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Not Taking an Easy Route

USC: Schedule, considered among toughest in country, includes games against Auburn, Colorado, Kansas State and Notre Dame.

September 01, 2002|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A quirk in the calendar this year and next allowed college football teams to schedule 12 games, instead of the usual 11.

Like most schools, USC took advantage of the opportunity for revenue and exposure. The Trojans, however, did themselves no favor--they didn't line up a patsy.

USC, ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll, plays what many regard as one of the toughest schedules in the nation. It begins Monday against Auburn of the powerful Southeastern Conference and ends Nov. 30 against Notre Dame.

Along the way, the Trojans travel to No. 7 Colorado and Kansas State before beginning Pacific 10 Conference play on Sept. 28 against Oregon State.

The following week, USC plays 12th-ranked Washington State at Pullman, Wash. Two weeks later, the Trojans play host to No. 11 Washington before traveling to No. 15 Oregon.

Throw in games against California, Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA, and the Trojans are playing a schedule that could break them--or make them into contenders for the national title.

"It's a challenging schedule, but we want to be challenged," senior quarterback Carson Palmer said. "That's the only way you get better."

Coach Pete Carroll went 6-6 last year in his first season with the Trojans. USC started 1-4 before winning five of its last six regular-season games.

Carroll hopes to avoid a similar start. But Auburn, Colorado and Kansas State won't make that easy.

"They're games that will get us prepared, one way or another, for the Pac-10 race," Carroll said. "When we get to Oregon State, we'll have been truly tested. I hope we're stronger for it."

A position-by-position look at USC:

QUARTERBACK

Palmer bypassed the opportunity to turn pro and returned for a chance to lead the Trojans to the Rose Bowl game.

Last season, he passed for 2,717 yards and 13 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. If he stays injury-free, he can establish school records for completions and yards passing.

Redshirt freshman Matt Leinart begins the season as the backup because redshirt sophomore Matt Cassel chipped a bone in his right kneecap during training camp. But the battle for the No. 2 spot is likely to continue.

RUNNING BACK

Senior Justin Fargas began his injury-plagued career at Michigan and wants to end it with a flourish at USC, but he will miss the opener because of a strained right hamstring..

Senior Sultan McCullough gained 1,163 yards two years ago and finished as the team's leading rusher last season, even though he missed six games because of an abdominal injury.

Senior Malaefou MacKenzie, who sat out two seasons because of serious injuries, is back for a sixth. He is an outstanding receiver.

Freshman Hershel Dennis and sophomore Darryl Poston also will play.

Seniors Chad Pierson and Sunny Byrd are experienced fullbacks and will share time with freshman Brandon Hancock. Pierson will not play against Auburn because of a strained left hamstring.

WIDE RECEIVER

Senior Kareem Kelly will start for the fourth season and is within range of school records for receptions and yards receiving. Junior Keary Colbert caught 67 passes over the last two seasons.

Grant Mattos and Jason Mitchell will contribute, but the player to watch is 6-foot-5 freshman Mike Williams, who will back up Kelly.

TIGHT END

At 6-8, tight end Gregg Guenther is a big target who improved his pass-catching ability and blocking during training camp.

Alex Holmes caught 22 passes and scored two touchdowns last season.

Freshman Dominique Byrd provides depth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

An experienced unit gets a dose of fire with the addition of freshman Fred Matua, who was scheduled to start the opener at right guard in place of injured senior Zach Wilson. But Matua is questionable because of a bruised knee.

Junior Lenny Vandermade moved from center to left guard and junior Norm Katnik, who played all three line positions last season, will start at center. Juniors Jacob Rogers and Eric Torres are the tackles.

Senior Derek Graf, sophomore Travis Watkins and senior Phillip Eaves provide depth, along with freshman tackles Winston Justice, Kyle Williams and guards Chris Doyle and Kurt Katnik.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Sophomore tackle Shaun Cody and sophomore end Kenechi Udeze lead a young but experienced unit.

Sophomore Mike Patterson will start at nose tackle, but senior Bernard Riley will get significant playing time. Junior Omar Nazel will start at the other end.

Junior college transfers Daniel Urquhart and Van Brown provide depth.

LINEBACKER

Melvin Simmons, a transfer from Washington State, joins the mix at weak-side linebacker and will start alongside senior Mike Pollard in the middle and opposite sophomore Matt Grootegoed.

Pollard underwent off-season knee surgery and Grootegoed is coming back from a broken leg.

Senior Aaron Graham will back up Simmons, sophomore Lee Webb and freshman Oscar Lua will spell Pollard, and 6-5 freshman Dallas Sartz backs up Grootegoed.

SECONDARY

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