NCF Nation: Anthony McCoy
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.
The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.
Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.
O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.
The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A
What to watch:
Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?
Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.
RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.
The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.
Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.
Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.
The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.
Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.
Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.
Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.
Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.
The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA
What to watch:
Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.
Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).
Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.
Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?
The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.
O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.
Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.
All are words or phrases one could associate with USC's football program at present. Yet none seems to touch Matt Barkley.
And these are dreary times for the Trojans.
After seven consecutive Pac-10 championships and BCS bowl berths, they dropped four conference games, finished tied for fifth in the standings and will play unranked Boston College in the Emerald Bowl on Saturday.
And USC didn't just get beat this year. It got blown out by Oregon and Stanford and seemed indifferent during a loss to Arizona in the season-finale.
Oh, and there's this little matter involving running back Joe McKnight and the alleged use of a 2006 Land Rover owned by a Santa Monica businessman who employs his girlfriend that might raise an eyebrow from the NCAA. And then there's three players ruled academically ineligible this week, including starting tight end Anthony McCoy and offensive tackle Tyron Smith.
Yet all one gets from Barkley is gee-whiz enthusiasm. That's probably a good thing, by the way.
"We're excited -- we can't wait for this game," he said. "We've had a great last two weeks of practice preparing for the bowl game. We're really stoked to get one last game in and to be able to finish the season strong."
Barkley's season devolved individually like the Trojans has a whole. He threw nine of his 12 interception over his last six games. He finished ranked seventh in the conference in passing efficiency and was mostly eclipsed in the Pac-10 quarterback pecking order by several other young starters, such as Stanford's Andrew Luck and Arizona's Nick Foles.
As to what triggered his and his team's slide, Barkley isn't specific.
"A lot of factors contributed -- a lot of little things that we don't have time to get into," he said. "But overall execution is what it came down to. All those things piled up and we weren't playing Trojan football like we know it."
Barkley hardly deserves the predominant blame. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates struggled to find his rhythm in his first year replacing Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. Carroll also probably set the bar too high for Barkley by repeatedly calling him an "outlier" and casting him as a quarterbacking savant.
And, you know, the defense wasn't exactly the impenetrable wall that has been typical during Carroll's tenure.
Whatever the reasons -- and it's never just one thing, is it? -- USC's slide seemed to be greeted with glee across the college football landscape. It certainly inspired copious message board ripostes.
Barkley acknowledged that the Trojans are well-aware of the sniping of their critics.
So, is that motivation?
"Absolutely. Guys never like to hear how it's been a terrible season and how bad we've done," he said. "To be able to finish the season with a win will be huge. Not only to end this year but for next year's off-season and how we approach that. A win on Saturday will be huge to right those wrongs."
Barkley said sympathy -- not distraction -- was the reaction to recent off-field issues that will sideline two and probably three starters for Emerald Bowl.
"It's really terrible that they can't be with us," he said. "But we've been dealt a lot of adversity this year, so it's just another challenge for us in this last game. But it is really disappointing to know those guys can't play."
It seems many are expecting a flat and apathetic performance from the Trojans against Boston College. Barkley said that's not going to happen.
"We'll be up, definitely. We're so excited," he said. "We don't care if it's the Emerald Bowl. It's another game we get to play. And Boston College is a great team. They are going to put up a fight. We're not approaching this any differently than a Pac-10 championship game. We're excited to play one last time."
Carroll yielded little under questioning. He believes in two things: 1. competition; 2. fun. He doesn't believe you can ever have too much of either, even if others wonder about when a compounding of them might push a team past the boundaries of decorum.
Oh, by the way, USC plays host to Arizona on Saturday in a game that will play a big role in deciding the Pac-10's bowl pecking order. The winner likely has the inside track to the Holiday Bowl.
Both teams had bigger goals a few weeks ago, but both are coming off of hard-fought victories in rivalry games, so the glass feels half-full, particularly for Arizona (7-4, 5-3).
