2002 USC Football Outlook
March 8, 2002
Although the plans were first drawn in the final days of 2000 and the foundation was set throughout 2001, by no means is the reconstruction of the USC football program finished. The building will continue at Troy in 2002.
But there is overwhelming optimism within the Trojan organization that the final product-a return to championship football-is within sight.
'Our goal is to win the Pac-10 championship and win the Rose Bowl,' said second-year head coach Pete Carroll, formerly the head coach of the New England Patriots and New York Jets. 'That's our goal this year and every year. In 2002, we must pick up where we left off last year, continuing to develop a winning attitude and style of play.'
There were signs last season that Carroll, who was hired in mid-December of 2000, had the Trojans moving in the right direction. After Troy started slowly at 1-4 in his debut season, Carroll stayed the course and got his troops to rally by winning 5 of their last 7 games (including the final 4 regular season contests) to finish at 6-6 overall. USC, which won its last 5 Pac-10 games after beginning league play at 0-3, placed fifth in the conference at 5-3 and earned a berth into the Sega Sports Las Vegas Bowl. Putting an exclamation point on the regular season was a 27-0 blanking of No. 20 UCLA, USC's first shutout in the crosstown rivalry since 1947 and the series' biggest margin of victory since 1979.
The momentum from that end-of-the-regular season run could continue in 2002 with the help of the 14 starters (8 on offense and 5 on defense, plus the placekicker) who are back from last year's team. In all, 75 squadmen return, including 50 who saw playing time (43 were lettermen and 29 were on the season-ending 2-deep). Some 29 Trojans have started at least once in their career.
Joining them will be 3 newcomers who already are enrolled at USC and will participate in spring drills, plus 19 new scholarship players (13 were prep and junior college All-Americans in 2001) who'll begin in the fall.
'We signed outstanding players from premier programs and we were able to cover all positions with an incredible level of talent,' said Carroll, whose class was ranked in the national Top 10 by many recruiting services. 'This is a big step in building the championship football program that all Trojans desire.
'You build championship teams by surrounding yourself with great competitors. Competition will be high for all positions. We're looking for the young players to compete immediately for playing time and we're counting on the returning players to battle to hold onto their spots.
Carroll says the formula needed for USC to experience success in 2002 is simple.
'We want to play great defense, be aggressive and efficient on offense and always count on our special teams to be a factor,' he said. 'That's the classic blueprint of a successful team. Last season, our strengths were on defense and in the kicking game, and we won the turnover battle. If we can do that again and run the football this year, we can be a factor in the Rose Bowl race.'
The Trojan offense, which lost very few contributors from 2001, features some veteran skill position players and has experience across the front line.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, third on USC's career passing (618 completions) and total offense (7,801 yards) charts and on pace to own those records, and wide receiver Kareem Kelly, fifth on Troy's all-time receiving list (158 catches) and on track to set that record, figure to start for their fourth seasons in 2002. Palmer was the Pac-10's most accurate passer in 2001 at 58.6% (221-of-377) as he threw for 2,717 yards and 13 touchdowns. His 419 yards of total offense at Oregon last fall was a school record. Kelly, who has caught a pass in all 35 games he has played as a Trojan, caught 49 passes in 2001.
The tailback spot-manned last year for the first 6 games by 2-year starter Sultan McCullough, a 1,000-yard runner in 2000 who had 410 yards in 2001 before going out with an abdominal injury (he is 14th on USC's career rushing ladder), and then by converted fullback Sunny Byrd, who responded with 336 yards while starting the final 6 outings-should be loaded. McCullough and Byrd are back (although Byrd will return to fullback), as are 3 others with experience in Malaefou MacKenzie (765 rushing yards, 37 catches, 4 starts in his career), who missed 2001 with an injury, Justin Fargas (he redshirted in 2001 after transferring from Michigan) and Darryl Poston.
Keary Colbert, who had 34 catches in 2001 and has 67 in his career, returns as a starting wide receiver. Several others with 2001 experience-Devin Pitts (18 catches in 2001), Grant Mattos (10) and D. Hale (7)-will bolster the receiving corps.
Nearly the entire offensive line remains intact from a year ago, with tackles Jacob Rogers and Eric Torres, guard Zach Wilson, center Lenny Vandermade and utility man Norm Katnik. Wilson could be starting for his fourth year and Vandermade for his third.
All-American safety Troy Polamalu, a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award, headlines a defense that will call upon many experienced performers. Polamalu, USC's first All-American safety since Mark Carrier in 1989, is a big play waiting to happen. Not only did he make a team-best 118 tackles in 2001, including 13 for losses, but he returned 2 of his 3 interceptions for touchdowns, blocked 3 punts and recovered a fumble. In his career, he has run back 3 of his 5 picks for scores and blocked 4 punts. He'll start for his third year.
