USC Football Team To Begin 2008 Spring Practice

March 24, 2008

As the 2008 USC football team begins spring football drills this Tuesday (March 25) for 15 sessions, we've seen this plot line before in the Pete Carroll era.

The Trojans, coming off a highly-successful season, have to replace a bunch of key players: the quarterback, the top running back and receiver, a stud offensive lineman or two, a couple tenacious d-linemen, a ferocious linebacker and a talented defensive back.

And, so far, the ending to the story has been just as predictable: an AP Top 4 finish, a BCS bowl trip, a Pac-10 title and an 11-win season.

In fact, the Trojans are riding a streak of 6 consecutive AP Top 4 finishes (including national championships in 2003 and 2004) and BCS bowls (an NCAA record) and Pac-10 crowns (a league record) and 11-win seasons (also an NCAA record).

Carroll is hoping it's more of the same--and maybe then some--in the 2008 season, his eighth at Troy.

'As always, we'll enter this season with high expectations of having a great team,' said Carroll, college football's winningest active coach (76-14 for an 84.4% mark). 'We certainly have the potential to do so as long as we continue to exhibit the competitiveness, intensity and hard work that have been the hallmarks of our program.'

Under Carroll, USC has been ranked in the AP Top 25 for the past 78 games (a school record). He has 28 victories over AP Top 25 teams and has never lost a game in November (23-0). His few losses, in fact, have been by an average of just 4.2 points (only 1 was by more than a touchdown).

During his tenure, USC put together since-broken winning streaks for home games (35), overall games (34), Pac-10 games (27) and Pac-10 home games (24), all league records. Other since-snapped victory strings have been for road games (18), October games (18), non-conference games (16), AP Top 25 teams (16) and Pac-10 road games (13). Carroll's Trojans also were AP's No. 1 team for a national-record 33 straight polls, were ranked in the AP Top 10 for 63 consecutive weeks and set an NCAA record by scoring at least 20 points in 63 consecutive games.

Under Carroll, USC is the first school to have 3 Heisman Trophy winners in a 4-year span. He has produced 30 All-American first teamers and 32 NFL draft picks (including 7 first rounders).

So, yes, more of the same would be nice.

This year, USC returns 13 starters (4 on offense and 7 on defense, plus the kicker and punter) from a squad that went 11-2 in 2007 (7-2 in the Pac-10), including a convincing win in the Rose Bowl, and finished No. 4 in the final polls. The losses were by a total of just 8 points.

In all, 80 squadmen are back from last year, including 54 who saw playing time (46 were lettermen and 32 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 2008 will be 20 new scholarship players, including 2 already enrolled at USC and set to participate in spring practice. For the sixth year in a row, USC's recruiting class was ranked in the Top 10 nationally by the media.

The Trojans are deepest on the defensive side of the ball in 2008, with 7 starters back from a unit that was second nationally last year in both total defense (273.2) and scoring defense (16.0), as well as fourth in rushing defense (84.2) and sixth in pass efficiency defense (102.1).

Spearheading the defense from their linebacker spots will be 2-time All-Pac-10 first teamer and 2007 Trojan tackle leader Rey Maualuga in the middle and fellow Rose Bowl Defensive MVP Brian Cushing on the strong side. A pair of third-year starters--2007 All-American first team free safety Taylor Mays and 2007 All-Pac-10 first team strong safety Kevin Ellison--will anchor the secondary, along with returning starter Cary Harris at cornerback. Tackle Fili Moala, another third-year starter, and end Kyle Moore return on the defensive line.

Others with starting experience on defense are safety-cornerback Josh Pinkard, a 2005 starter who missed the last 2 seasons with knee injuries, linebackers Kaluka Maiava and Clay Matthews, cornerbacks Kevin Thomas (he has missed most of the last 2 years with injuries) and Shareece Wright, defensive end Everson Griffen, a Freshman All-American first teamer last year when he became the first USC true frosh defensive lineman to start an opener since 1986, and transfer safety Shane Horton (a 6-game starter at UNLV).