"I think we seemed like we were in a better place last night [at practice] than we were a week ago," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose team two weeks ago was knocked out of the Rose Bowl race when it lost a double-overtime thriller to Oregon.
USC (8-3, 5-3) didn't look particularly good while beating the Bruins. While the defense played fairly well against one of the Pac-10's worst offenses, the offense was mostly stagnant.
At least until the end, and we're not talking about Matt Barkley's bomb to Damian Williams that nearly ignited a riot.
The best moments for USC came before that. After the Bruins cut the margin to 14-7 in the fourth quarter, Barkley and company drove 73 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. It was the evening's best drive. Barkley completed 4 of 5 passes for 43 yards, and Allen Bradford ran four times for 30 yards.
Then the defense forced a four-and-out, which appeared to end the game's drama until emotions ran high at the end.
"They look like USC to me when I watch them play," he said. "I think they're starting to get comfortable and get their confidence and their swagger back, so they present some huge problems defensively with their personnel."
Stoops' high-powered offense hit the skids in the second half at Arizona State. Injuries, as they have been all season, are an issue. Starting tailback Nic Grigsby won't play again Saturday because of a lingering shoulder injury, while quarterback Nick Foles is trying to play with a broken non-throwing hand.
USC knows all about injury woes, but it's as healthy as it has been all season. Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy, whose absences substantially hurt the passing game, figure to be closer to 100 percent this week than they were against UCLA, and preseason All-American center Kristofer O'Dowd will be back in the starting lineup after he lost his job for much of the year due to a lingering knee problem.
Still, Arizona typically gives the Trojans problems. USC has won the past two games by a touchdown and it hasn't scored more than 20 points against the Wildcats' defense since 2005.
"We've always struggled with these guys," Carroll said. "They've been a very difficult scheme against us, and we know it's going to be very hard again."
The stakes are still substantial, in large part because the winner continues to feel good in a season when that wasn't always the case.
As Carroll vaguely alluded, "Kind of feeling good feeling about getting back on track after the two weeks, you know, prior."
Some results in college football are shocking. Their dramatic, unexpected flash imprints on our brains like a photograph.
Other results resonate. Their unfolding draws a meaningful line dividing a before and after.
When Stanford beat USC 24-23 in 2007, it was shocking. The Cardinal were a 41-point underdog playing their backup quarterback in a venue, the LA Coliseum, where USC, college football's most feared program, had won 35 games in a row.
It flashed and everyone gawked. And then Stanford went on to finish 4-8 and USC went on to win the Rose Bowl and finish ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Boom! Then business as usual.
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|Jim Harbaugh and the Cardinal are hoping to build off of last week’s upset of Oregon.|
But if Stanford beats USC on Saturday in the Coliseum, that result will resonate.
If the No. 9 Trojans (7-2, 4-2) suffer a third Pac-10 loss, it's a near-certainty their extraordinary seven-year run atop the conference --- and college football -- will end. One of the great dynasties -- two national championships, seven consecutive top-4 finishes -- the sport has known would tumble.
Boom! And then the big picture would transform. The Pac-10 and all of college football would feel an impact.
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has refused this week to wax poetic about the 2007 game. And he's also refused to use the "one game at a time," "every game is important" refrains that are so popular with coaches when they want to tamp down media hyperbole.
"This is put-up-or-shut-up time for Stanford football," Harbaugh said. "We win this game and we stay in the hunt for the conference championship. If we don't, then we are out."
USC's vulnerability? No, Harbaugh says, this is about the Cardinal.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US Presswire|
|Pete Carroll’s offense has scored just one touchdown over the last six quarters.|
Stanford remains a double-digit underdog. Of course, it was the same case last weekend against Oregon. But the Ducks couldn't stop the by-land-or-by-air tandem of Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck in a 51-42 Cardinal win. Gerhart rumbled for a school-record 223 yards with three touchdowns while Luck passed for 251 yards and a pair of TDs.
"They bombed them," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Nobody has slowed them down."