The rest of the secondary will be new, but not untested, with players like safety DeShaun Hill (83 tackles, 4 interceptions in his career) and cornerbacks Kevin Arbet (69 tackles, 4 interceptions in his career), Darrell Rideaux (60 career stops) and converted 2000 starting wide receiver Marcell Allmond (30 career catches) all having started some games in the past. Arbet won All-Pac-10 first team honors last fall as a special teams player.
Two promising young players will anchor the defensive line: tackle-end Shaun Cody (39 tackles, 5 sacks in 2001), a Freshman All-American first teamer last fall, and end Kenechi Udeze (35 tackles, 4 sacks in 2001), a Freshman All-American second teamer last year. They'll be joined by tackle Bernard Riley (26 tackles in 2001), who started USC's first 5 games of 2001 before injuring his knee (he also started in 2000).
Mike Pollard, who was second on USC in tackles last fall with 81, returns as a starting linebacker, as does Matt Grootegoed (32 tackles in 2001). A pair of players with 5 career starts each-Chris Prosser (20 tackles in 2001) and Aaron Graham-also are available there.
The defensive starters gone are 4-year starting safety-cornerback Antuan Simmons, who overcame a life-threatening illness in 2000 to star in 2001, cornerbacks Kris Richard (a 3-year starter) and Chris Cash (a 2-year starter), 2-year starting end Lonnie Ford, 3-year starting tackle Ryan Nielsen and linebacker Frank Strong, who also was used at safety, tailback and as a returner at Troy.
David Davis, the Pac-10's most accurate field goal kicker in 2001 at 83.3% (15-of-18), returns. He had a string of 12 consecutive successful field goals last fall after transferring from a junior college and he also was good on 31-of-34 PATs. But 4-year starting punter Mike MacGillivray, who owns USC records for career punts and punt yardage, must be replaced.
USC will embark upon its quest for success while playing, as usual, one of the nation's most difficult 12-game schedules. Seven opponents played in bowls last season and 5 were ranked in the final AP Top 20 (3 were in the Top 10). The Trojans open up 2002 on Labor Day evening against Auburn, the other non-conference games include early road contests at No. 9 Colorado and Kansas State and the regular season finale at home with Notre Dame. In Pac-10 games, USC hosts No. 19 Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State and California, and goes to No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Washington State, No. 16 Stanford and UCLA.
'It's an extraordinary schedule,' said Carroll. 'It starts with a great Monday Night Football opener and picks up from there, finishing with both of our traditional rivals. With the caliber of non-conference opponents we'll face, we'll certainly be game ready when we get to the Pac-10 part of the schedule.'
RETURNING STARTERS (14)
QB Carson Palmer
WR Kareem Kelly
TB Sultan McCullough/FB Sunny Byrd*
WR Keary Colbert
OT Jacob Rogers
OG Zach Wilson
OT Eric Torres
C Lenny Vandermade/C Norm Katnik*
(Note: Byrd's 2001 starts were at TB)
S Troy Polamalu
DT Shaun Cody
LB Mike Pollard
DE Kenechi Udeze
LB Matt Grootegoed
SPECIAL TEAMS (1)
PK David Davis
OTHERS RETURNING WITH CAREER STARTS
DT Bernard Riley (11)
S DeShaun Hill (8)
CB Darrell Rideaux (6)
CB Marcell Allmond (6)
LB Aaron Graham (5)
LB Chris Prosser (5)
CB Kevin Arbet (4)
TB Malaefou MacKenzie (4)
FB Chad Pierson (1)
WR Devin Pitts (1)
WR D. Hale (1)
WR Grant Mattos (1)
FB Scott Huber (1)
2001 RESULTS(6-6 overall, 5-3 for 5th place in Pac-10)
21 San Jose State 10 6 Kansas State 1022 at Oregon 2416 Stanford 2124 at Washington 2748 Arizona State 1716 at Notre Dame 2741 at Arizona 3416 Oregon State (1OT) 1355 at California 1427 UCLA 0 6 vs. Utah 10 (Las Vegas Bowl)
Sept. 2 AuburnSept. 14 at ColoradoSept. 21 at Kansas StateSept. 28 Oregon StateOct. 5 at Washington StateOct. 12 CaliforniaOct. 19 WashingtonOct. 26 at OregonNov. 9 at StanfordNov. 16 Arizona StateNov. 23 at UCLANov. 30 Notre Dame
Starters return at 8 positions on offense in 2002: quarterback (Carson Palmer), both wide receivers (Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert), tailback (co-starters Sultan McCullough and Sunny Byrd, Byrd will return to fullback in 2002), both tackles (Jacob Rogers and Eric Torres), a guard (Zach Wilson) and center (co-starters Lenny Vandermade and Norm Katnik). USC's top 2 rushers, passers and receivers statistically from 2001 are back. In 2002, offensive coordinator Norm Chow's unit must dramatically increase its offensive production from a year ago. The Trojans ranked in the Pac-10's bottom 4 in every offensive category last fall while averaging just 314.5 yards of total offense and 24.8 points a game. Injuries at the tailback spot left USC's running game anemic, its 87.7 rushing average was 109th nationally (out of 115 teams) and Troy's 1,052 total rushing yards was its fewest since records were kept in 1948. However, the Trojans had only 19 turnovers in 2001 (the second fewest in the Pac-10), quite an improvement after having a nation-leading 36 turnovers in 2000. That ball security must continue in 2002.
