in the country last fall, Green was even pursued by run-oriented teams like Oklahoma and Minnesota, but he never considered signing with them. "To be honest," says Green, "I probably knew more about passing packages than they do."
Senior Tony Slaton knows more about playing center than almost anyone. He has a chance to become the Trojans' first All-America at that position since Stan Williamson in 1931. Keith Browner and Jack Del Rio are the keys to USC's defense at their outside linebacker positions, Browner on the strong, or "Sam," side going head to head with the opposing tight end, and Del Rio on the weak, or "Liz," side. Around campus they're called the "bookend Ail-Americans," which is a switch for Browner, who's accustomed to being called Joey or Ross or Jim or Willard or Gerald, the names of his five football-playing brothers. "At least they recognize one of us," says Browner.
It may be a little harder to recognize the Trojans' offense this year with Tollner mixing in his new single-back, double-tight-end formation, popularized by the Redskins, to complement the traditional I. "We'll be in the I maybe 50 percent of the time," he says, "but it won't be the prominent majority it used to be." Traveler III isn't the only one who has to make changes.