USC's offense has just 4 returning starters in 2008: wide receivers Patrick Turner (he is on Troy's career Top 25 receptions chart) and Vidal Hazelton, who combined for 98 catches and 7 touchdowns last year, fullback Stanley Havili and guard-center Jeff Byers.

But there are plenty of other offensive players with starts under their belts: quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain (while at Arkansas), tailbacks C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford, wide receivers David Ausberry, Ronald Johnson and Damian Williams (also at Arkansas), center Kristofer O'Dowd, guard Zack Heberer and tackles Butch Lewis and Charles Brown. Then there are such experienced non-starters as tailbacks Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight and tight end Anthony McCoy.

The placekicker--David Buehler, who hit 16 field goals and 52 PATs last fall--and the punter--Greg Woidneck, now in his third year on the job--also are back in 2008.

USC's losses, however, are significant on both sides of the ball. Gone from the defense are 2-time All-American nose tackle Sedrick Ellis, who was the 2007 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and was a 2-time Morris Trophy recipient (he notched 28.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks in his career), end Lawrence Jackson, a 4-year starter who had 52 tackles for a loss and 30.5 sacks in his career, 2007 All-American linebacker Keith Rivers (240 career tackles) and cornerback Terrell Thomas, who had 8 career interceptions. Also gone is versatile linebacker Thomas Williams, who had 14 career starts while playing every linebacker position.

Missing on offense are 2-year starting quarterback John David Booty, who was 20-3 as a starter (9-0 against ranked teams) and is in USC's career Top 6 in pass completions (518), yardage (6,125) and TDs (55) as well as in total offense (5,945 yards), All-American tight end Fred Davis, the 2007 Mackey Award winner who set USC's career and season tight end records for receptions, yardage and touchdowns (he had 117 career catches, including a team-best 62 catches with 8 TDs last fall) and 3-time All-American first team left tackle Sam Baker. Also gone are tailback Chauncey Washington, who had 1,778 career rushing yards and was Troy's leading ground gainer the past 2 seasons (969 yards last year), 2007 All-Pac-10 first team right guard Chilo Rachal, center Matt Spanos and right tackle Drew Radovich, a 2-year-starter.

Four-year snapper Will Collins and 2-year holder Michael McDonald also must be replaced, along with part-time punt returner Desmond Reed (1,212 career all-purpose yards).

USC's continuity should be helped because the coaching staff remained intact from 2007. The staff's only loss was secondary graduate assistant Demetrice Martin.

'Our schedule, particularly the early part of it, requires that we compete at a high level right away,' said Carroll, who has won a league record 84.5% of his Pac-10 contests (49-9). 'We'll need to find that competitive edge beginning with the work we do in spring football.'

USC's 2008 schedule features 7 teams that were in bowls last season. The Trojans face a challenging start, as their first 5 foes all were bowl teams and won at least 9 games in 2007. USC opens its campaign on Aug. 30 at Virginia in the first-ever meeting between the schools. Troy then hosts Ohio State--which has played in the last 2 BCS Championship Games--on Sept. 13 (it will be the first battle between the teams since 1990 and the Buckeyes' first visit to the Coliseum in 19 years). USC then begins its quest for a seventh consecutive Pac-10 crown when it plays a Thursday night (Sept. 25) game at Oregon State. Troy's other Pac-10 road games are at Washington State, Arizona, Stanford and the Dec. 6 season-ender versus UCLA, while the Trojans host Oregon, Arizona State, Washington and California. USC will try to extend its 6-game winning streak over Notre Dame when the Irish visit the Coliseum on Nov. 29.

The Trojans figure to remain a popular attraction. During Carroll's tenure, USC has set school attendance and sellout records, including Pac-10 marks for home total and average attendance. In 2007, USC's overall total (1,056,685) and average (81,283) attendance figures were school records.

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