'We need to develop the running game so that it complements our ability to throw the football,' said Carroll. 'Last year, we saw glimpses of how effective our wide-open offensive attack can be. But injuries significantly curtailed our running game and that affected our production. We have a deep group of runners this year and our offensive line is a year more experienced.
'We also have to continue to take care of the football. We did a very good job in that area last year.
'If we can be more proficient running the ball and keep our negative plays to a minimum, then our offense will emerge.'
QUARTERBACKS-Senior quarterback Carson Palmer (221-of-377, 58.6%, 2,717 yards, 13 TDs, 12 interceptions in 2001) is one of the nation's marquee signalcallers. His 58.6% completion rate in 2001 topped the Pac-10. A 3-year starter, he is third on USC's career passing (618 completions) and total offense (7,801 yards) lists. By year's end, he should move up to No. 1 in both categories (he needs 59 completions to break Rob Johnson's mark and 840 yards of total offense to eclipse Rodney Peete's standard) and he is on pace to also break Johnson's school career mark for passing yards (he has 7,876 and needs 597). His first pass attempt of 2002 will be the 1,082nd of his career, equalling Peete's USC mark. Last fall, his 419 yards of total offense at Oregon was a USC record.
'We anticipate a big, big year from Carson Palmer,' said Carroll. 'He is one of the premier quarterbacks in the country. If our running attack comes through, look for him to thrive. He's a veteran with all the tools to be successful. The competition for the No. 2 spot will be critical.'
Three relatively untested youngsters will battle to back up Palmer: sophomore Matt Cassel (1-of-2, 50.0%, 5 yards in 2001), who also played some as a tight end-in-motion (1 catch, 12.0 average in 2001) and on special teams (1 tackle in 2001) last season, and redshirt freshmen Matt Leinart and Billy Hart, who is also a reserve infielder for the Trojan baseball team.
Junior Brandon Hance, who started Purdue's first 9 games of 2001 and completed 136-of-258 passes (52.7%) for 1,529 yards with 8 TDs (he also ran for 242 yards and 4 scores), enrolls in the fall, but he must sit out the 2002 season per the NCAA transfer rule.
QUARTERBACKS Matt Cassel, So. Can also play TEBrandon Hance, In. Jr. Purdue transferBilly Hart, Rs. Fr.Matt Leinart, Rs. Fr.CARSON PALMER, Sr. No. 3 USC career passer
RUNNING BACKS-Last year demonstrated why it is critical to have depth in the tailback corps. Injuries decimated USC's runners in 2001 and by midseason a fullback was starting at tailback. It's no wonder the Trojans averaged just 87.7 rushing yards a game last fall.
USC is 5-deep at tailback in 2002, including 3 experienced seniors. Speedy senior Sultan McCullough (115 carries, 410 yards, 3.6 average, 5 TDs in 2002, plus 6 receptions 16.7 average, 1 TD) returns after starting Troy's first 6 games of 2001. But he was sidelined the rest of the year with a strained abdominal muscle that required surgery. He ran for 1,163 yards in 2000 and is 14th on USC's prestigious career rushing ladder (1,986 yards). He has rushed for 100 yards 9 times in his career. The 1999 Pac-10 100-meter champion, he is the fastest player ever to wear a Trojan football uniform (10.17).
Senior Malaefou MacKenzie, who has 765 rushing yards and 37 receptions in his Trojan career (he has started 4 times), is petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2002. He was expected to team with McCullough to give Troy a 1-2 punch at the tailback position in 2001. But he left school at midseason last fall without seeing any action and returned home to Western Samoa (he missed 4 early games with a knee sprain and a fifth to attend his father's funeral). He could be limited in 2002 spring drills while the knee recovers.
Senior Justin Fargas, who was impressive while serving as USC's scout team tailback in 2001, will look to make a sudden impact this season. He sat out the 2001 campaign after transferring from Michigan, where he had 362 rushing yards in an injury-plagued career.
Sophomore Darryl Poston (8 carries, 16 yards, 2.0 average, 1 TD in 2001, plus 1 catch, 10.0 average) showed flashes last fall, but was bothered by a mid-year knee sprain.
