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Re-Pete for Trojans?

Sky may be the limit for Carroll and USC, if they can replenish offense

August 24, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The Heisman Trophy is on display at Heritage Hall and most Orange Bowl rings have been tucked away for safe keeping.

No one associated with USC's football program expects to add a sixth Heisman statuette to the Heritage Hall lobby this season, but another bowl championship series game appearance is possible.

USC has not played in the Rose Bowl game since the 1995 season, and Coach Pete Carroll reiterated that New Year's Day in Pasadena remains the Trojans' primary postseason goal.

Unless, of course, USC earns a shot at playing for the national title in the Sugar Bowl.

The Trojans, ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches' polls, could at least put themselves on the road to New Orleans when they play at No. 6 Auburn in their opener Saturday.

"If we win that game, it sets us up for a pretty good run," senior cornerback Marcell Allmond said.

Last season, USC played the toughest schedule in the nation with an experienced team. Fifth-year seniors -- there was even a sixth-year running back, Malaefou MacKenzie -- were in key positions. One of them, Carson Palmer, became the first Trojan quarterback to win the Heisman and was chosen first in the NFL draft.

This season's 12-game schedule -- there are three bye weekends -- does not appear as arduous, though the Trojans must play it with an almost entirely new backfield.

After Auburn, USC plays Brigham Young and Hawaii at the Coliseum, where the Trojans have won nine consecutive games.

After a bye, they open Pacific 10 Conference play on the road at California, travel the next week to Arizona State and then play host to Stanford before back-to-back games at Notre Dame and Washington.

Three of USC's last four games are at home, including the final two against UCLA and Oregon State.

For now, the Trojans are focusing on Auburn.

"It's going to set the tone for the season," quarterback Matt Leinart said. "If we lose, it's not like we're going to hang our heads. But if we win that game, people are definitely going to start talking about USC."

A position-by-position look at the Trojans:


Leinart, a redshirt sophomore who has not thrown a pass in a game at USC, gets first shot at succeeding Palmer. The 6-foot-5 left-hander from Mater Dei High is throwing better and practicing with more confidence since he was anointed at the end of spring drills.

Junior Matt Cassel, Palmer's seldom-used backup last season, has the most experience in USC's system.

Junior transfer Brandon Hance started nine games for Purdue in 2001 before transferring to USC.

Freshman John David Booty was slowed because of a back injury during training camp, but he is regarded as the program's quarterback of the future and will play.

Redshirt sophomore Billy Hart is perhaps the most mobile of the quarterbacks.

Running Back

Sophomore Hershel Dennis, who gained 198 yards in 49 carries last season, is the only returning tailback and will start the opener.

Freshman Reggie Bush, a breakaway threat, will get plenty of playing time at tailback and as a kick returner. Freshmen LenDale White and Chauncey Washington also will play.

Starting fullback Brandon Hancock probably will miss the opener because of a high ankle sprain, so junior Lee Webb will start. Freshman Whitney Lewis was switched from receiver to fullback to take advantage of his size, speed and pass-catching ability out of the backfield.

Tight End

Alex Holmes was expected to start for a second consecutive season, but back problems make his status for the season questionable.

Sophomore Dominique Byrd will start and alternate with 6-foot-8 junior Gregg Guenther.

Wide Receiver

Senior flanker Keary Colbert, who caught 71 passes for 1,029 yards and five touchdowns last season, needs 66 catches to tie Kareem Kelly's school record of 204.

Sophomore Mike Williams, with 81 catches for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2002, was a freshman All-American and the Pacific 10 Conference freshman of the year.

Freshman Steve Smith, from Woodland Hills Taft High, replaces Kelly and has enough talent to duplicate Williams' honors. Sophomore Justin Wyatt, redshirt freshman Chris McFoy, sophomore Greig Carlson, senior D. Hale and junior Jason Mitchell also will play.

Offensive Line

If three returning starters can overcome injuries that plagued them through training camp, this unit will be a strength.

Senior Norm Katnik (knee) is the center, senior Lenny Vandermade (foot) and redshirt freshman Fred Matua are the guards and senior Jacob Rogers (foot) and sophomore Winston Justice are the tackles.

Senior Nate Steinbacher and redshirt freshman Kyle Williams have worked at tackle and junior college transfer John Drake can play guard or tackle.

Centers Ryan Kalil, Sam Baker and Drew Radovich -- all freshmen -- also are ready to play.

Senior Eric Torres, who started at four positions last season, is expected to return from a foot injury in late September.

Defensive Line

One of the best units in the nation last season could be even more dominant.

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