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Friday, July 17, 2009
Hope and concern: USC

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Eighth in a series on grounds for optimism and worry.

Biggest reason for hope -- An intact offensive line leads nine returning offensive starters.

Coaches often say it all starts with the offensive line (though this is an interesting contrarian argument), so the Trojans should be off to a good start with five starters returning and depth so talented it might unseat a veteran or two -- see tackle Tyron Smith challenging Butch Lewis. Kristofer O'Dowd is an All-American and may be the best center in the country. Guard Jeff Byers and tackle Charles Brown are All-Pac-10 guys who may get national honors, too. Last year, USC averaged 195 yards rushing per game and surrendered just 18 sacks, fewest in the conference. Best line in the nation? Maybe.

Biggest reason for concern -- This is probably the nation's toughest schedule.

Unlike many other programs in other conferences that hope to compare themselves to USC, the Trojans are not afraid of playing tough nonconference games on the road. Good for them, but some years it sets up a brutal slog of a schedule. USC figures to be the only team in the nation to play four nationally ranked opponents on the road -- Ohio State, California, Notre Dame and Oregon. The opener against San Jose State? Heck, the Spartans have won 20 games over the past three seasons since Dick Tomey took over. Toss in the quality depth of the Pac-10 and the round-robin conference schedule and no other team in the nation faces fewer weeks off than the Trojans. [Edit note: A reader pointed out that Arkansas will play at Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. That's a comparable road schedule and maybe even a little tougher. But Arkansas also plays Missouri State, Eastern Michigan and Troy).