Prep All-American Hershel Dennis (Poly High in Long Beach, Calif.) joins the tailback fray in the fall as a freshman.
'Competition is the key at tailback,' said Carroll. 'We have 5 very good players who are capable of big things, but we'll have to see who takes hold of the job. But, as we saw last year, you can never have enough quality tailbacks. Throw in the fullbacks, a group that we really like, and we have the potential to have a strong running game.'
Senior Sunny Byrd (123 carries, 336 yards, 2.7 average, 4 TDs in 2001, plus 11 catches, 7.4 average and 5 tackles) enjoyed folk hero status last fall when he took over for McCullough at tailback and provided some hard-nosed running. He had never touched the ball at USC before then, but he started USC's last 6 contests and led the Trojans in rushing 5 times (he had at least 20 carries in 6 outings). He'll return to fullback in 2002 and will compete with another senior, Chad Pierson (4 carries, 11 yards, 2.8 average in 2001, plus 3 catches, 20.3 average, 1 TD), for the starting job. Pierson, who started once in 2000 and proved to be just as effective a runner and receiver as a blocker, missed the first half of 2001 with a back injury.
Also in the mix at fullback to replace Charlie Landrigan, a 3-year starter known for his leadership, rugged blocking and good hands (49 career receptions), are senior Scott Huber, who was a tight end earlier in his career, redshirt freshman David Kirtman and freshman Brandon Hancock, who enrolled at USC this spring after earning prep All-American honors at Clovis West High in Fresno, Calif.
RUNNING BACKS SUNNY BYRD, Sr., FB 6 '01 starts at TBHershel Dennis, In. Fr., TB '01 prep All-AmericanJustin Fargas, Sr., TBBrandon Hancock, Fr. FB '01 prep All-AmericanScott Huber, Sr., FBDavid Kirtman, Rs. Fr., FBMalaefou MacKenzie, Sr., TB 765 career yardsSULTAN McCULLOUGH, Sr., TB No. 14 USC career rusherChad Pierson, Sr., FB 1 career startDarryl Poston, So., TB
WIDE RECEIVERS-Like last year, USC's wide receivers are a deep and talented group with starters returning at both spots.
'This is a very, very competitive unit from top to bottom,' said Carroll. 'There is depth, speed and play-making ability across the board. Every one of our receivers can make an impact.'
Swift senior Kareem Kelly (49 catches, 16.3 average, 3 TDs in 2001, plus 6 carries, 38 yards, 6.3 average), a starter the past 3 years, is fifth on Troy's career pass catching list (158 receptions). He is within range of Johnnie Morton's school records for receptions (201) and receiving yards (3,201, he has 2,499). He has a catch in all 35 games he has played as a Trojan, 2 short of tying John Jackson's USC mark. He has had 100-yard receiving games 9 times in his career. He also sprints and runs relays for the USC track team.
Junior Keary Colbert (34 catches, 13.0 average, 2 TDs in 2001, plus 1 carry, 9 yards, 9.0 average) returns at the other wideout spot. The consistent 2-year starter has 67 career grabs.
Three other Trojans started a game last fall: senior Grant Mattos (10 catches, 10.4 average in 2001), who missed part of 2001 with a knee sprain, and juniors Devin Pitts (18 catches, 7.1 average in 2001) and D. Hale (7 catches, 15.1 average in 2001, plus 2 carries, 14 yards, 7.0 average), a one-time walk-on who earned a scholarship this spring. Another junior, Sandy Fletcher (2 catches, 5.5 average in 2001), also saw time in 2001. Also looking to break into the rotation are redshirt freshmen William Buchanon, David Boler and Frank Candela, junior Jason Mitchell, a 2001 junior college All-American at Los Angeles (Calif.) Harbor Junior College who enrolled at USC this spring, and redshirt freshmen walk-ons Greig Carlson and Andre Woodert.
Freshmen coming aboard in the fall are prep All-Americans Mike Williams (Plant High in Tampa, Fla.) and Chris McFoy (Chino High in Chino, Calif.).
WIDE RECEIVERSDavid Boler, Rs. Fr.William Buchanon, Rs. Fr.Frank Candela, Rs. Fr.Greig Carlson, Rs. Fr.KEARY COLBERT, Jr. 67 career catchesSandy Fletcher, Jr.D. Hale, Jr. 1 start in '01KAREEM KELLY, Sr. No. 5 USC career receiverGrant Mattos, Sr. 1 start in '01Chris McFoy, In. Fr. '01 prep All-AmericanJason Mitchell, Jr. JC transferDevin Pitts, Jr. 1 start in '01Mike Williams, In. Fr. '01 prep All-AmericanAndre Woodert, Rs. Fr.