While Stanford (6-3, 5-2) has been surging -- it's bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 -- USC has been struggling on both sides of the ball. The offense has scored one touchdown over its last six quarters, and the defense, which gave up 613 yards to Oregon, has been mediocre to bad since the fourth quarter of the win at Notre Dame on Oct. 17.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, once the toast of college football, completed just 7 of 22 passes for 112 yards with a touchdown and interception at Arizona State. The Trojans are converting 32.41 percent of their third-down plays, which ranks 106th in the nation.
Injuries are issues on both sides of the ball. Receiver Damian Williams is doubtful and tight end Anthony McCoy questionable for Saturday's game due to sprained ankles, and the pair are Barkley's favorite passing targets. Meanwhile, on defense, nearly every member of the starting front seven is nursing an injury, even if it doesn't end up preventing them from playing.
Carroll was asked this week which loss hurt more: Stanford in 2007 or the beatdown delivered by Oregon. He refused to be drawn into the discussion.
"They're all horrible," he said. "You know, they hit and cut deep and they don't go away. Fortunately, I have had not so many that I can't remember them all. They all are miserable. There's nothing about any of them that have been OK. They're not the same. They've been different. But I don't have a good answer. They're in a big heap of misery, I guess."
A loss Saturday, however, won't just mean another big heap of misery.
It will end an era.
At least for one season.
To paraphrase a great philosopher and renaissance man, Ric Flair, "This ain't no garden party, brother, this is the Pac-10, where only the strongest survive. Wooooooo!"
Folks, the screws are tightening.
1. Does USC's Pac-10 run end Saturday? It's fairly simple. If Stanford wins at USC, it's likely one of the great runs in the history of college football -- the Trojans' seven years atop the Pac-10 -- will come to an end. If the Trojans win, however, they head into a bye week when they can get healthy and rested and then fix their eyeballs on a conference race that remains within reach. Quick trivia question: How many Top-25 teams other than USC have played six of their last eight games on the road?
2. Will California be flat or inspired by Jahvid Best's absence? Arizona has a lot to play for at Cal. The Bears? Hard to say. It will be interesting to see which team shows up. The Bears have looked good at times this year. And very bad. Best, who suffered a concussion last weekend against Oregon State, was once a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Now his season is likely over. Cal, which has clearly underperformed this fall, might come out yawning, a team just playing out the string. Or it might come out more focused than ever after learning how one unlucky moment could take the game away for good.
3. How will true ASU freshman QB Brock Osweiler respond to Autzen Stadium? Alright kid, go get 'em! What? Go get 'em! What? Osweiler will make his first career start in one of the nation's loudest and toughest venues against an extremely fast defense that was humbled last weekend at Stanford and will be plenty motivated for redemption. Osweiler, by the way, won't have Toby Gerhart or the Cardinal's smart, physical offensive line to help either. Good luck, though. What? The Pac-10 blog said good luck! What?
4. Sean Canfield vs. the Washington secondary: Canfield has been playing as well as any quarterback in the conference of late -- and that's saying something because a lot of quarterbacks are playing well. The Huskies' secondary has struggled throughout the season. It ranks ninth in the conference and 110th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The idea of Canfield and his quick release dumping the ball to either of the Rodgers brothers in space has to keep Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt up at night. His secondary just doesn't have the speed to match up.
5. Might Pullman put a chill in UCLA? Good news for UCLA: It doesn't appear the Bruins will encounter a real mid-November day in Pullman. Reports say it may snow on Friday but it will be partly cloudy and pleasant -- mid-30s -- on Saturday. If the Cougars are to pull the upset, they need all the help they can get, and snow and cold might be a boon against the visitors from sunny southern California. Of course, the weather is often unpredictable. Maybe that snow will start Friday and keep coming?
6. Luck & Gerhart challenge the USC D: After piling up 505 yards against an Oregon defense that mostly shut down USC, Stanford will face those Trojans with a physical, balanced offense that can attack a defense by land (Gerhart) or by air (Andrew Luck). Whether the blame falls on youth or injuries, USC's defense has not been itself since the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17. Considering Stanford has scored 84 points the past two games against two of the nation's better defenses, this could be a humbling afternoon for the Trojans. Or it could be a turning point.
