USC Football To Begin Spring Practice Looking To Continue Its Recent Success

March 17, 2006

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As the 2006 USC football team begins spring football drills this Tuesday (March 21) for 15 sessions through April 14, some are saying that the Trojans' reign is over now that Troy's 34-game winning streak has been snapped and many of the key players responsible for that success are no longer wearing the Cardinal and Gold.

Naysayers shouldn't be so quick to count out USC in 2006.

After all, the Trojans have won 45 of their last 47 games, with the losses coming by just 3 points each (the first in triple overtime at California in 2003 and the second in the final 19 seconds to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl's BCS Championship Game to fall just short of a third consecutive national championship). Heck, the last time USC lost a game, it went on to win its next 34!

Indeed, sixth-year head coach Pete Carroll has a system in place that has made the past 4 years glorious ones for the Trojans:

  • Four AP Top 4 finishes, including national championships in 2003 and 2004;
  • Four BCS bowl appearances;
  • Four Pac-10 championships;
  • Still-active win streaks for home games (27), Pac-10 games (23), Pac-10 home games (19), road games (15) and Pac-10 road games (11) to go along with the just-snapped victory strings for overall games (34), non-conference games (16) and games against AP Top 25 teams (16);
  • A national-record 33 consecutive weeks as AP's No. 1-ranked team;
  • A winning record of 92.3% (48-4), including 8-0 against traditional rivals Notre Dame and UCLA;
  • A school-record 52 straight 20-point games;
  • Nineteen All-American first teamers;
  • Three Heisman Trophy winners;
  • Four Top 5 recruiting classes. To those close to the USC program, the upcoming season is reminiscent of what it was like going into 2003, when the Trojans had to replace the bulk of their team, including Heisman-winning quarterback Carson Palmer, Thorpe Award finalist safety Troy Polamalu and talented tailbacks Justin Fargas, Sultan McCullough and Malaefou MacKenzie, among others. USC responded by capturing its first national championship in 25 years while going 12-1 with a Rose Bowl win.

    'There's no denying we lost a lot of outstanding players from the 2005 team, especially on offense, but this is not an unfamiliar situation for us,' said Carroll, whose 84.4% (54-10) winning mark is the second best of any current Division I coach with at least 5 years of experience. 'It has the feel of the 2003 season, when we lost Carson and Troy and all those running backs. We regrouped and had a real nice season. That's the challenge each year in college football, how well you can replace good players. We've shown that we're very capable of doing that. I don't see it being any different this season.'

    Eleven starters (4 on offense and 6 on defense, plus the placekicker) return from a squad that went 12-1 in 2005 (including 8-0 in the Pac-10) and finished No. 2 in the final polls. In all, 81 squadmen are back from last year, including 60 who saw playing time (56 were lettermen and 28 were on USC's season-ending 2-deep). On the roster are 21 Trojans who have started at least once in their career.

    Joining them will be 25 new scholarship players, including 3 already enrolled at USC and set to participate in spring practice.

    USC's top offensive returnees in 2006 include a pair of talented receivers--2005 unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist Dwayne Jarrett, whose 29 touchdowns among his 146 career receptions are 3 shy of the Pac-10 record, and Steve Smith, who has 119 receptions and 13 TDs in his career--and a duo of outstanding linemen in 2005 All-American tackle Sam Baker and 2005 All-Pac-10 first team center Ryan Kalil, an All-American and Rimington Award candidate.

    Others back on offense include wide receiver Chris McFoy (16 starts and 40 catches in his career) and tight end Fred Davis (3 starts in 2005), plus a trio of former starters: 2003 starters Hershel Dennis at tailback (he has 968 career rushing yards) and Brandon Hancock (24 career receptions) at fullback, and 2004 starting guard Jeff Byers.

    Troy's leading defensive returners are end Lawrence Jackson, an All-American candidate who won 2005 All-Pac-10 first team acclaim after topping the Trojans in sacks (10), linebackers Oscar Lua (USC's 2005 tackle leader) in the middle, Keith Rivers on the weak side and Thomas Williams on the strong side, cornerback-safety Josh Pinkard and nose tackle Sedrick Ellis.

    Also back on defense are linebackers Dallas Sartz, who started on the strong side for his third season in 2005 before an early shoulder injury sidelined him the rest of the year, Brian Cushing (he started the last 4 games of 2005 on the strong side) and 2005 Freshman All-American Rey Maualuga in the middle. Then there is cornerback Terrell Thomas, whose 2005 campaign was cut short by an early-season knee injury after starting USC's first 2 contests.

    Placekicker Mario Danelo returns after setting an NCAA season record for PATs (83) and hitting his last 11 field goal tries, as does Troy Van Blarcom, who handled the kickoffs last year.

    Still, a reality check is necessary when looking at USC's 2006 prospects because the Trojans have some significant personnel losses to overcome. It's not hyperbole to say that USC's 2005 departees could adequately stock an NFL roster.