TIGHT ENDS-For the second consecutive year, USC will start a new tight end, this time in place of Kori Dickerson, the one-time linebacker who had 25 catches and 2 scores last fall.
Junior Alex Holmes (22 receptions, 7.5 average, 2 TDs in 2001) is the most experienced tight end on the roster, as he has seen significant action the past 2 seasons as the backup. He has 29 career catches with 2 touchdowns.
Also available are senior Doyal Butler, sophomore Gregg Guenther Jr., who also is a reserve center on the Trojan men's basketball team, redshirt freshman Kolomona Kapanui and junior walk-on Alex Bottom, who doubles as a snapper, but their combined career action is minimal. And quarterback Matt Cassel (1 catch, 12.0 average in 2001) might fill the tight end-in-motion role, as he did some in 2001.
Prep All-American Dominique Byrd (The Breck School in Minneapolis, Minn.) enrolls in the fall as a freshman.
'Although we're relatively inexperienced and somewhat thin at tight end, I think we'll be okay here as long as the players keep improving,' said Carroll. 'I expect they will. It's a high-potential group.'
TIGHT ENDS Alex Bottom, Jr. Also snapperDoyal Butler, Sr.Dominique Byrd, In. Fr. '01 prep All-AmericanGregg Guenther Jr., So.Alex Holmes, Jr. 29 career catchesKolomona Kapanui, Rs. Fr.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN-USC's offensive line from a year ago-save for 2-year starting guard-tackle Faaesea Mailo-comes back. But this group needs to improve its performance if the Trojan offense is to click.
'It's good to have just about our entire line back,' said Carroll. 'We're counting on this unit to become very effective because of its experience. And we need to develop the depth of our younger backups.'
Senior guard Zach Wilson has started the past 3 years on the right side and has been solid. Junior tackles Jacob Rogers (left side) and Eric Torres (right side) started for the first time in 2001 and did commendable jobs. Steady junior Lenny Vandermade has started at center the past 2 years. And junior Norm Katnik is the line's utility man, having started at all 3 positions in 2001 (5 times at guard, 4 at center and once at tackle).
Angling for backup duty are senior Phillip Eaves, juniors Joe McGuire, Nate Steinbacher and walk-on Justin Brown at tackle, sophomores Travis Watkins and walk-on Spencer Torgan at guard and senior Derek Graf, sophomore A.J. Single and junior walk-on Joe Boskovich (also the short snapper) at center. None of these players has seen appreciable action yet.
Freshmen help arrives in the fall with a trio of prep All-Americans: tackles William Justice (Poly High in Long Beach, Calif.) and Kyle Williams (Highland Park High in Dallas, Tex.) and guard Chris Doyle (Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.).
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN Joe Boskovich, Jr., C-SNP Does short snappingJustin Brown, Jr., OTChris Doyle, In. Fr., OG '01 prep All-AmericanPhillip Eaves, Sr., OTDerek Graf, Sr., CWinston Justice, In. Fr., OT '01 prep All-AmericanNORM KATNIK, Jr., C Started at C-OG-OT in '01Joe McGuire, Jr., OTJACOB ROGERS, Jr., OTA.J. Single, So., CNate Steinbacher, Jr., OTSpencer Torgan, So., OGERIC TORRES, Jr., OTLENNY VANDERMADE, Jr., OT 2-year starterTravis Watkins, So., OGKyle Williams, In. Fr., OT '01 prep All-AmericanZACH WILSON, Sr., OG 3-year starter
Five defensive starters return from 2001: All-American safety Troy Polamalu, tackle-end Shaun Cody, end Kenechi Udeze and linebackers Mike Pollard and Matt Grootegoed. Seven others who have started games in the past also are back in tackle Bernard Riley, safety DeShaun Hill, cornerbacks Darrell Rideaux, Kevin Arbet and converted wide receiver Marcell Allmond, and linebackers Aaron Graham and Chris Prosser. USC's top 2 tacklers and its co-interception leaders from 2001 return. The Trojans last fall led the Pac-10 in scoring defense (17.3, 11th nationally) and were second in pass defense (179.2, 16th nationally) and total defense (330.8), all significant improvements from 2000. But opponents averaged 155.2 rushing yards a game, nearly 30 more yards an outing than 2000 despite USC's Pac-10 co-high 37 sacks. However, Troy had a stunning reversal in its turnover margin in 2001, tying for fifth nationally at +1.3. USC had 35 takeaways last year after getting only 17 in 2000. The Trojans intercepted 20 passes (they had just 7 in 2000), recovered 15 fumbles and scored 8 touchdowns on defense last fall. That trend needs to remain a focus.