7. Will Nick Foles pick apart the Cal secondary? Before the season, Arizona had questions at quarterback, and California, with four starters returning, had one of the best secondaries in the nation. Now, the Wildcats have Foles, a sophomore who is completing 71.4 percent of his passes, and the Bears rank 93rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Go figure. Foles' quick release -- the Wildcats have surrendered only four sacks all season -- and accuracy will stress the Bears.
8. Jake Locker is due a big performance: Locker has been spectacular for Washington at times this year. Not so great at others. He's banged up. And his team has lost five of six. But there are reasons Pac-10 coaches fear Locker and the NFL covets him -- he's a great talent with superior playmaking ability. Washington can't win if he doesn't play well. It sometimes can't even if he does. But if he puts together a special game, the Huskies could pull the upset.
9. Oregon's O vs. Arizona State's D: The Sun Devils are suddenly hurting in the secondary, but they have been consistently tough on defense all season, particularly against the run where they rank sixth in the nation (87.4 yards per game). Oregon, of course, is one of the nation's best running teams (233.56 yards per game). It will be interesting to see who blinks in this strength-on-strength battle, or if the Ducks just try to attack through the air, sensing that's where Arizona State will be most vulnerable.
10. Will Matt Barkley's slide end vs. Stanford's defense? A few weeks ago, Barkley was running the USC offense with aplomb and was the toast of college football. But his last six quarters -- the second half at Oregon plus the visit to Arizona State -- haven't been sharp. It doesn't help that his two favorite targets, tight end Anthony McCoy and receiver Damian Williams, may not be available Saturday. But he's coming home, which should help, and it's hard to believe that he won't be eager to prove that his recent slump was just a momentary blip on his path toward becoming a superstar quarterback.
Now what for USC?
|Steve Dykes/Getty Images|
|Pete Caroll’s Trojans need to rebound strongly if they still want to be in the BCS bowl race.|
Yes, the little people are thrilled.
Every other team in the country has suffered many, many, many double-digit defeats since 2001. Seems like it's about time the Trojans suffered their second.
Of course, there will be blustering about the Trojans being overrated despite the fact they have accomplished more this season than just about any other team in the nation, posting three wins over teams ranked in the current BCS standings, all of them on the road.
Oregon is better than USC. No question. That doesn't mean the Trojans aren't a top-10 team.
And if USC wins the rest of its games and finishes 10-2 -- and Oregon takes care of business and wins the Pac-10 title -- the odds are good that the Trojans still will earn the conference a second BCS bowl berth.
So despair not USC fans!
Or maybe you should.
That defense that gave up (clear throat) 613 yards on Saturday is banged up. Linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a shoulder injury and won't play this weekend at Arizona State and could be out for weeks. Middle linebacker Chris Galippo and backup strong side linebacker Jarvis Jones suffered neck sprains against the Ducks, which could be issues for a while even if they can play Saturday. Defensive lineman Armond Armstead fractured his wrist. Defensive end Everson Griffen is experiencing turf toe, another injury that could linger for weeks.
And more than a few folks are wondering if if All-American safety Taylor Mays' is hurting. Mays, who missed the Washington loss with a sprained knee, didn't look like himself against the Ducks.
Meanwhile, on offense, fullback Stanley Havili (shoulder) and tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) should be considered questionable for the trip to Tempe. Both veterans were missed at Oregon.
The performance at Oregon made this manifest: It's possible that there actually are limits to USC's talent and depth. That losing eight A-list defensive starters and a quarterback who was the fifth-overall NFL draft pick can, in fact, be an issue, just as starting a true freshman quarterback has a downside no matter how poised, talented and intelligent that quarterback is.
And don't forget the coaching turnover the Trojans have gone through over the past season: two new coordinators, a new quarterbacks coach and offensive play-caller and a new defensive line coach. Sometimes new voices complicate a team's culture and dynamic.
