USC Football Pre-Season Notes
July 29, 2003
Here's a look at where the 2003 Trojans are ranked by various pre-season prognosticators:
|The Sporting News||6th||1st|
|Street & Smith's||15th||3rd|
...AND PRE-SEASON HONORS
OT Jacob Rogers (Athlon, Street & Smith's) and WR Mike Williams (Playboy) have beennamed to several pre-season All-American first teams. LB Matt Grootegoed, DE KenechiUdeze , OG Lenny Vandermade and DT Shaun Cody were pre-season All-American secondteamers by various media outlets, while WR Keary Colbert and DT Mike Patterson madepre-season All-American honorable mention.
The following Trojans have made the official 'Watch Lists' for national 2003 post-seasonawards:
OT Jacob Rogers Outland Trophy (top interior lineman)
OT Jacob Rogers Lombardi Award (top lineman)
LB Matt Grootegoed Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player)
LB Matt Grootegoed Lombardi Award (top lineman)
DE Kenechi Udeze Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player)
TE Alex Holmes Mackey Award (top tight end)
C Norm Katnik Rimington Trophy (top center)
PK Ryan Killeen Groza Award (top placekicker)
In terms of difficulty, it might be hard to match USC's 2002 schedule, which was ranked bythe NCAA, USA Today/Sagarin and BCS as the nation's toughest-it featured 11 bowl-boundteam, including 9 ranked by AP (and only 1 with a losing record) at the time of the game. ButTroy's 2003 slate might not be far behind. USC-which has 3 byes in 2003-will face 8teams that played in bowls last season, including 3 ranked in the final AP Top 20. TheTrojans open on Aug. 30 at SEC power Auburn, picked by some prognosticators as a na-tionaltitle contender in 2003. Then, after hosting BYU and Hawaii, USC ventures into thealways-difficult Pac-10 campaign, with 4 of its next 5 games on the road (including its annualtilt with non-conference rival Notre Dame). The Trojans play at California, Arizona State,Washington and Arizona, and host Stanford, Washington State and crosstown foe UCLA.The Pac-10 finale is a home contest against Oregon State on 'Championship Saturday'(Dec. 6, the latest USC regular season game since 1980).
USC will call upon starters returning at 14 positions (6 on offense, 6 on defense and bothkickers). In all, 77 squadmen return, including 56 who saw playing time in 2003 (49 werelettermen and 26 were on the season-ending 2-deep). Some 22 Trojans have started atleast once in their career. Joining them will be 27 new players who comprise what somepublications have ranked as the nation's premier recruiting class of 2003. Three highschool All-Americans enrolled at USC in the spring of 2003 and participated in spring drills,while the other 24 newcomers (including 17 who were prep and junior college All-Americansin 2002) will begin in the fall.
USC is riding an 8-game winning streak, its longest since capturing 10 in a row in 1988. TheTrojans also have captured their last 9 home games (with 2 shutouts in their past 7 homeoutings). That's USC's longest Coliseum win streak since getting 10 in a row during the1987 and 1988 seasons. The Trojans went undefeated at home in 2002 (6-0) for the firsttime since 1987.
NEARING 700 WINS
USC is 5 victories shy of becoming the 10 th Division I team to collect 700 victories. USC's all-timerecord is 695-296-54 (70.9%).
25th ANNIVERSARY OF LAST NATIONAL TITLE
The 2003 season marks the 25 th anniversary of USC's last national football champion-ship.The 1978 Trojans, coached by John Robinson and led by such players as TBCharles White, QB Paul McDonald, OT Pat Howell, OG Brad Budde, OT Anthony Munoz,S Ronnie Lott, S Dennis Smith and LB Riki Gray, went 12-1 and beat Michigan in theRose Bowl. Troy took the top spot in the UPI (coaches) poll, but finished second in theAP (writers) poll to Alabama despite beating the Crimson Tide earlier in the season. Itwas USC's eighth national championship.
