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The Big Questions

September 01, 2006|Gary Klein

Five questions facing USC going into the season:

1) Can John David Booty manage the offense?

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian probably won't overload their new quarterback with too much, too early. If the offensive line establishes a running game, Booty can use play-action to alleviate pressure and take advantage of one of the nation's best receiving corps. Booty's challenge will be staying healthy -- he had back surgery in the spring -- making the correct reads at the line of scrimmage and staying poised when a primary receiver is covered. If Booty is injured or falters, redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez is ready to step in.

2) Which tailbacks will replace Reggie Bush and LenDale White?

Junior Chauncey Washington could be the lead back if he overcomes hamstring problems, but freshmen C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford will probably have first crack at succeeding Bush and White in the opener against Arkansas.

Freshmen Emmanuel Moody and Stafon Johnson also possess star-quality talent. Junior Desmond Reed appears to be regaining pre-knee injury form. It might be tailback by committee for awhile.

3) Can the defense carry the load?

USC's offense has plenty of firepower, but the defense is more experienced and is expected to be the strength. The linebacker corps is arguably the best -- and unquestionably the deepest -- in the nation. Sophomore Brian Cushing will line up on the line of scrimmage when the Trojans go to a hybrid 3-4 scheme. The secondary also should be improved. Success in big games could hinge on the play of a defensive line that must supply a better push than last season.

4) Will special teams live up to their name?

The surplus of fast and aggressive linebackers could vastly improve kickoff- and punt-coverage teams that underperformed last season. Kicker Mario Danelo was virtually automatic last season on field goals from 40 yards or closer and Troy Van Blarcom and JC transfer David Buehler both have strong legs for kickoffs.

JC transfer Greg Woidneck will undoubtedly punt more often than predecessor, Tom Malone. Cary Harris and others are home-run threats on kick-off returns and Reed is a dependable punt catcher.

5) Is the schedule conducive for a run at a national title?

Pete Carroll's teams are accustomed to playing openers far from home, so the trip to Arkansas is business as usual. An open date before the home opener against Nebraska allows for adjustments, setting up a crucial Pac-10 opener at Arizona. Three of the next five games also are on the road, but USC gets Pac-10 contenders Oregon and California at home before welcoming Notre Dame for what could be college football's game of the year.

If all goes right for the Trojans, a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game could hinge on the finale against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

-- Gary Klein

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