'Our defense made a lot of progress last year and was one of our strengths,' said Carroll, who serves as the defensive coordinator. 'We hope it picks right up from there in 2002. We want to continue to be an aggressive, big play defense that scores points. The returning starters are solid and we'll count on them heavily, particularly our All-American, Troy Polamalu. We lost some starters from last year, but I'm confident that we have experienced, quality players to fill in for them. The key is to find starting cornerbacks.
'Our philosophy on defense is to capture the ball. Turnover ratio is a very important statistic for us and we took a huge jump in the right direction last year. That needs to remain one of the markers of our success.'
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN-Although half of last year's 4-man defensive front-2-year starting end Lonnie Ford (81 tackles, 30 for a loss, 16 sacks in his career) and 3-year starting tackle Ryan Nielsen (107 career tackles)-is gone, USC is still in good shape here in 2002.
Two of the nation's top young defensive linemen return as sophomore starters: tackle-end Shaun Cody (39 tackles, 7 for losses, 5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery in 2001), who was a Freshman All-American first team pick last season, and end Kenechi Udeze (35 tackles, 9 for losses, 4 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles, 1 deflection in 2001), a Freshman All-American second teamer last year. Both are destined for big things at USC.
Senior tackle Bernard Riley (26 tackles, 5 for losses, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 deflection, 1 interception in 2001), who started Troy's first 5 games of 2001 before injuring his knee (he also started in 2000), also is back. He could be slowed in 2002 spring drills while recuperating.
'We can be strong up front,' said Carroll. 'Shaun Cody and Kenechi Udeze give us a good young nucleus to build around and we're fortunate to have Bernard Riley back. But we need our incoming players to contribute as we develop our depth.'
Sophomore Mike Patterson (9 tackles, 5 for losses, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries in 2001) also is available at tackle.
The other end spot could be manned by junior Omar Nazel (15 tackles, 4 for losses, 3 sacks, 1 deflection, 1 interception in 2001), senior Anthony Daye, redshirt freshman Austin Jackson or walk-on sophomore Jay Bottom...or by a newcomer.
Joining USC in the fall will be a pair of junior college All-Americans-ends Daniel Urquhart of Los Angeles (Calif.) Southwest Junior College, who will be a junior, and Van Brown of Pasadena (Calif.) City College, who will be a sophomore-plus a trio of freshmen in prep All-American tackles Manuel Wright (Poly High in Long Beach, Calif.) and Fred Matua (Banning High in Wilmington, Calif.) and end LaJuan Ramsey (Dominguez High in Compton, Calif.).
DEFENSIVE LINEMENJay Bottom, So., DEVan Brown, In. So., DE '01 JC All-AmericanSHAUN CODY, So., DT-DE '01 Freshman All-AmericanAnthony Daye, Sr., DEAustin Jackson, Rs. Fr., DEFred Matua, In. Fr., DT '01 prep All-AmericanOmar Nazel, Jr., DEMike Patterson, So., DTLaJuan Ramsey, In. Fr., DEBernard Riley, Sr., DT 11 career startsKENECHI UDEZE, So., DEDaniel Urquhart, In. Jr., DE '01 JC All-AmericanManuel Wright, In. Fr., DT '01 prep All-American
LINEBACKERS-The linebacking corps, an area of concern last year because of 3 new starters, has become a position of strength for USC in 2002.
Two starters return from 2001: reliable senior Mike Pollard (81 tackles, 8 for losses, 7 deflections, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles in 2001) in the middle and versatile sophomore Matt Grootegoed (32 tackles, 8 for losses, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 2 deflections in 2001) on the strong side. Pollard was second on the Trojans in tackles and first in deflections last fall. Grootegoed broke his leg near the end of last season and could be slowed in 2002 spring practice as it continues to heal.
Junior Chris Prosser (20 tackles, 4 for losses, 2 sacks, 1 deflection in 2001), who has 5 career starts (including 3 last year), is a likely candidate to be the weakside replacement for Strong, who had 82 tackles and 2 interceptions in his career (he also was a safety, tailback and returner at USC).
There is plenty of quality depth behind these linebackers. Senior Aaron Graham (11 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 sack in 2001) has started 5 times in the middle in his career. Junior Melvin Simmons sat out last season after transferring from Washington State, where he was a starter in 2000. Sophomores Lee Webb (8 tackles, 1 forced fumble in 2001) and Bobby Otani (1 tackle in 2001) saw measurable action last fall, although Otani suffered a midseason knee injury and could be slowed in 2002 spring drills while recuperating. Also available are junior Matt Hayward (1 tackle in 2001), who is the long snapper, and redshirt freshman Collin Ashton.
Two prep All-Americans-Oscar Lua (Indio High in Indio, Calif.) and Dallas Sartz (Granite Bay High in Granite Bay, Calif.)-will join this group in the fall as freshmen (Sartz also can play safety).