Head coach Pete Carroll directed the 2002 Trojans to an 11-2 record, a No. 4 final ranking,a share of the Pac-10 championship (going 7-1), decisive wins over traditional rivals UCLAand Notre Dame and an impressive victory in the BCS' Orange Bowl...all while playing whatwas ranked as the nation's toughest schedule. Indeed, 2002 was a season of superlativesfor Troy, which accomplished all this despite having several key starters miss significantparts of the season because of injuries. It was USC's most wins since 1979, its highestfinal ranking since 1979 and its most points (465) and touchdowns (60) since 1972. It wasthe first time since 1981 that USC beat the Bruins and Irish in the same season (and the firsttime in back-to-back games since 1978). The Trojans finished in the nation's Top 20 innearly every team statistical category, and led the Pac-10 in total offense and defense and inscoring offense and defense. USC produced 2 All-American first teamers, including its firstHeisman Trophy winner since 1981, and a pair of Freshman All-American first teamers.USC enters 2003 riding an 8-game winning streak (and a 9-game home winning streak).
GONE FROM 2002
It will be difficult in 2003 to offset the loss of such offensive stars as Heisman Trophy-winningquarterback Carson Palmer, the Pac-10's career passing and total offense leaderwho set 33 Pac-10 and USC records, tailbacks Justin Fargas (who ran for 715 yards whilestarting 5 times in 2002), Sultan McCullough (USC's No. 8 career rusher with 2,800 yards,including a team-high 814 in 2002 while starting 5 games) and Malaefou MacKenzie (whoran for 939 yards and caught 76 passes in his career, and who started the last 7 games of2002 at fullback), wide receiver Kareem Kelly (USC's career reception leader with 204 andthe NCAA recordholder for consecutive games with a catch at 47), and 4-year starting offen-siveguard Zach Wilson. USC also lost some key starters on defense: 2-time All-Americanstrong safety Troy Polamalu, the 2002 Thorpe Award finalist who was a 3-year starter with278 tackles, 6 interceptions (3 for TDs) and 4 blocked kicks in his career, 2-year startingmiddle linebacker Mike Pollard (49 tackles in 2002), free safety DeShaun Hill (54 tacklesand a team-best 8 deflections in 2002), cornerback Darrell Rideaux (46 tackles, 7 deflec-tions,2 interceptions in 2002) and tackle Bernard Riley, who had 19 career starts, includingthe last 7 games of 2002.
Pete Carroll brought big doses of experience, enthusiasm and leadership in his quest torevive the USC football program when he was named the Trojans' head football coach onDec. 15, 2000 (he signed a 5-year contract). In 2002, just his second season at USC, hisTrojans thrived despite playing what was ranked by the NCAA, Sagarin and the BCS as thenation's most difficult schedule (facing 9 AP-ranked teams and 11 bowl squads). USC-which beat Iowa in the Orange Bowl-posted an 11-2 overall record and a No. 4 ranking inthe final polls, and won the Pac-10 championship while going 7-1. The Trojans also wontheir last 9 home games. It was USC's first 11-win season since 1979 and its highestranking since 1988. Troy won its final 8 games (scoring at least 30 points in each), includingblowouts of traditional rivals UCLA and Notre Dame (the first time USC beat both in the sameseason since 1981 and the first time in back-to-back games since 1978). USC led the Pac-10in total offense (449.3) and total defense (284.9), as well as scoring offense (35.8) andscoring defense (18.5), and was in the NCAA's Top 25 in nearly every team statistical cat-egoryon both sides of the ball. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer andsafety Troy Polamalu were first team All-Americans. Carroll was 1 of 8 finalists for the 2002Paul 'Bear' Bryant Coach of the Year Award and was 1 of 4 runners-up for the 2002 AmericanFootball Monthly Schutt Sports Division I-A Coach of the Year Award. After USC started off hisopening 2001 season slowly at 1-4, Carroll stayed the course and got his troops to rally bywinning 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, placedfifth 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 ofvictory since 1979. The 51-year-old Carroll has 28 years of NFL and college experience,including 12 on the college level. He is 17-8 as a college head coach (all at USC); hislosses were by a total of 39 points (4.9 average) and only 1 was by more than a touchdown(it was by 11 points). After starting off his Trojan career 