YES. Contrary to what many
USC naysayers believe, the Trojans are poised for another national
championship. That doesnít mean it is guaranteed Ė or even that it
will happen Ė but, from where we sit in late August, the Trojans are the
team to beat.
1. That Offense
OK, so we know all about Matt Leinart:
heís arguably one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever. He is
back with a healthy elbow and a mastery of the USC offense. Letís
throw in Reggie Bush who, on any other team in the nation, is the
star. Donít forget about LenDale White, who could be an All-American
if not for Bush. Want receivers? How about Steve Smith and
Dwayne Jarrett for starters? (And freshman Patrick Turner is no slouch,
himself.) The O-line looks pretty good as well. This is an offense
that simply cannot be stopped. I watched them practice a few weeks
back, and they blew the starting USC defense away. Yes, the defense
will take a small step backwards, but we are still talking ĎSC here.
The Trojans averaged over 38 points per game last year. Oh, and they
put 55 on Oklahoma in the national championship game.
2. That Schedule
USC fans may not agree, but the schedule is not brutal. Itís tougher than last season but not nearly as tough
as the slates other title contenders face ó like
Tennessee, LSU and even
Ohio State. They play a mediocre Hawaii team, an average Arkansas
team without Matt Jones, a getting-better Oregon team on the road, all
before heading to Tempe for
Arizona State. Yes, they also face
Notre Dame and
Cal on the road, but is it really that difficult? Would you rather
play Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame and Arizona State or the likes of Florida,
Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Auburn in the SEC or
Iowa, Michigan, or Ohio State in the
Big Ten? Simply put, there are obstacles, but there is no game
that the Trojans should lose.
3. That Aura
Nobody has beaten USC since 2003.
They are 25-1 over the last two seasons. They win games before they
even step on the field. Donít tell me that opposing teams are not
intimidated. Oklahoma was a pretty sound team until they met the
Trojans. That advantage helps pull the Trojans out of close games,
when other teams would collapse.
4. That Coach
Pete Carroll is a stud. He
can recruit, he can motivate and he can coach. I know about the loss
of Norm Chow and four other assistants, but do you really think that equates
to losses on the field? Leinart could coach the offense himself this
year. More is being made out of Chowís departure than reality
dictates. Carroll has had a hand in the offense for a few years and
his imprint will be even bigger this season. He has been to the big
games and he has won them.
Iím sure the mouthpieces
were still dabbled with saliva, and the ringing of the final whistle was
still resonating from last seasonís Orange
Bowl when people starting talking about USC having a good chance to play for
the national title on Jan. 4, 2006, as well. Guess what? Iím not here to
say they werenít correct. A third national title for Pete Carrollís
impressive regime is certainly possible. Just donít count on a breezy path,
1. The Interior of the D
See, itís not just the four All-Americans the Trojans lost on that side of the ball.
Itís that they lost two dominating defensive tackles and their big-play
middle backer in the top 45 picks of the NFL Draft, along with a hard-nosed, lead-by-example outside backer. Those guys had
intangibles that are hard to replace, no matter how talented the newbies
are. A Soph-heavy D will need leaders to emerge and hope the offense can
score in droves.
2. The Pac-10 is Better Than You Think
Yeah, I hear yaí. The Trojans donít play anybody within the Top 17 of the
pre-season poll. Sure. But hereís something to consider:
remember how in the last two years, the Trojans have run roughshod over
national contenders Auburn, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma by at least
double-digit scores (or was the OU win by triple digits?)? Yet, in Pac-10
play, they lost to Cal in í03 and had four white-knuckle escapes by a
touchdown or less in Ď04. So itís their West Coast mates, not the ďweíre a better
conference than youĒ teams that have given SC its toughest games the last
two years. Trojan fans, sneak an extra flask of tonic into games at Oregon,
at Arizona State, at Cal and vs. UCLA. I see more of the same this year. And
your frayed nerves will need it.
3. History is Not on Their Side
Just ask Bud Wilkinson, Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant, Bob Devaney and Tom
Osborne. Each of those coaching legends had the horses to pull off three
straight national titles. All failed. The main culprit? Complacency. Each of
them suffered inexplicable losses to teams they should not have succumbed
to. But hey, itís a long season. Even the best teams canít stay completely
hyped-up for 11 straight games, or 12 for USC this
year with its visit to Hawai'i. And though Pete Carroll is one of the
best motivators around, youíll see, as the wins mount, that bullís-eye gets
awfully hard to wear.
4. Coaching Chemistry
Iím not jumping on the Norm Chow-less doomsayers bandwagon. Sure heís a
great offensive mind and deserves his accolades. The
truth is, not even Ashlee Simpson could screw up this offense. Too much
talent. My thought here is more about the
four assistants lost to the pros and the four new ones brought on. How will
they work together? Will Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian agree on that
perfect offensive call on a key fourth-down
play? Or make that seamless adjustment at halftime? Will this coaching staff
still have that in-sync magic itís enjoyed the last two years? THAT could be
a key factor in a close game.