'We're in good shape at linebacker,' said Carroll. 'The returning starters are proven veterans now and there will be quite a fight among the others for playing time. This can be a really good unit for us. We're much farther along here than we were a year ago.'
LINEBACKERSCollin Ashton, Rs. Fr.Aaron Graham, Sr. 5 career startsMATT GROOTEGOED, So.Matt Hayward, Jr. Does long snappingOscar Lua, In. Fr. '01 prep All-AmericanBobby Otani, So.MIKE POLLARD, Sr.Chris Prosser, Jr. 5 career startsDallas Sartz, In. Fr. '01 prep All-AmericanMelvin Simmons, Jr.Lee Webb, So.
DEFENSIVE BACKS-At first glance, the secondary appears to be an area of worry for USC in 2002, considering that 3 top-quality starters have departed. Gone are 4-year starting safety-cornerback Antuan Simmons (208 tackles, 9 interceptions, 6 blocked kicks in his career), who beat a life-threatening illness in 2000 and had an impressive 2001 season (he'll long be remembered for his amazing between-the-legs interception for a TD versus UCLA), and cornerbacks Kris Richard (125 tackles, 8 picks as a 3-year starter) and Chris Cash (86 tackles, 4 interceptions as a 2-year starter).
But things are not as dire as they appear, especially not when the Trojans return perhaps the nation's best safety in senior Troy Polamalu (118 tackles, 13 for losses, 1 sack, 6 deflections, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 3 blocked punts in 2001). The 2-year starting strong safety is a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award in 2002 after last fall becoming USC's first All-American first team safety since Thorpe recipient Mark Carrier in 1989. Polamalu, who twice won Pac-10 Player of the Week honors in 2001, made big plays in seemingly every game last season. His 118 tackles topped USC and was tied for second in the Pac-10. His tackle totals were game highs 7 times, including a Las Vegas Bowl record 20 against Utah. He returned 2 of his 3 interceptions for touchdowns, blocked 3 punts and recovered a fumble. In his career, he has run back 3 of his 5 picks for scores and blocked 4 punts.
'Troy Polamalu is one of the best players I've ever coached,' said Carroll, who has tutored such star defensive backs as Ronnie Lott, Tim McDonald, Aaron Glenn, Merton Hanks, Eric Davis and Lawyer Milloy. 'He is a tremendous football player and it shows in every phase of the game: pass defense, run defense, blitzing and special teams. Pound for pound, he is our strongest player (600 pounds in the squat and 353 pounds in the power clean) and he has been a star in our off-season conditioning program. He is a team player, as shown by his desire and performance on special teams. He is also a humble, dedicated team leader who is respected greatly by his teammates, as evidenced by the rare feat of being voted a team captain as just a junior last year. I can't imagine a better safety in college football in 2002.'
Add a collection of experienced players alongside Polamalu and, if the cornerback positions are solidified, USC's secondary could be as effective as it was last season (defensive backs accounted for 15 of the Trojans' 20 interceptions and 6 of the defense's 8 touchdowns, USC was 16th nationally in pass defense).
The new cornerbacks will be chosen from among a pair of seniors who have started in the past-4-time starter Kevin Arbet (25 tackles, 3 for losses, 2 sacks, 6 deflections, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery in 2001), who won All-Pac-10 first team laurels last year as a special teams player and who returned 1 of his 3 picks for a TD, and 6-time starter Darrell Rideaux (8 tackles in 2001)-plus junior Marcell Allmond, a converted wide receiver who redshirted last fall while suspended from USC for a student conduct violation (he has 30 career catches while starting 6 times on offense, but he last played defense as a 1998 high school senior), senior Miguel Fletcher, senior walk-on Marcus Johnson and soph walk-on Justin Tolliver (1 tackle, 1 interception in 2001). Rideaux (sprints, relays), Allmond (hurdles) and Tolliver (sprints) also compete for the USC track team.
Senior DeShaun Hill (42 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 deflection, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble in 2001) has the inside track on the starting free safety job, as he has started 8 games in his career. Other safeties include sophomore Jason Leach (8 tackles, 1 deflection in 2001), redshirt freshman John Walker (he also can play cornerback), and a trio of walk-on sophomores, converted wide receiver Forrest Mozart (1 tackle in 2001), Matt Lemos and Kyle Matthews.
In the fall, look for junior college All-American Ronald Nunn of San Francisco (Calif.) City College, who will be a junior, and prep All-American Justin Wyatt (Dominguez High in Compton, Calif.), who will be a freshman, to compete at cornerback, and two other incoming freshmen-prep All-American Darnell Bing (Poly High in Long Beach, Calif.) and Mike Ross (St. Petersburg Catholic High in St. Petersburg, Fla.)-to battle at safety (incoming freshman linebacker Dallas Sartz also might work at safety).