2-5, he has gone 15-3. He is 7-0 inNovember. He was the head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots for 3 seasons (1997-99) and New York Jets for 1 year (1994). He guided the Patriots into the playoffs in his first 2seasons, winning the AFC Eastern Division title at 10-6 in 1997 and advancing to the secondround of the playoffs, then posting a 9-7 regular season mark in 1998. His overall record inNew England was 27-21 in the regular season (including 8-8 in 1999) and 1-2 in the play-offs.He owns the franchise's second-best winning percentage (54.9%). After serving as theJets' defensive coordinator for 4 seasons (1990-93), he became the team's head coach thefollowing season. His 1994 Jets went 6-10. Only 3 other Jets head coaches won moregames in their rookie campaign. He spent the next 2 years (1995-96) as the defensivecoordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, who won the NFC Western Division title bothseasons. The 49ers were 11-5 in the 1995 regular season when they had the NFL's top-rankeddefense and then went 12-4 in 1996. Carroll began his coaching career at thecollege level, serving as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Pacific, for 3 years (1974-76), working with the wide receivers and secondary. He then spent a season as a graduateassistant working with the secondary at Arkansas (1977) under Lou Holtz as the Razorbackswon the 1978 Orange Bowl, and then a season each as an assistant in charge of thesecondary at Iowa State (1978) under Earle Bruce (the Cyclones played in the 1978 Hall ofFame Bowl) and at Ohio State (1979) under Bruce. That Buckeye squad lost to USC in the1980 Rose Bowl. He next spent 3 seasons (1980-82) as the defensive coordinator andsecondary coach at North Carolina State, then returned to Pacific in 1983 as the assistanthead coach and offensive coordinator. He entered the NFL in 1984 as the defensive backscoach of the Buffalo Bills, then held a similar position with the Minnesota Vikings for 5seasons (1985-89). The Vikings advanced to the playoffs his last 3 years there, getting tothe NFC Championship game in 1987. The 1988 team was 11-5 in the regular season andthe 1989 squad won the NFC Central Division crown with a 10-6 mark. His secondaryaveraged 25 interceptions a season and led the NFL in passing defense in 1989. Carrollspent the 2000 season as a consultant for pro and college teams, doing charitable work forthe NFL and writing a column about pro football for CNNSI.com. Carroll was a 2-time (1971-72) All-Pacific Coast Conference free safety at Pacific and earned his bachelor's degree in1973 in business administration. He received his secondary teaching credential and amaster's degree in physical education from Pacific in 1976. He was a 3-sport (football,basketball and baseball) standout at Redwood High in Larkspur, Calif., earning the school'sAthlete of the Year award as a senior. He played quarterback, wide receiver and defensiveback. He then played football at Marin Junior College in Kentfield, Calif., in 1970. He wasborn on Sept. 15, 1951 in San Francisco. He and his wife, Glena, who played volleyball atPacific, have 3 children: sons Brennan, 22, who played tight end at Pittsburgh (he previouslyplayed at Delaware) and is now an assistant at USC, and Nathan, 14, and daughter Jaime,19, a junior at USC who played on the Women of Troy's highly-ranked volleyball team whichcompeted in the 2000 NCAA Final Four. His late father-in-law, Dean Goranson, received hismaster's degree from USC.
Starters return at 6 positions on offense in 2003: wide receiver (KearyColbert), tight end (Alex Holmes), both tackles (Jacob Rogers andWinston Justice), guard (co-starters Lenny Vandermade and EricTorres, with Torres having started at every line position but center in2003) and center (Norm Katnik). USC's top 2 receivers and itsthird-leading rusher are back. The offense, directed by coordinatorNorm Chow, will attempt to replicate the success of last season'sunit, which finished sixth nationally in passing efficiency (149.2, firstin Pac-10), eighth in passing offense (306.8, second in Pac-10),eighth in total offense (449.2, first in Pac-10) and ninth in scoringoffense (35.8, first in Pac-10). The Trojans scored 30 points in theirlast 8 games (a USC first) and tallied 40 points 6 times last fall (themost since 1972). USC had 400-plus yards of total offense in eachof its last 9 games. And Troy held the ball more than 8 minuteslonger per game than its opponents.
