It is finally here!
College football is finally here...the Trojans take the field in less than 24 hours. Expectations could not be any higher for the 2007 USC Trojans and it should be a very entertaining season. Speaking of entertainment, the tailgate this year will feature a new 40" LCD flat screen...stop by and check it out. We will be set up all day for the Idaho game watching all the other games...ND/Gtech, UCLA/Stanford, Cal/Tenn and more. Hope we can see all our friends out at the Coliseum.
My Views on the 2007 Trojans
I will start with the defense which I think will be outstanding. Talented and deep. It all starts up front with what may be the best D-Line in the Pete Carroll era....yes even better than the Cody, Patterson & Udeze DL. Sedrick Ellis is a beast...probably the best DL in the Pac 10. He is a force that will require double teams. Pete has said that Sedrick may be better than Mike Patterson...very high praise. Fili Moala really stepped up his play last year...with Sedrick requiring a consistent double team, it really frees up Fili to make plays. Look for Moala to have a big year...by the way, his family often sets up their tailgate very close to us...make sure to give them some congrats after the game. Lawrence Jackson returns as a 3 year starter at defensive end. Lojack had an outstanding 2005, but got off to a slow start in 2006. He played great the back half of the year and I think he will pick up where he left off. The other defensive end position has been one of the most competitive battles in fall camp. Kyle Moore returns, but has been pushed by Everson Griffen...one of the most talented true freshman to step on the field at USC. Griffen (#93) will certainly be used in passing situations and is very difficult to handle on the edge. Moore and Griffen will split time. One thing to watch for is a DL unit of Moore and Griffen as the ends and LoJack and Ellis at tackle...look for this in obvious passing situations. Key reserves are senior Alex Morrow, redshirt soph Averell Spicer (#99) and redshirt frosh Derrick Simmons (#90). True frosh #44 is a high motor kid who may get some time.
On to the linebackers. Much has been said about the linebackers...I believe the DL unit is more consistent. Brian Cushing has looked very impressive in camp...I think the move back to LB this year will allow Cushing to be the playmaker. Keith Rivers is an experienced, solid player for the Trojans. His speed makes it very difficult for teams to run outside. Rey Malaluga is an unbelievable athlete (and a scary looking guy in person!), but he tends to play very aggressively and outside the system. If Rey sticks to his reads...this defense will be ridiculously good. If we see a lot of screens and cut back runs for big yardage, these are key signs the MLB is overpursuing. The second unit of LBs is outstanding. Maiva (#43) backs up Rivers and is an experienced hard nosed player with significant playing time under his belt. Clay Mathews (#47) is consitently one of the best players in practice....particularly rushing the passer. Clay will see the field this year and when he does, dont be surprised to see him blitz. At MLB, the backups are Thomas Williams, Luther Brown and true frosh Chris Gallipo. Williams is a very experienced player, having started numerous games for USC the last 4 years.
The secondary is flat out spectacular. Before the 2006 season, Pete Carroll called Josh Pinkard the best player on the team...offense or defense. In 2007, Pinkard has apparently lost his starting free safety spot to super soph Taylor Mays. Because Pinkard is such a fabulous athlete, he will now start at corner, opposite Terrell Thomas. Kevin Ellison returns as the strong safety. The Trojans are blessed to have 3 reserve corners capable of starting. Kevin Thomas (#15) and Cary Harris (#7) both started multiple games last year. In addition, Sharece Wright (#24) has proven to be a solid contributor. This is clearly the most talented and deepest secondary of the Pete Carroll era.
On to the offense. It all starts up front with the OL and the Trojans have already faced some adversity there this year. First, Drew Radovich (started 13 games last year) hurt his back and missed most of fall camp. As a result, RS Soph Charles Brown took his spot at RT and did not give it up when Drew returned to practice. Next, starting center Matt Spanos suffered a freak injury, tearing his tricep. The Trojans will turn to TRUE FRESHMAN Kris O'Dowd to start at center. Kris is the first true freshman to start at center at USC since WW II. O'Dowd is a fiesty, nasty player..it has to make all Trojan fans nervous to a true freshman at such an important position, but if anyone can handle the challenge, it is Kris. The left side of the line is very solid. I am thrilled to have Jeff Byers back and healthy. Jeff is a relentless run blocker, which is something the Trojans lacked last year. Keep an eye on #53 as he gets way down field on his blocks...opposing corners better keep their heads on swivels. Sam Baker, a 2 time All-American, returns to man the LT spot. Sam is simply among the best tackles in the nation...he is recovering from broken ribs, but is expected to play. Chilo Rachal returns as the starter at right guard. Chilo has huge updisde and is expected to perform better this year. If the OL can paly solid, particularly with the run blocking...the Trojans will be well positined on offense. Key reserves are Drew Radovich, Tiny Malu, Zach Herberer and Thomas Herring.
