July 26, 2007

Southern Cal faces enviable glut of talent

LOS ANGELES – Jim Harbaugh has a way of making life difficult for Pete Carroll even though he has yet to coach a game against him.

Harbaugh, who earlier this year claimed this season would be the last for Carroll at USC, proclaimed Carroll's team would be great.

Not just one of the best in the Pac-10 or the country. Not one of Carroll's best at USC. And not just one of USC's best in its history.

Harbaugh said it would be one of the best – ever.

"Thanks, Jim," Carroll said when the message was relayed.

Harbaugh's statement could be a reach, but maybe not. USC is ranked No. 1 in the preseason in several polls.

Quarterback John David Booty is a frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy, an award won by predecessors - Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

The defense returns 10 starters, all likely headed for the NFL. The linebacker trio of Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing is second-to-none.

The running back position remains unsettled, but it's the biggest non-problem problem in the country. The Trojans have 10 scholarship tailbacks, including seven former Rivals100 prospects.

It's just another season for USC under Carroll, who has won at least a share of the last five Pac-10 titles and two national championships. Like former stars Leinart and Reggie Bush, players such as Booty are ready to put their stamp on the program.

"These guys want to prove that they're worthy," Carroll said.

In order to do so, USC must navigate through a schedule that includes non-conference road trips to Nebraska and Notre Dame, along with a nine-game conference schedule against an improved Pac-10.

After going 11-2 in 2006, the tone was set early in 2007.

Defensive end Lawrence Jackson, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, offensive tackle Sam Baker and Rivers all elected in January to return for their senior seasons.

"All of those guys deciding to stay sends the message that they're here for real," Carroll said. "That expression added to the energy going into this offseason."

USC's projected starters with their Rivals.com star rankings as recruits:
QB John David BootyNot rated*
RB C.J. Gable
FB Stanley Havili
WR Patrick Turner
WR Vidal Hazelton
TE Fred Davis
LT Sam Baker
LG Jeff Byers
C Matt Spanos
RG Chilo Rachal
RT Drew Radovich
DE Lawrence Jackson
DT Sedrick Ellis
DT Fili Moala
DE Kyle Moore
LB Brian Cushing
LB Rey Maualuga
LB Keith Rivers
CB Cary Harris
CB Terrell Thomas
S Taylor Mays
S Kevin Ellison
*—Booty graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in college before ratings for his class were determined.
On the subject of USC, the rest of the Pac-10 has an opinion - perhaps because the other nine teams are constantly asked about the national power they are chasing.

The USC offense itself is chasing something – the Trojans are looking for their next star playmaker.

There is no shortage of candidates.

Booty's pick is Patrick Turner. Like Booty, Turner was on the sideline for USC's earlier success. He had 12 catches in 2005 when USC lost the national championship game to Texas and 29 as a secondary receiver to Jarrett and Steve Smith last season.

With those two gone, Booty expects Turner to put his stamp on the program.

"Patrick Turner is a guy who was in a similar situation as me when I came in," Booty said. "He was a guy who was behind Mike Williams (in 2005) and Dwayne Jarrett, who didn't get the opportunity that he thought he would get early. Now he's getting that chance. He's going to be a big-time player for us just like those other guys were."

Running back won't be quite so clear-cut. C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington had the bulk of the carries last year, but they will compete with young and old. Hershel Dennis was a true freshman running back on Carroll's second team at USC in 2002, but has been sidelined with knee injuries the last two seasons.

Incoming freshmen Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler and Broderick Green will battle for playing time in fall camp.

At the very least, it will give USC more flexibility at running back. Carroll wasn't able to use running backs in the passing game as much as he would have liked last season. On the ground, the Trojans' 128 yards per game was their lowest total since 2001.

There's a glut of talent on the roster, but Carroll isn't interested in keeping everyone satisfied.

"The last thing we're trying to do is keep everyone happy. That's not even an issue," Carroll said. "We're going to take a look at these three freshmen and see where they fit in right off the bat. We'll find out how it starts to take shape. There's no rush, no deadline, no format that we're tying to nail down. We're trying to look for guys with special dimensions and attributes."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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