USC's No. 1 concern in 2003 will be finding a replacement forquarterback Carson Palmer, the 2002 Heisman Trophy winnerwhose Pac-10 record 11,818 career passing yards and 11,621 yardsof total offense were among the 33 Pac-10 and USC marks he set.The All-American first teamer completed 63.2% of his passes (309-of-489) in 2002 for 3,942 yards, 33 TDs and just 10 interceptions.Four players got a shot at the job in 2003 spring practice: juniorsMatt Cassel (3-of-4, 75.0%, 27 yds in 2002), Palmer's backup thepast 2 seasons who has thrown just 6 passes in his career, andBrandon Hance, who sat out last season after transferring fromPurdue (he started 9 games there in 2001) and saw limited reps inpractice after having surgery on his throwing shoulder, and sopho-moresMatt Leinart and Billy Hart, neither of whom has thrown pass at USC while seeing brief action (Hart also plays on the Tro-janbaseball team). The competition remained nearly even through-outthe spring, with the left-handed Leinart emerging with an ever-so-slight edge...but the battle will continue in the fall. And don'tcount out heralded freshman John David Booty (Evangel ChristianAcademy in Shreveport, La.), believed to be the first football playerto graduate a full year early from high school and enroll at a majorDivision I-A university.
Last year, USC relied on 3 effective senior tailbacks to carry theload: Justin Fargas (who started 5 late-season games and rushedfor 715 yards and 7 TDs), Sultan McCullough (a 5-game starter wholed the Trojans with 814 yards and 8 TDs, and finished eighth onthe school's career rushing list with 2,800 yards) and MalaefouMacKenzie (a 3-game starter at tailback and 7-game starter at full-backwho ran for 939 yards and caught 76 passes in his career). In2003, the only experienced tailback is promising sophomoreHershel Dennis (49 tcb, 198 yds, 4.0 avg, 1 TD in 2002, plus 4 rec 23 yds, 5.8 avg and 9 KOR, 151 yds, 16.8 avg). He was USC's No.3-leading rusher and its top kickoff returner. Walk-on sophomoreAndre Woodert, a converted safety, is also available. Joining themthis fall as freshmen are a terrific trio of prep All-Americans: ReggieBush (Helix High in La Mesa, Calif.), Chauncey Washington (SouthTorrance High in Torrance, Calif.) and LenDale White (ChatfieldHigh in Littleton, Colo.).
With Malaefou MacKenzie gone, a new fullback must emerge.Sophomore Brandon Hancock (3 tcb, 8 yds, 2.7 avg in 2002, plus 2rec, 15 yds, 7.5 avg and 4 tac, 1 FR), who started twice last fall, is theleading candidate. Other possibilities are junior Lee Webb (3 tac in2002), who also has played linebacker at USC, and sophomoreDavid Kirtman (2 tac, 1 FF in 2002). Walk-on redshirt freshmenMike Brittingham, a converted safety, and Morgan Craig, a one-timequarterback, also are in the mix.
COLBERT AND WILLIAMS
Even though USC career reception leader Kareem Kelly-he had204 catches, including 46 last fall, and set an NCAA record by catch-inga pass in 47 consecutive games-is gone, the Trojans are ingood shape in the wide receivers corps as a pair of 1,000-yardreceivers (a first at Troy) are back. Both are playmakers who couldwin 2003 post-season honors and they form the top receiving duoin the country. Underrated, yet consistent, senior Keary Colbert (71rec, 1,029 yds, 14.5 avg, 5 TD in 2002, plus 2 tcb, 36 yds, 18.0 avg,1 TD) will start for his fourth season. He is sixth on USC's careerreceptions ladder with 138 grabs and a repeat of last season's 71-catch output will push him past Kelly as the school's all-time lead-ingpass catcher. Even if Colbert breaks Kelly's mark, Keyshawn-esquesophomore Mike Williams (81 rec, 1,265 yds, 15.6 avg, 14TD) is poised to shatter the standard before his career concludes.The 2003 pre-season All-American won Freshman All-Americanfirst team status last fall and was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Yearwhen he set NCAA frosh records for receiving yards and receivingtouchdowns and the Pac-10 frosh mark for receptions. He was 16 thnationally in receiving yards (97.3) and 20 th in receptions (6.2) whilestarting twice. He caught a TD pass in 7 consecutive games (in-cluding3 against Washington to tie a USC game record) and his 14TD catches not only were the second most in the nation, but tied theUSC season mark. He had 5 100-yard receiving games, including4 in a row. He caught 13 passes at Oregon, a USC frosh record.