The WR crew is very talented, but unproven. Count me in as a believer...I think these kids will come through. Patrick Turner is the veteran of the group and a solid player. Turner has made some big plays in a limted roll...I expect him to be solid. Opposite Turner will be David Ausberry. Ausberry redshirted last year and was named scout team player of the year...he has parlayed that into a starting spot. Oz is a 6'5" 230lb receiver in the Mike Williams mold...he has been very tough to handle in practice...look for him (along with Fred Davis) in the red zone. Also seeing significant time at reciever will be sophomore Vidal Hazelton (#7), sophomore Travon Patterson (#17) and true frosh Ronald Johnson (#8). Rojo has been a real playmaker in practice and may see some time returning punts as well. Hazelton is a smooth, fearless receiver. He will be on the field often...one of the best blockers on the team. Garrett Green (former QB) has been moved to receiver as well...I have been very impressed with Green in practice and think he will see the field some this year. Look for freshman Joe McKnight to catch some balls out of the backfield and from the slot as well.
The tight ends will be led by Fred Davis. Fred is positioned to have a fabulous year, particularly given that Sark looks to the tight ends to catch the ball more than Kiffen did. Also in the rotation will be Dale Thompson (primarily a blocker) and Anthony McCoy. McCoy has shown flashes of spectacular play, but has struggled with the playbook and his blocking.
USC will likely continue to utilize the running back by committee strategy in 2007. Starter Chauncey Washington has a sprained (read separated) shoulder and will miss at least the Idaho game. CJ Gable will get the nod as the starter in the opener for the second consecutive year. CJ had a solid freshman campaign, but averaged under 4yds per carry. CJ catches the ball very well out of the backfield and is an excellent blocker. Look for soph Stafon Johnson (#13) to make a serious statement early in the season. Johnson is an extremely talented runner who was in the coaches' doghouse last year...he is now firmly in the rotation and competing for the starting job. Alan Bradford continues to make progress and will get significant carries. Joe McKnight will be used as a RB/Wr hybrid and it looks like he is healthy enough to contribute. McKnight really turned some heads in practice and has the potential to be a legitimate game breaker. It appears that Mark Tyler and Broderick Green will be both redshirt due to injuries. Desmond Reed and Herchel Dennis are the veterans of the group and are both recovering from knee injuries...it is unclear the role (if any) these two veterans will play in the running back rotation.
Last but not least we have the quarterbacks. JD Booty will lead the QBs this and I think he is poised for a great season. Booty played solid most of last year with some flashes of brillance (2nd half of Oregon St and 2nd half of UCLA). If the Trojan running game can improve, Booty should be even more dangerous. Backing up JDB is Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has a broken thumb and will miss the Idaho game, but should be back for Nebraska.
Net, net, this is a very talented Trojan team...but a team with a very tough path to the BCS Championship game. The Pac 10 will be much improved this year with Cal, Oregon, UCLA, ASU and Washington all being very formidable. All of those games except UCLA are on the road. Oregon St will be talented despite inexperience at the quarterback position. Out of conference games against Nebraska and ND (both on the road) will not be easy.
I expect a much stronger running game this year and if the the young WR can mature, the offense should be very good. We have good experience at OL and QB and improved play at RB and FB. Havili and Fred Davis will be key parts of this offense. The defense will be stout...Pete will continue to play his version of the cover 2 which gives up yards not points...at some point he will be more aggressive, but that will be later in the year or at key points against Nebraska. This defense should kep the Trojans in games...particularly if they can force turnovers at the 2001-2005 levels...2006 was a big dropoff in turnovers forced.
This team has the talent to go undefeated...lets hope they can pull it off. Here is to an injury free season and some good times following the Trojans. Hope to see you all at the Coliseum (or Lincoln, Eugene, South Bend, Berkeley, Tempe).