Don't be surprised if ... USC
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Thirteenth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
Don't be surprised if ... USC's run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles ends in 2009.
Of course, you won't be surprised if they win No. 8 either, eh?
I sent my ballot in for the Pac-10 preseason media poll this week and -- after pausing longer than I have since 2002 -- still wrote in USC next to No. 1.
But I thought about it. Really thought about it.
I and most media folks are projecting another conference title for the Trojans. But what follows is a not unreasonable list of reasons why that may not happen.
- The schedule is unfavorable: Over an eight-week span, the Trojans will be on the road at Ohio State, at California, at Notre Dame and at Oregon. That's about as tough a schedule as a team can have: two long trips across time zones and visits to the Trojans' likely top competition in the conference -- both of whom could be ranked in the top 10 by game week. Moreover, tough road games are even tougher when you are inexperienced, particularly at quarterback. Finally, USC has lost eight games since 9/22/02. Six of those losses came in Pac-10 road games (the others were 2007 vs. Stanford and the 2005 national title game vs. Texas).
- Only three starters return on defense: Sure, that's a bit misleading considering the depth of experience in the secondary. And, oh yeah, the Trojans reserve of young talent is unmatched in college football. But whatever the athletic ability, a lack of experience could end up leading to more mistakes than in the past. Something like: "I thought you were spying Jahvid on that play!"
- No matter who starts, the quarterback will be green: It used to be -- before Pete Carroll arrived at Heritage Hall -- that a Pac-10 team couldn't hope for a conference title without experience at quarterback. The Trojans have, of course, bucked that trend ever since Matt Leinart swaggered his way through his first start: a 23-zip pillaging at Auburn. Still, even the coolest player doesn't always hit the point at the craps table. At some point, the odds are a new starting quarterback is going to play like one for USC -- particularly when the venue is the Horseshoe or Autzen Stadium.
- Both specialists will be new: USC is going to lose the Pac-10 because it's breaking in a new kicker and a new punter? Well, that's the sort of thing that could cost a team a close game: a shanked punt here, a missed field goal or extra point there. Anyone remember Ryan Killeen's missed extra point at Washington State in 2002 or his missed 39-yard field goal in the triple-OT loss to California the following year? Or David Buehler's blocked PAT vs. Stanford in 2007?
- There's been a lot of staff turnover of late: The Trojans have new offensive and defensive coordinators as well as new defensive line and special-teams coaches. Sure, a lot of the talk this spring was of "upgrades." And defensive coordinator Rocky Seto, a longtime USC assistant, and D-line coach Jethro Franklin, who returned for his second stint with the team, aren't new faces around the program. Still, that's a lot of transitioning for a squad.
- It's possible an NCAA ruling in the Reggie Bush case could be a distraction: Signs point to the seemingly endless Bush case actually, you know, ending sometime soon -- whether that's before the season begins or before the first of the year. While the smart money is on the Trojans not getting hammered -- unless something else comes up there is little evidence that ties USC to Bush's alleged improprieties -- any type of ruling will cause a period of hullabaloo that could distract from the task at hand.
- The streak won't go on forever: Hey, history tells us that no dynasty lasts forever. Just ask the Mings.
Is this a compelling case? Maybe. Guessing most Trojan adherents will scoff, while fans of nine other Pac-10 teams will respond with feelings ranging from skeptical "maybes" to "heck yeah!"
We shall see.