OTHER WIDE RECEIVERS
Dependable backup receivers need to emerge behind Keary Colbertand Mike Williams. But no other wide receiver on the roster caughta ball last year. The cast includes seniors D. Hale, a walk-on-turned-scholarship winner who has started once in his career (hecaught 7 passes in 2001), and Sandy Fletcher (2 tac in 2002),junior Jason Mitchell (3 KOR, 35 yds, 11.7 avg in 2002), sopho-moresGreig Carlson (27 PR, 177 yds, 6.6 avg in 2002) and con-vertedcornerback Justin Wyatt (10 tac, 1 dfl, 2 FR in 2002, plus 1PR, 16 yds, 16.0 avg), and sure-handed redshirt freshman ChrisMcFoy. Hale missed the first half of 2002 with a fractured ankle,Fletcher was bothered midseason by an ankle sprain and Mitchellhad an early-season back injury that allowed him to redshirt.Carlson, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship this spring,was USC's top punt returner in 2002. Wyatt was the surprise of2003 spring drills after his switch to offense and also could be afactor returning punts and kicks. Two walk-ons also figure in: juniorSteve Levario Jr. and redshirt freshman John Zilka. To that end, apair of the nation's most highly sought-after high school pass catch-ersenroll at USC this fall as freshmen: prep All-Americans WhitneyLewis (St. Bonaventure High in Ventura, Calif.) and Steve Smith(Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif.).
USC is well-stocked at tight end, with a returning starter and a pairof experienced backups. Senior Alex Holmes (29 rec, 320 yds, 11.0avg, 2 TD in 2002, plus 5 tac, 1 FF), who has caught 58 passes inhis career, is back as the starter. His 29 clutches last year were themost by a Trojan tight end since 1993. He is equally adept blockingand receiving. Behind him are junior Gregg Guenther Jr. (7 rec, 39yds, 5.6 avg, 1 TD in 2002), who started once last fall, and sopho-moreDominique Byrd (1 rec, 10 yds, 10.0 avg in 2002, plus 2 tac).Guenther, USC's tallest player at 6-8, also stars on the Trojan men'sbasketball squad. Walk-ons Owen Hanson, a junior who is also onthe Trojan men's volleyball team, and redshirt freshman NickVanderboom, a converted quarterback, add depth.
The 2003 version of USC's offensive line might be Troy's best inyears. Players return at 4 positions-only 4-year starting right guardZach Wilson is gone-and there are some big-potential youngerplayers angling for time. Both tackles return and they're good ones:senior Jacob Rogers, a 2-year starter who earned All-Pac-10 firstteam laurels in 2002, and sophomore Winston Justice, a 2002Freshman All-American first teamer. Both are in line for 2003 post-seasonhonors. They make up the nation's best bookend tackles.Senior Lenny Vandermade, a 3-year starter, returns at left guard(he also has started at center in his career) and should be recov-eredfrom a torn biceps which sidelined him for the last 4 outings of2002 (he might be limited during spring practice). His fill-in is alsoback, senior Eric Torres, who started 7 times in 2002 at every linespot except center (Torres started all of 2001 at right tackle). Hebroke his left ankle in the Orange Bowl and missed spring drills.And reliable center Norm Katnik, another 2-year starter, returns. Healso has started at guard and tackle in his USC tenure. Returningsquadmen looking to work into the rotation are senior tackle NateSteinbacher, who worked some at defensive tackle last fall, juniorguard Travis Watkins and redshirt freshmen Fred Matua, a guardwho was set to start the 2002 opener before a knee sprain side-linedhim (he has the inside track for Wilson's right guard spot in2003), center Kurt Katnik (Norm's younger brother) and guard KyleWilliams, plus walk-on redshirt freshman guard John Lanza. Com-ingaboard this fall are tackle John Drake (Long Beach City Collegein Long Beach, Calif.), a junior college transfer who is a junior, plus4 freshmen: a trio of prep All-Americans in Sam Baker (Tustin Highin Tustin, Calif.) and Drew Radovich (Mission Viejo High in MissionViejo, Calif.) at guard and Ryan Kalil (Servite High in Anaheim, Ca-lif.)at center, as well as tackle Travis Draper (Paso Robles High inPaso Robles, Calif.).
