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NCAA Football Preview - U-S-C Trojans
IN REVIEW: The Trojans' reign over the Pac-10 continued last season, as Pete Carroll's powerhouse collected its fifth consecutive conference title. The Trojans marched into the '06 season the most vulnerable they'd been since taking over the league half a decade ago. Having to replace the likes of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and LenDale White was supposed to be an insurmountable task. However, Carroll's boys rose to the occasion and while it was not pretty at times the Trojans once again proved why they are the class of the Pac-10. The season began as usual, with the team posting dominating victories over Arkansas (50-14), Nebraska (28-10) and Arizona (20-3). The wins continued to roll in, but each victory was tougher than the next as Troy struggled to get past Washington State (28-22), Washington (26-20) and Arizona State (28-21). At 6-0, the Trojans were poised for another national title shot, however, all that would change when the indestructible force that is USC was penetrated by the Oregon State Beavers, 33-31. The Trojans regrouped quickly from and went on to win their next four contests, including a 44-24 victory over Notre Dame. With their fifth conference championship securely packed away, the Trojans were in the mix for the BCS title game, but a regular season finale loss to UCLA (13-9) left the Trojans out of the championship game and instead had to settle for a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Trojans were pitted against the very tough Michigan Wolverines and although some experts thought Michigan should be in the BCS title tilt, the Trojans had little trouble disposing of the Wolverines, 32-18. The Trojans entered the '06 season in rebuilding mode, but when the season came to a close the team was 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory. Most teams only dream of seasons like that when they are at their best, but then again most teams are not Carroll's USC Trojans.
OFFENSE: Two years ago the Trojans lost their entire backfield, and this year the team will be without its top two receivers as Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith will now be catching passes in the NFL. With both gone, QB John David Booty will need to develop a relationship with a new corps of wideouts. Regardless of who is catching passes, John David Booty is expected to have a tad more trouble this season. In his first year as a starter, John David Booty threw for 3,347 yards and 29 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Overall, the Trojans averaged 263.8 ypg through the air in '06 and hopefully the receivers can step up and help the unit duplicate those numbers. Patrick Turner has the most experience at the receiver position as the junior caught 29 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns last season. Other than Turner, there is no clear- cut second option for John David Booty, but look for sophomore Vidal Hazelton to step up and make a name for himself. Much like the receiving corps, the backfield for USC is up in the air as the season opener looms. Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gables both return, but neither were overly productive last season. As a collective unit, USC averaged just 128 ypg on the ground a year ago, and despite not having a legitimate feature back the team should improve in that area. Freshmen Joe Mcknight and Marc Tyler are already being labeled as the next great USC backfield duo. Joe Mcknight has scary speed and great hands, while Tyler is a bruising back with some serious punch. Whoever takes the ball for USC will have an easy time running behind the likes of All-American tackle Sam Baker.
DEFENSE: Usually when people talk about USC it is all about the team's offensive prowess, however, this season the defense is what is garnering most of the headlines. The Trojans return all 11 starters from last year's team which held opponents to just 15.2 ppg and 295.8 total ypg. The linebacking trio of Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers is easily one of the best groups in the nation. Rivers and Maualuga led the team with 85 and 78 tackles, respectively, while Cushing posted a team-best 13.5 TFLs and posted 4.5 sacks. In the trenches, the biggest returning starter is Sedrick Ellis. Ellis collected eight TFLs and 4.5 sacks a year ago, and this season he is viewed as one of the most complete tackles in the country. Along with fellow DT Fili Moala and defensive end Lawrence Jackson, the Trojans have a tenacious front line and it could be even more devastating if incoming freshman Everson Griffen adjusts to the college game quickly. As for the secondary, the Trojans have all four starters back, however, the group only recorded 11 INTs a year ago, a number Carroll would love to see climb skyward.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The saddest part of the off-season for USC was the passing of kicker Mario Danelo. With the loss of Danelo, the Trojans will now turn to David Buehler, who only kicked one field goal a year ago. Greg Woidneck, who averaged 38.3 yards per punt, is back but the most important returning special teamer will be C.J. Gable. Gable ranked 15th in the nation a year ago with 27 yards per kick return.
OUTLOOK: The Trojans have all the ingredients for another title run as the team is chock full of impact players on both sides of the ball. Add Carroll to the mix and it's easy to see why USC is the team to beat. There are some small questions about the skill positions but with a slew of impressive newcomers the Trojans will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. If the team can get past its tough road schedule (Nebraska, Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State), then expect to see USC undefeated when the team reaches the BCS title game.
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