    In 2005, Troy's offense ranked in the national Top 6 in every statistical category, including tops in total offense (579.8) and second in scoring offense (49.1), and set Pac-10 records for total offense yardage, points scored, touchdowns and PATs. The Trojans had a scoring margin of 26.2 points while passing for nearly 320 yards and running for another 260 each game. USC became the first school to have a 3,000-yard passer, a pair of 1,000-yard runners and a 1,000-yard receiver in a season. And USC was second nationally in turnover margin (+1.6).

    The Trojan offense took the biggest hit. Not only are 2 Heisman winners gone (tailback Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart), but so are the school's career scoring leader (tailback LenDale White), an All-American guard (Taitusi Lutui), a pair of 3-year starting linemen (guard Fred Matua and tackle Winston Justice), a productive tight end (Dominique Byrd) and a dependable fullback (David Kirtman). Bush, White, Justice and Matua all left USC after their junior years to enter the NFL draft. To wit:

  • Bush, a 2-time All-American who was the 2005 Heisman and Doak Walker recipient, led the nation last fall in all-purpose running (222.3) while getting a Pac-10 record 2,890 yards--including 513 against Fresno State--and was fourth in rushing (133.9) with 1,740 yards. In his career, he had 6,617 all-purpose yards, including 3,169 on the ground, and had 99 plays of 20-plus yards.
  • Leinart, USC's second-ever 3-time All-American and the 2004 Heisman winner, was 37-2 as a starter. He set 16 school records, including Pac-10 career marks for touchdown passes (99) and completion percentage (64.8). He threw for 10,693 yards in his career, including 3,815 yards with 28 TDs in 2005.
  • White was the nation's No. 2 scorer (12.0) in 2005 while rushing for 1,302 yards and a Pac-10 record 24 TDs. In his career, he ran for 3,159 yards, scored a USC record 342 points and set Pac-10 standards for rushing (52) and overall (57) touchdowns.
  • Lutui earned consensus All-American acclaim in 2005 playing alongside veterans Matua and Justice.
  • Byrd had 81 career catches, including 29 in 2005.
  • Kirtman, who came up big in a number of games last season, had 45 career receptions (22 in 2005).

    USC's significant defensive losses include All-American strong safety Darnell Bing, who was USC's fifth player in 2005 to depart for the NFL after his junior season (he had 182 tackles and 4 interceptions in his career, including 50 stops and 4 picks last year), secondary mates Scott Ware at free safety (51 tackles in 2005) and Justin Wyatt at cornerback (a 2-year starter with 94 tackles and 4 interceptions in his career), All-Pac-10 first team end Frostee Rucker (25.5 career tackles for a loss, including a team-best 14 among his 56 tackles in 2005) and tackle LaJuan Ramsey (40 tackles in 2005).

    The Trojans also are without the only All-American punter in their history, 4-year starter Tom Malone. His 44.0 career punting average was just 0.1 short of the USC record.

    'As we do every spring, we'll try to establish the high level of competitiveness, intensity and work ethic that have been the hallmark of our program,' said Carroll. 'Spring football is a very important time for us to develop and capture those attributes.'

    USC's coaching staff stayed reasonably intact after last season, welcoming back an old face, adjusting the responsibilities of a few others and adding a new staffer with an NFL background. Idaho head coach Nick Holt, who had spent 3 seasons under Carroll as USC's linebackers coach, returned as the defensive coordinator (a role Carroll held for his first 5 seasons) and defensive line coach. David Watson, who was a graduate assistant working with the offensive line last year, becomes a full-time coach and will work with Holt on the defensive line. Rocky Seto, who shared the linebackers job with Ken Norton in 2005, now moves to the secondary. Veteran NFL special teams coordinator Al Everest will handle the same duty while joining the Trojan staff in a graduate assistant role.

    USC will play a challenging schedule that features 6 opponents who were in bowls last season, including 5 who won at least 8 games. Troy opens its 2006 campaign at Arkansas on Labor Day weekend, then returns home after a bye to meet Nebraska for the first time since 1970. Then, because of the new Pac-10 round robin scheduling format, the Trojans will embark on a full slate of Pac-10 games for the first time ever. USC faces Washington, Arizona State, Oregon and California at home and travels to Arizona, Washington State, Oregon State and Stanford. USC then concludes its regular season with back-to-back games against annual rivals Notre Dame in the Coliseum on Thanksgiving weekend and UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Championship Saturday (Dec. 2).

    If the past couple years are any indication, tickets to Trojan games will be hard to come by in 2006. For the second year in a row, USC in 2005 set Pac-10 records for total home attendance and home attendance average (90,812) and school marks for overall attendance (going over the million mark for the first time) and overall attendance average (79,813). The Trojans also set school standards for the second straight year for home sellouts (4), regular season sellouts (9) and season sellouts (10).

    'It's pretty clear that USC football is the place to be,' said Carroll. 'We expect it to be more of the same in 2006.'

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