Six defensive starters return from 2002: linebackers MattGrootegoed and Melvin Simmons, ends Kenechi Udeze and OmarNazel, tackle Mike Patterson and cornerback Marcell Allmond.Others back with starting experience are tackle Shaun Cody, whostarted for his second year in 2002 before tearing a knee ligamentmidseason, as well as three cornerbacks-Kevin Arbet, RonaldNunn and William Buchanon-and safety Jason Leach. The top 2tacklers, plus the leaders in interceptions, tackles for loss, sacks,fumble recoveries and forced fumbles, return from 2002's domi-nantdefense that was sixth nationally in rushing defense (83.2, firstin Pac-10), sixth in total defense (284.9, first in Pac-10), fifth in turn-overmargin (+1.4, second in Pac-10), 17 th in scoring defense (18.5,first in Pac-10) and 19 th in pass efficiency defense (102.5, secondin Pac-10). Last year, USC held 9 teams under 100 yards rushing(including 7 times in a row) and no runner eclipsed the 100-yardrushing barrier. The Trojans allowed foes to convert just 27.6% ofthird downs. USC's +1.33 turnover margin the past 2 regular sea-sonsis the best in the nation during that span (Troy has 71 takeawayswhile giving the ball away only 37 times the past 2 years).
Simply put, USC's defensive line is the best in the nation. Nick-named'The Wild Bunch II' in honor of USC's famous 1969 defen-sivefront, 4 key veterans-each could win 2003 post-season hon-ors-return from a unit that was sixth in the country last fall versusthe rush (allowing just 83.2 yards per game) and let only 4 of 13offenses run for more than 100 yards (no individual ever rushed for100 yards). More than half of USC's 43 sacks last season were bydefensive linemen. Both ends return: senior Omar Nazel (38 tac,10.5 for loss, 6.5 sac, 7 dfl, 1 int, 1 FF in 2002) and junior KenechiUdeze (44 tac, 16 for loss, 7.5 sack, 6 FF, 1 FR, 1 int, 1 dfl, 1 BLK in2002). Udeze, a 2-year starter, set a USC record with his Pac-10leading 6 forced fumbles. Also back is junior Mike Patterson (37tac, 11.5 for loss, 5.5 sack, 4 FR, 1 dfl in 2002), who started 10 timesat nose tackle and 3 at defensive tackle last fall. His 4 fumblerecoveries topped the Pac-10. Look for him at nose tackle in 2002.Although tackle Bernard Riley-he had 19 career starts, includingthe last 7 games of 2002, when he posted 25 tackles-is gone, afamiliar face will re-assume that defensive tackle spot. Junior ShaunCody (20 tac, 1 for loss, 1 dfl, 1 FR, 1 BLK in 2002), a 2001 Fresh-manAll-American first teamer, started the first 6 games of 2002before tearing knee ligaments. He missed spring drills, but shouldbe ready to go this fall. Among the returning squadmen pushing fortime at end are junior Van Brown (4 tac, 1.5 sack in 2002) andsophomore converted linebacker Frostee Rucker (he sat out lastyear after transferring from Colorado State) and, at tackle, sophLaJuan Ramsey (1 tac, 1 FR in 2002) and redshirt freshman TravisTofi. Then there's junior walk-ons Jay Bottom at end and SpencerTorgan (2 tac, 1 sack in 2002) at tackle. Seven new players enroll atUSC this fall as freshmen. The ends are prep All-Americans ChrisBarrett (Tustin High in Tustin, Calif.), Lawrence Jackson(Inglewood High in Inglewood, Calif.) and Alex Morrow (RanchoCotate High in Rohnert Park, Calif.), plus Matt Spanos (CoronaHigh in Corona, Calif.). The tackles are prep All-American SedrickEllis (Chino High in Chino, Calif.), plus Fili Moala (Western High inAnaheim, Calif.) and Ryan Watson (John Curtis High in River Ridge,La.).
