USC Football Team To Begin Spring Practice Looking For More Of Same Success In 2007

March 19, 2007

As the 2007 USC football team begins spring football drills this Tuesday (March 20) for 15 sessions through April 14, the Trojans will be looking to maintain the consistency that the program has developed. While some may say that consistency is boring, there's nothing humdrum about Troy's steady performance the past 5 years.

In each of those seasons (2002-06), there has been an AP Top 4 finish (including national championships in 2003 and 2004), a BCS bowl appearance (an unprecedented string), a Pac-10 championship (another record streak), at least 11 victories (only 3 other schools have ever had such a streak) and a Top 5 recruiting class.

During that time, USC has won 92.2% (59-5) of its games (including 9-1 against traditional rivals Notre Dame and UCLA), posted 23 victories over AP Top 25 teams and produced 24 All-American first teamers, 3 Heisman Trophy winners and 25 NFL draft picks (including 7 first rounders). Troy has won 56 of its last 60 games, with the losses coming by just 12 points, and has held an AP Top 10 ranking for the past 56 games. Those Trojans own active win streaks for home games (33) and Pac-10 home games (23) to go along with no-longer-active victory streaks for overall games (34), Pac-10 games (27), road games (18), non-conference games (16), games against AP Top 25 teams (16) and Pac-10 road games (13).

So, if consistency is boring, Trojan fans surely are hoping that 2007 is another yawner.

'We don't make predictions, but if we can maintain the high level of competitiveness, intensity and work ethic that is the foundation of our program, then we can set ourselves up for some good things in the 2007 season,' said seventh-year head coach Pete Carroll, college football's winningest active coach (65-12 for an 84.4% mark). 'We have the nucleus of a very strong, successful team.'

USC returns 18 starters (7 on offense and 10 on defense, plus the punter) from a squad that went 11-2 in 2006 (7-2 in the Pac-10), including a win in the Rose Bowl, and finished No. 4 in the final polls. The losses were by a total of 6 points. In all, 82 squadmen are back from last year, including 56 who saw playing time. All but 3 of those squad members were lettermen, while 35 were on USC's season-ending 2-deep). On the roster are 31 Trojans who have started at least once in their career.

Joining them in 2007 will be 19 new scholarship players, including 2 already enrolled at USC and set to participate in spring practice. That class was named No. 1 in the nation by some publications.

The Trojans are loaded on defense in 2007, as all but one starter returns from a unit that ranked in the national Top 25 (and tops in the Pac-10) last year in rushing defense (91.1), scoring defense (15.2), total defense (295.6) and pass efficiency defense (110.7). A case can be made that almost each returning starter is an All-American candidate. The linebacking corps is the nation's best, with 2006 team tackle leader Keith Rivers on the weakside, fellow 2006 All-Pac-10 first teamer Rey Maualuga in the middle and Brian Cushing moving back to his natural strongside spot after playing defensive end last year. The defensive line is anchored by 2006 All-American first teamer Sedrick Ellis at nose tackle and Lawrence Jackson (35 career tackles for loss and 20 sacks) at end, with Fili Moala also back at tackle. In the secondary, cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (a team-high 12 deflections in 2006) and Cary Harris return, as do steady strong safety Kevin Ellison and 2006 Freshman All-American and Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year Taylor Mays at free safety.

Others back with starting experience on defense are free safety Josh Pinkard, a 2005 starter who started the 2006 opener before being sidelined for the year with a knee injury, plus versatile linebacker Thomas Williams (10 career starts), tackle Chris Barrett (6 starts in 2006), cornerback Kevin Thomas and linebacker Kaluka Maiava.

USC's offense, which ended up in the national Top 25 in passing (263.9), scoring (30.5) and total offense (391.9) in 2006, is guided by quarterback John David Booty, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. The 2006 All-Pac-10 first teamer completed 61.9% of his passes last fall for 3,347 yards with 29 touchdowns and is poised to move into the Trojan career Top 5 in passing and total offense. Protecting him will be a trio of returning linemen: 2-time All-American tackle Sam Baker and guards Chilo Rachal and Drew Radovich. Tight end Fred Davis (55 career catches) also returns. A group of returning tailbacks--C.J. Gable (434 yards), Chauncey Washington (744 yards) and Emmanuel Moody (459 yards)--shared starting duties in 2006, as did a number of players at fullback (including Stanley Havili, tailback Allen Bradford and linebacker Thomas Williams).

Other offensive players back who have started before are wide receiver Patrick Turner (29 catches in 2006), 2004 starting guard Jeff Byers (he can also play center), 2003 starting tailback Hershel Dennis (968 career rushing yards), tight end Dale Thompson and guard Alatini Malu.

Punter Greg Woidneck returns after averaging 38.3 yards in his first year on the job.

USC's only loss from the defensive lineup is strongside linebacker Dallas Sartz, who was 32-2 in his 3 years as a starter. Also gone is middle linebacker Oscar Lua, who had 14 career starts and topped Troy in tackles in 2005.

The offense lost the best wide receiver combo in Trojan history: 2-time All-American first teamer Dwayne Jarrett, USC's career leader with 216 receptions and the Pac-10's all-time recordholder with 41 TD grabs who left after his junior season for the NFL, and 2006 All-American first team selection Steve Smith, fourth on Troy's career chart for receiving yards (3,019) and fifth for receptions (190) and TDs (22). Also gone from the offensive lineup are 2006 All-American first team center Ryan Kalil, who was the heart and soul of USC's line, and tackle Kyle Williams. Dependable wide receiver Chris McFoy (57 career catches, 17 starts) also is gone.

USC suffered an unexpected loss with the tragic death of placekicker Mario Danelo in early 2007. In his career, he was 26-of-28 on field goals and 127-of-134 on PATs. He set the NCAA season record for PATs (83) in 2005.

'Spring practice will be an important time not only to develop replacements for the players we lost, but to engage in wide-open competition throughout the team,' said Carroll, who has won a league record 85.7% of his Pac-10 contests (42-7). 'We'll also be looking to sustain the work ethic that has been the basis of our program. We've been able to accomplish those things in past springs and I'm confident we'll be able to do it again this year.'

USC's coaching staff lost just one fulltime assistant, as offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Lane Kiffin became the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian now takes on the offensive coordinator duty, tight ends coach Brennan Carroll adds the recruiting coordinator role and John Morton comes aboard as the wide receivers coach after being an NFL assistant with the Raiders and most recently with the New Orleans Saints. Also, special teams graduate assistant Sam Anno and video assistant Yogi Roth have swapped roles, with former Pittsburgh wide receiver Roth now helping Sarkisian with the quarterbacks.

USC's 2007 schedule features 7 opponents who were in bowls last season, including 4 who won at least 9 games. The Trojans open their 2007 campaign on Sept. 1 at home against Idaho, a team they last played in 1929. Troy then makes its first visit to Nebraska since 1969 before embarking on a full slate of Pac-10 play. This year, USC hosts Washington State, Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA and travels to Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona State. Midway through that Pac-10 schedule is an Oct. 20 visit to Notre Dame, a rival USC has beaten the past 5 years.

Tickets to Trojan games figure to be hard to get again this fall. Last year, for the third straight season, USC set school records for home sellouts (all 6 games in 2006), regular season sellouts (10) and season sellouts (11). In 2006, Troy broke its Pac-10 home average attendance record for the fourth consecutive year (91,480) and its Pac-10 home total attendance record for the second straight year (548,880).

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