Jan. 5, 2006
LOS ANGELES (AP) - With Southern California's 34-game winning streak snapped and the chance for an unprecedented third straight national title denied, coach Pete Carroll is already looking to the future.
Carroll is excited about trying to reach the top of the college football world again, saying he enjoys the kind of challenge it presents.
"We're going to try and go right back in the mode of it," he said Thursday - a day after the Trojans lost to Texas 41-38 in the Rose Bowl. "Now, it's getting there (again). We've done this before. I ain't worried about it - we know what it's going to be like.
"Staying there was not that hard for us. Once in that situation, we got very familiar and very comfortable with handling it. I like the burden. I haven't had any problem with the burden."
Carroll knows he'll enter the 2006 season having lost a lot of talent. He'll know exactly how much by Jan. 15 - the deadline for eligible underclassmen to apply for the NFL draft.
Among those who definitely won't be back are eight senior starters - 2004 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, offensive guard Taitusi Lutui, tight end Dominique Byrd, fullback David Kirtman, defensive linemen LaJuan Ramsey and Frostee Rucker, and defensive backs Justin Wyatt and Matt Ware.
There's a good possibility 2005 Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush, fellow tailback LenDale White and offensive tackle Winston Justice will also leave, passing up their final year of eligibility to turn pro. Wide receiver Steve Smith and safety Darnell Bing could join them.
Carroll said he's already talking with the players in question.
"We're working on it around the clock," he said. "It's really information-gathering time for their benefit."
He acknowledged there wasn't much information needed regarding Bush, who figures as one of the top selections in next April's draft, if not No. 1, if he goes in that direction.
"I have to talk to him, make sure he's right for that," Carroll said.
The performance of Vince Young in the Rose Bowl could alter previous drafting plans should the Texas quarterback decide to pass up his final year of eligibility and go pro.
"Vince Young's stock couldn't go higher," Carroll said. "He has to rethink his decision."
Young passed for 267 yards and rushed for another 200 against USC. He capped his night by scoring the winning touchdown on an 8-yard run with 19 seconds remaining and then running for a two-point conversion.
"I was worried about this the whole time, I really was," Carroll said. "He's so much faster than anybody who plays his position. He's a much better passer than he was a year ago. I didn't know if we'd be able to tackle him. He doesn't go down.
"There's never been a quarterback like that. Nobody's ever been that big, that fast, that strong. And he's got a great arm, too. He's an extraordinary prospect."
USC went 48-4 under Carroll the past four seasons - one of the most impressive runs in college football history. The Trojans' run of 34 straight victories also ranks near the top.
Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak from 1953-57 is the longest among Division I-A programs in the modern era. Toledo, a midlevel school, won 35 straight from 1969-71 but wasn't in the national championship mix. Miami also won 34 in a row, from 2000-03.
USC entered the Rose Bowl with only 10 seniors listed on its two-deep depth chart. So, even with the likely early departures, the Trojans will have plenty of talent and experience returning next season.
Third-year sophomore John David Booty and freshman Mark Sanchez will compete for the starting quarterback job. Booty was considered one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country in 2002, and Sanchez was in the same boat two years later.
Among the possibilities at tailback, should Bush and White leave, are Hershel Dennis, Michael Coleman, Desmond Reed and Chauncey Washington. And that doesn't include any incoming freshmen. Dennis started in 2003 - ahead of then-freshmen Bush and White.
The returning wide receiver corps, led by first-team All-American Dwayne Jarrett, is outstanding, as is the offensive line, including tight end.
The defense, young and often hurt this season, should be significantly better if for no other reason than experience. The linebackers, for example, were mostly freshmen and sophomores, and Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis, two members of the starting front four, were sophomores.
"It's been wonderful doing what we've been doing," Carroll said following the Rose Bowl. "It's too bad it had to end."
At least until next season.