USC is solid at the outside linebacker spots, as junior MattGrootegoed (81 tac, 16.5 for loss, 8 sack, 1 int, 4 dfl, 1 FR, 3 FF in2002) returns on the strong side and senior Melvin Simmons (71tac, 6.5 for loss, 2.5 sack, 2 int, 5 dfl, 1 FR in 2002) is back on theweak side. Grootegoed, a 2-year starter and 2003 post-seasonhonors candidate who has a knack for always being around theball, won All-Pac-10 first team honors in 2002 when he led theTrojans in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks. Simmons wasUSC's No. 2 tackler last fall. But a new middle linebacker must befound now that Mike Pollard-a 2-year starter who had 49 stops lastyear-has departed. Among the possibilities are sophomores Os-carLua (13 tac, 1 sack, 1 FR, 1 FF in 2002), who tore knee liga-mentsprior to the Orange Bowl and missed spring practice, andLofa Tatupu, who sat out last season after transferring from Maine,where he started in 2001 (he is the son of ex-USC and NFL fullbackMosi Tatupu). Other linebackers from last year's roster looking toget in the mix are juniors Bobby Otani (10 tac in 2002) and con-verteddefensive end Daniel Urquhart and sophomore Dallas Sartz(8 tac, 1 for loss, 1 int, 1 dfl in 2002), plus a pair of walk-ons insophomore Collin Ashton (3 tac in 2002) and redshirt freshmanMatt Newhouse. Prep All-American Thomas Williams (VacavilleHigh in Vacaville, Calif.), along with Johnathan Turner (Corona Highin Corona, Calif.), join the linebacking corps this fall as freshmen.
While the biggest holes to fill on USC's defense are in the second-ary,the situation isn't as dire as it might appear. Granted, the Tro-janslost 3 quality starters in 2-time All-American strong safety TroyPolamalu (the 2002 Thorpe Award finalist was a 3-year starter whoamassed 278 tackles and 6 interceptions in his career), free safetyDeShaun Hill (he had 54 stops and a team-best 8 deflections lastseason) and cornerback Darrell Rideaux (he notched 46 tackles, 7pass break-ups and 2 picks in 2002). Most critically, the void leftfrom the loss of Polamalu's leadership cannot be discounted. Onlysenior cornerback Marcell Allmond (34 tac, 1 int, 6 dfl in 2002, plus5 KOR, 99 yds, 19.8 avg) returns as a starter...and the Trojans went7-0 once he entered the lineup the second half of 2002. The one-timestarting wide receiver also is a top-flight hurdler on USC'strack squad. There are plenty of experienced options to fill the 3open spots. In fact, 3 players have starting experience at cornerback:senior Kevin Arbet, who missed all of last season with a brokenfoot, junior Ronald Nunn (3 tac in 2002) and sophomore WilliamBuchanon (19 tac, 1 for loss, 6 dfl in 2002). Arbet-who appears tohave won the starting job for 2003-started 4 times in 2000 and wasan All-Pac-10 first teamer as a special teams player in 2001. Nunnstarted USC's first 3 contests in 2002 before tearing knee liga-ments(he missed most of 2003 spring drills) and then Buchanonstarted the next 3 games (after converting from wide receiver) be-foregiving way to Allmond. And junior Jason Leach (30 tac, 1 forloss, 4 int, 3 dfl, 1 FR, 1 FF in 2002) started twice at strong safety lastfall for an injured Polamalu, including in the Orange Bowl. He led Troy in interceptions in 2002. He has moved to free safety andshould start there. Other cornerbacks back from last year's groupare sophomore John Walker (2 tac in 2002, plus 1 PR, 4 yds, 4.0avg) and a pair of walk-ons: sophomore Alex Gomez and redshirtfreshman Kirk Shepherd. Identical twin freshmen cornerbacksBrandon Ting and Ryan Ting, who were 2002 prep All-Americans,graduated a semester early from James Logan High in Union City,Calif. and enrolled at USC this past spring. Keep an eye on fresh-mansafety Darnell Bing, who originally signed with USC last yearafter a prep All-American career at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High butdid not qualify for admission then. He enrolled at Troy this pastspring and appears to have locked down the strong safety job.Battling for action at safety from last year's squad are sophomoreMike Ross (8 tac in 2002, plus 1 TD on a blocked punt recovery),plus 5 walk-ons in seniors Greg Farr and top special teams playerForrest Mozart (2 tac, 1 BLK in 2002, plus 1 PR, 23 yds, 23.0 avg)and juniors Chris Bocage, Matt Lemos and Kyle Matthews (1 tacin 2002). This fall, joining the fray are junior college transfer WillPoole (Ventura Junior College in Ventura, Calif.), a senior safetywho started at Boston College in 2000 before earning J.C. All-Ameri-canlaurels last fall, and 3 incoming freshmen who were prep All-Americans:cornerback Desmond Reed (Temple City High in TempleCity, Calif.), safety Terrell Thomas (Rancho Cucamonga High inRancho Cucamonga, Calif.) and cornerback Eric Wright (RiordanHigh in San Francisco, Calif.).