The defensive implosion still feels shocking, though, particularly because five games into the season it looked like the Trojans had merely reloaded.
Entering the Notre Dame game on Oct. 17, the Trojans ranked sixth in the nation in total defense (238.6 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (8.6 ppg), fifth in run defense (64.8 ypg) and hadn't allowed a touchdown pass.
Three games later, the Trojans rank 36th in the nation in total defense (331.88), 27th in scoring (19.13), 44th in run defense (118.75) and have given up six TD passes.
If those numbers hold steady, this will be Pete Carroll's worst defense since 2005 -- the worst in his nine-year tenure -- which is surprising considering how good that team was.
The breakdowns against Notre Dame and Oregon State mostly happened after the Trojans grabbed big leads, so a letdown was a possible explanation, though a repeated loss of focus doesn't speak well of the Trojans players and coaches.
But the way Oregon dominated the second half suggested the Trojans might not be in great physical shape. The Ducks players said they wore down USC and who could argue? After three consecutive poor fourth quarters, maybe the Trojans need to do some more cardio.
Some might point to a lack of heart. Oregon punched the Trojans in the mouth, and the Trojans didn't respond.
That, however, will be measured going forward, starting at Arizona State.
USC should be plenty motivated by its now-myriad doubters. Folks have taken shots at USC for years while not believing their own words. Everybody -- deep down -- knew what USC was: The team that always would be favored over everyone else on a neutral field.
Now there are actually legitimate grounds to question how good USC is. An unprecedented string of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles is in serious peril.
Therein lies another potential consolation prize for USC. Remember: You Trojans are tired of bludgeoning Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl.
So what if USC gets off the floor, towels off its bloody face and whips the remaining teams on its schedule?
Then it will go to another BCS bowl and earn an opportunity to make a simple statement: We're still USC.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Matt Brown/Icon SMI|
|USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would "love someday to be a head football coach."|
USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is a hot head-coaching prospect and runs a unit that -- if recruiting rankings are to be believed -- is almost as talented annually as any in the nation.
Of course, when an offense is perceived as owning elite talent, the margin for error is small and fans are quick to criticize when things aren't perfect. More than a few believe the Trojans 32.6 points and 434.9 yards per game in 2007 qualified as underachieving, regardless of the critical injuries at many key positions.
So with just four starters back on offense, what's in store in 2008? Is quarterback Mark Sanchez the man? What's up with the logjams at tailback and receiver? And is an offensive line with just one returning starter in trouble?
Sark stopped by for a chat.
What did Mark Sanchez do in the spring to jump ahead in the quarterback race?
Steve Sarkisian: The first thing that jumps out is he has a great comfort level with the offense. He does a nice job handling the offense as far as making the proper checks, the audibles, getting the ball into guys' hands quickly. But on top of that I think we felt and saw his energetic leadership. We saw a charismatic guy who loved to come out and work and practice every day and I think it was contagious for the entire football team. Those are some of the qualities you like to see in a leader, a guy who makes those around him better.
Is there a chance that someone else will start at quarterback in the opener at Virginia?
SS: Up until now [Sanchez] won the job. But we're going to give those other guys their opportunities in fall camp to go out and compete and prove they're worthy of playing time. But up until this point, Mark is the guy for us.
It seems like the competition remains wide-open at tailback, with a bunch of guys who could end up starting or at least get a lot of carries: How does the pecking order stack up there?
SS: If we were going to play today you'd see three guys: You'd see Joe McKnight. You'd see Stafon Johnson. You'd see C.J. Gable. For sure those three. But I think you're also going to get a little dose of Allen Bradford as well. Now that doesn't mean Allen Bradford couldn't be the lead dog by the end of camp. And that doesn't mean Marc Tyler or Broderick Green couldn't get in the mix. But coming out of spring football, those three guys really established themselves. And Allen Bradford made a lot of noise.
You guys have so many talented running backs, but has there been much discussion among the coaches about maybe picking one horse, one guy who gets 25 carries a game?
