USC Trojans 2008 College Football Team Preview
USC finished the 2007 campaign with an 11-2 record capped off by a convincing 49-17 win over Illinois in the Rose Bowl. Southern Cal ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, as they allowed just 19 points per game. They also ranked second nationally in total defense, as they allowed only 273.2 yards per game. Two October losses (home against Stanford and at Oregon) ruined their bid for a perfect season and national championship.
This season, the quarterbacking duties will be handled by junior Mark Sanchez. Sanchez won the job in spring over Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain. Sanchez has started just three games coming into this season. The former National Prep Player of the Year threw seven touchdown passes and five interceptions in limited duty last season.
USC possesses a deep corps of talented running backs, including Stafon Johnson, experienced junior C.J. Gable and super sophomore Joe McKnight. Johnson ran for 673 yards on just 98 carries last season for a 6.9-yard average. He also tallied five touchdowns. Fullback Stanley Havili, a solid receiver and blocker, should also help the USC rushing attack.
Vidal Hazleton and Patrick Turner return as the starting wide receivers. This unit needs to improve from last season’s performance. They should get help from Damian Williams, another Arkansas transfer, and Ronald Johnson. All-America tight end Fred Davis has gone to the NFL, leaving junior Anthony McCoy to try to fill the huge void left by Davis’ departure.
Only one starter returns from last year’s offensive line and that is left guard Jeff Byers. The good news is many of the new starters in this group saw extensive playing time last season due to injuries to last year’s starters. Center Kristofer O’Dowd played extremely well last season filling in for the injured Matt Spanos. Charles Brown, Zack Heberer and Butch Lewis also received plenty of playing time due to starters’ injuries.
Head coach Pete Carroll’s specialty is defense. I mentioned some of USC’s 2007 defensive accomplishments earlier. This year’s group has speed and athleticism at every level and should also put up some impressive numbers.
All-America candidate Rey Maualuga returns at middle linebacker and former Rose Bowl MVP Brian Cushing returns at strong-side linebacker. Kaluka Maiava should be the new starter at weak-side linebacker for a unit that should be among the best in the country.
It gets even better. Coach Carroll believes this year’s secondary could be the best he has ever coached. It all starts with 6’4″ 225-pound free safety Taylor Mays. Strong safety Kevin Ellison, an All-PAC 10 pick last season, combines with Mays to form what might be the best safety tandem in the nation.
The biggest loss for this defense is the departure of PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year Sedrick Ellis. Ellis, a nose tackle last season, is off to the NFL. Christian Tupou and Averell Spicer have some big shoes to fill in trying to replace Ellis. The rest of the defensive line consists of Fili Moala at the other tackle spot and freshman All-American Everson Griffin and Kyle Moore at the ends.
Both kickers, placekicker David Buehler and punter Greg Woidneck, return after solid 2007 campaigns. Southern Cal should get excellent kick returns from the trio of McKnight, Gable and Ronald Johnson.
In 2008, the Trojans will be trying to win 11 games and make it to a BCS bowl game for the seventh straight season. QB Sanchez will have a lot to do with whether or not USC achieves that goal. USC does have an easier schedule than they had last season. Most of the tough games are at home, including Ohio State, Oregon and Arizona State. I expect USC to once again challenge for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.