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At A Glance

August 24, 2003|Gary Klein

Coach: Pete Carroll, third season, 17-8.

Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in Pacific 10 Conference, tied for conference championship.

Key losses: Carson Palmer became the first USC quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy and was the first player chosen in the NFL draft. Running backs Justin Fargas, Malaefou MacKenzie and Sultan McCullough provided three distinct rushing styles. Kareem Kelly became the school's all-time receiving leader, and Zach Wilson overcame a foot injury to start at right guard. Two-time All-American safety Troy Polamalu, free safety DeShaun Hill, cornerback Darrell Rideaux, middle linebacker Mike Pollard and lineman Bernard Riley must be replaced on defense.

Returning starters: The offensive line, once a weakness, is a strength with tackles Jacob Rogers and Winston Justice, center Norm Katnik and guard Lenny Vandermade. Mike Williams and Keary Colbert are one of the nation's top receiving duos. Defensive linemen Kenechi Udeze, Mike Patterson and Omar Nazel welcome back Shaun Cody, who started six games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. All-conference strong-side linebacker Matt Grootegoed and weak-side linebacker Melvin Simmons are back along with cornerback Marcell Allmond.

Top newcomers: Freshman running backs Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Chauncey Washington are expected to push sophomore Hershel Dennis for playing time. Bush will also return kicks. Freshman Steve Smith easily won the No. 3 receiver job. Freshman John David Booty and junior transfer Brandon Hance will open as backup quarterbacks. Junior college transfer John Drake adds depth to the offensive line and center Ryan Kalil, guard Sam Baker and Drew Radovich -- all freshmen -- could play if injuries plague the Trojans. Lofa Tatupu, a transfer from Maine, will start at middle linebacker, and freshman Darnell Bing will start at strong safety. Junior college transfer Will Poole provides depth at cornerback.

Offense: Coordinator Norm Chow will try to retool an offense that produced 465 points and 60 touchdowns, the most by the Trojans in both categories since 1972. Sophomore Matt Leinart, who has never thrown a pass in a college game, will start at quarterback against Auburn and direct the Trojans' ball-control passing game. Colbert, Williams and Smith could become the most dynamic receiving corps in the nation, but Dennis and the other running backs must establish themselves as a legitimate threat to open up the passing game. Alex Holmes' status for the season is questionable, so sophomore Dominique Byrd will start at tight end. Redshirt freshman Fred Matua will start at right guard, joining an experienced offensive line.

Defense: Carroll, the defensive coordinator, has six starters back from a group that ranked sixth in the nation in rushing and total defense. The Trojans will again play a 4-3, but Grootegoed is likely to fill part of the role Polamalu played last season and attack from different spots. Udeze, Patterson, Cody and Nazel form one of the top lines in the nation. Tatupu replaces the reliable Pollard at middle linebacker and provides more mobility. Bing is the lone starter in the secondary without starting experience.

Intangibles: The Trojans have come to expect that they will dominate the second half of games. Confidence is extremely high after completing one of their best seasons in decades and adding one of the nation's top recruiting classes.

Key to the season: The quarterback must play efficiently, move the offense and avoid turnovers that could give opponents a break against what is expected to be a dominant defense.

-- Gary Klein

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