SS: Not really. We've always had -- go back to when it was Justin Fargas and Sultan McCullough -- we've always had sort of a two-horse-type backfield with a third guy who was kind of a variety-type guy who can do a lot of different things. So we've always been that way. Sure, preferably you'd like it to be two solid guys where you know what you're getting. But right now we're looking at three or four guys. But I think that kind of stuff kind of settles itself out. Injuries come into play and guys step up. But it's good to know we've got that luxury at that position because it is a tough position to sustain and stay healthy at. As you saw last year. The moment Stafon Johnson established himself as the back, he got hurt and then Chauncey Washington played and Joe McKnight stepped up when we lost C.J. Gable after the third game. So, obvious, it's a luxury to have three guys there -- or four or five.
Same thing at receiver: What's the pecking order there?
|AP Photo/John Froschauer|
|Wide receiver Patrick Turner had 48 catches for 569 yards last year, including 3 scores.|
SS: Coming out of spring football you really saw Vidal Hazelton really rise to the challenge. He was a -catch guy as a sophomore and really was playing injured. He got healthy during spring football and looked fantastic. Patrick Turner, I think, is poised for a big-time senior season, and Damian Williams, a transfer from Arkansas, really impressed people. The two young guys, David Ausberry and Ronald Johnson, really stepped up in spring and got better. Then there are some dark horses in there: Travon Patterson, and a true freshman by the name of Brice Butler is coming into the mix. I think it is a really good position group for us because we've got a lot of depth there. But, again, we're looking for two or three guys to really step up and take over that spot and be the go-to guys for us.
The receivers as a group took some criticism last year. Was that fair? Were you disappointed in some of the production?
SS: Well, I think as a group offensively we were disappointed in ourselves as a whole. That position group was young and inexperienced and had some drops early in the season. And to compound that they were replacing maybe the greatest tandem of receivers in college football history in Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett. I think that made that discrepancy even bigger. There was a lot of pressure on them last year, but I really like how they ended the year. They grew up. I like the way Vidal ended the year. It was unfortunate that Patrick Turner couldn't pla
y in the bowl game. But he got better during the year. And I think David Ausberry got better and Ronald Johnson got better and it carried over to spring practice. They'll be ready for fall camp.
The offensive line needs four new starters. Is this a reload or rebuild?
SS: Last year we were hit with an injury bug up front all last year; it seemed like every week we had a different starting five. That forced a lot of our young kids to have to play last year, whether that was Charles Brown or Zach Heberer or Kristofer O'Dowd, the true freshman. So those guys got a lot more experience than I think people realize. It sounds like we're an inexperienced group because we're replacing four starters. But in reality these guys have played a lot of football and we're excited about them. This is an ornery group. They're competitive and athletic and tough and nasty. I think realistically we're a good eight deep with guys who can play. The challenge for us is to just get cohesive as we go through fall camp.
Of the guys we maybe haven't heard much about, who's going to break out this year?
SS: I don't know how to answer that. We've got a lot of kids who are very talented who have kind of just waited for their opportunity. The guy who jumps out at me is [tight end] Anthony McCoy, the guy who's played behind Fred Davis the last couple of years. I'm anxious to see [fullback] Stanley Havili as a sophomore. Damian Williams the transfer from Arkansas. And I'm anxious to see our quarterback play. I expect him to play really well and I think he expects to play really well. I wouldn't be surprised if he went out and had a great year.
Your name seems to come up a lot during coaching searches the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on your future as far as becoming a head coach? Do you have a timeline? Are you anxious about it?
SS: There's no question I'd love someday to be a head football coach. But I'm extremely fortunate. I am at a tremendous place at a tremendous time. Pete Carroll has been very good to me. We're winning. We've got great kids. We get to live in Los Angeles. I love it. I'm in no rush to get out of here. Every day is learning, watching how Pete handles our football team. I have fun going to work every day. So, yeah, I want to be a head football coach. But I'm not in any rush.