'If the cornerbacks step up and play like I think they can, our secondary can be a real factor in 2002,' said Carroll. 'I'm looking forward to seeing how they come together.'
DEFENSIVE BACKS Marcell Allmond, Jr., CB Converted WRKevin Arbet, Sr., CB '01 All-Pac-10 (SPT)Darnell Bing, In. Fr., S '01 prep All-AmericanMiguel Fletcher, Sr., CBDeShaun Hill, Sr., S 8 career startsMarcus Johnson, Sr., CBJason Leach, So., SMatt Lemos, So., SKyle Matthews, So., SForrest Mozart, So., SRonald Nunn, In. Jr., CB '01 JC All-AmericanTROY POLAMALU, Sr., S '01 All-AmericanDarrell Rideaux, Sr., CB 6 career startsMike Ross, In. Fr., SJustin Tolliver, So, CBJohn Walker, Rs. Fr., S-CBJustin Wyatt, In. Fr., CB '01 prep All-American
USC's placekicker (David Davis), short snapper (Joe Boskovich), long snapper (Matt Hayward) and top punt returner (Kevin Arbet) and kickoff returner (Darrell Rideaux) from 2001 are back. But the punter, holder and kickoff man will be new in 2002.
Last year, USC's special teams were markedly improved over 2000. The Trojans were particularly effective in field goal accuracy (83.3%, tops in the Pac-10), blocking kicks and punts (5) and kickoff return coverage (20.2-yard average). But they were average in other areas (8.4-yard average on punt returns and 18.9-yard average on kickoff returns, with no scoring runbacks) and inadequate in others, including punting (39.0-yard average) and kicking off (only 1 touchback on 62 kickoffs). So, there is room for improvement in the special teams.
'We need to continue to build upon the performance of our special teams,' said Carroll. 'That was a focus last year and will remain so in 2002. We need to maintain our effort and results in some areas, like field goal kicking and blocking kicks and punts, and we need to be more productive in our punting, kickoffs and return coverage. Last year, we saw the dramatic effect special teams can have on the outcome of a game. We saw how exhilarating good special teams play can be, but also how devastating it can be if you don't perform.
'David Davis should have another strong year kicking field goals and our new punter will be asked to bring us to a new level there. And I'm very excited about the prospect of having some dangerous return men.'
PUNTERS-USC's punter the past 4 seasons-Mike MacGillivray, who set school career records for punts (298) and punt yardage (11,700) while owning a 39.3-yard average-has graduated. The Trojans are hoping his replacement will be more consistent. Although a pair of untested walk-ons-junior Tommy Huff and redshirt freshman Zach Sherwood-are back, the new punter likely will be freshman Tom Malone, who enrolled at USC this spring after earning prep All-American honors at Temescal Canyon High in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
PLACEKICKERS-Senior David Davis (15-of-18 field goals, 31-of-34 PATs in 2001) had an impressive showing in 2001 after transferring from a junior college. The lefty was the Pac-10's most accurate field goal kicker last fall (83.3%) and was tied for 18th nationally in field goals (1.3). He hit 12 field goals in a row at one point. He even ran for a short TD on a fake field goal. However, a new kickoff man must be found for David Newbury, who compensated for a lack of leg strength by pooching his kickoffs (which resulted in 14 fair catches). Those short kickoffs accounted for USC's creditable kickoff coverage average of 20.2 yards in 2001 (second best in the Pac-10), although only 1 of Newbury's 62 kickoffs was a touchback and just 7 pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line.
SNAPPERS-Both of USC's snappers-junior center Joe Boskovich, who hikes on placekicks, and junior linebacker Matt Hayward, who snaps on punts-are back after doing flawless work last fall. Also available is walk-on junior tight end Alex Bottom.
HOLDERS-A new holder must be found now that punter Mike MacGillivray, who handled the job last year, is gone. Among the untested candidates are sophomore quarterback Matt Cassel and junior cornerback Marcell Allmond.
RETURNERS-USC's top punt returner-senior cornerback Kevin Arbet (25 punt returns, 9.0 average in 2001, plus 3 kickoff returns, 17.7 average)-and kickoff returner-senior cornerback Darrell Rideaux (19 kickoff returns, 19.1 average in 2001)-from last year are back. Others who might figure in the return game are senior wide receiver Kareem Kelly (8 punt returns, 6.4 average in 2001), redshirt freshman wide receiver Frank Candela, and a trio of incoming freshmen, safety Darnell Bing, tailback Hershel Dennis and cornerback Justin Wyatt.
KICKERS/PUNTERS DAVID DAVIS, Sr., PK Tops in '01 Pac-10 FGsTommy Huff, Jr., PTom Malone, Fr., P '01 prep All-AmericanZach Sherwood, Rs. Fr., P
TOMORROW | 11:30am PTLive
TOMORROW | 1:00pm PTLive