SPECIAL TEAMS OVERVIEW
All of USC's specialists from 2002 return: the punter (Tom Malone),placekicker (Ryan Killeen), short snapper (Joe Boskovich), longsnapper (Matt Hayward) and holder (Tom Malone), plus the toppunt returner (Greig Carlson) and kickoff returner (Hershel Dennis).But there is still cause for concern in the performance of the specialteams, which were an adventure at times in 2002. While Maloneand Killeen were effective, USC was last in the Pac-10 in punt re-turns(7.2) and kickoff returns (17.5), and ninth in kickoff return cov-erage(24.1). Plus, the Trojans had 8 kicks blocked (3 punts, 3 PATsand 2 field goals), with one returned for a TD and another for adefensive PAT. And Troy gave up a 100-yard scoring kickoff return.
Sophomore Tom Malone (42.1 avg in 2002) has proven to be one ofthe nation's top young punters. He earned Freshman All-Americansecond team notice last fall. Nearly half of his 62 punts pinnedopponents within the 20-yard line and 12 traveled at least 50 yards(including a 72-yarder). He is backed by a pair of walk-ons, seniorTommy Huff and sophomore Zach Sherwood. Junior Ryan Killeen(16-of-23 FG, 47-of-49 PAT in 2002, plus 2 tac), who was only sup-posedto handle the kickoff duty last year, took over the placekickingjob during the third game of 2002 and was impressive. His 16 fieldgoals were 3 shy of the USC season record, he hit his last 30 PATs(and missed just 2 out of 49 all year), he led Troy in scoring (95points) and 27 of his 89 kickoffs were touchbacks. In an emer-gency,soph punter Tom Malone could kick, as could walk-on redshirtfreshman John-Luke Del Fante. Both of USC's snappers-seniorsJoe Boskovich (placekicks) and Matt Hayward (punts)-are back.It's the fourth season in that role for Boskovich, a one-time walk-onwho earned a scholarship this spring, and the third year for Hay-ward.Both have been near flawless in their careers. Sophomorepunter Tom Malone returns as the holder on all placekicks, withsoph quarterback Matt Leinart and junior quarterback Matt Casselpossible backups. USC's top punt returner-sophomore wide re-ceiverGreig Carlson (27 PR, 177 yds, 6.6 avg in 2002)-and kickoffreturner-soph tailback Hershel Dennis (9 KOR, 151 yds, 16.8 avgin 2002)-from last season are back. Other potential returners in-cludesenior cornerbacks Kevin Arbet, who led USC in punt returnsin 2001 (25 PR, 225 yds, 9.0 avg, plus 3 KOR, 53 yds, 17.7 avg), andMarcell Allmond (5 KOR, 99 yds, 19.8 avg in 2002), sophomorecornerback Justin Wyatt (1 PR, 16 yds, 16.0 avg in 2002), or any ofseveral freshman, including safety Darnell Bing, wide receiversWhitney Lewis and Steve Smith, tailback Reggie Bush, andcornerbacks Desmond Reed and Eric Wright.