By Chris Le
This was supposed to be another year of USC dominance. The hype-machine was rolling in full force. And everyone believed it.
They had 10 returning starters on one of the top defenses in 2006; they had a preseason Heisman hopeful in fifth-year senior quarterback John David Booty, and possessed, at their disposal, as many Parade All-American running backs as most programs recruit in two decades.
That’s why pollsters, most of whom expected the Trojans to run the table and add another National Championship to their already full mantle, unanimously selected USC as the top team in the country before the season began. This embarrassment of riches, however, is also why their performance so far has been so shockingly atrocious. Aside from a blowout win against an overrated Nebraska squad, the Men of Troy have looked lackluster (against Idaho), beatable (see games against Washington and Arizona) and downright awful (Stanford).
This less than impressive run of games have prompted many to believe that USC’s time is over. Just like Miami and Florida State before them.
There will be no fall of Troy—not as long as Coach Pete Carroll is running things. No. 13 Southern Cal (5-1, 3-1 Pac-10) is still the premier football program in the country. They might not look like it right now, but I pose you this question: what other team could sustain the deluge of injuries USC has endured?
The list of sidelined players is astounding, with the most glaringly affect area being the offensive line. Two-time All-American Sam Baker, Matt Spanos, his backup freshman Kris O’Dowd, Chilo Rachal, Zack Heberer and backup Charles Brown have all missed time from various injuries. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you games are won in the trenches. The offensive line is the backbone of any team. And USC is essentially playing with third-stringers. Not necessarily conducive to winning, wouldn’t you say?
The linebacking corps and secondary have also been hit. Preseason All-American Brian Cushing (ankle) has been out since the first game, and most recently, fellow preseason All-American linebacker Rey Maualuga (hip) and safety Kevin Ellison (nose) have gone down and may miss this week’s game against Notre Dame.
Then there’s their stable of running backs. As it appears, they needed every single one of them seeing how they lost Stafon Johnson (foot), who emerged from the pack as their go-to back, and Parade All-American freshman Marc Tyler (leg), not to mention that C.J. Gable (abdominal), their second-best back, is gone for the season.
And let’s not forget about the pesky middle finger of John David Booty (though he was playing like crap before the injury anyways).
Those are some big names in some key positions. And considering the inventory of fallen players, I’m not too surprised with their performance so far. No team, with this level of injury, could possibly live up to the hype placed upon this particular USC team.
Granted, I will say that USC—even fully healthy—was vastly overrated in the preseason. Booty has been hideously bad, their talented group of receivers has shown their youth and thus far has been barren, and the hard-hitting defense has put nominal pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has forced even fewer turnovers. The early prognosticators were wrong; this is not the best defense Pete Carroll has ever had.
But preseason hype aside, this very team, when healthy, can compete with anyone in the country. They’re simply not as good as the USC of a few years ago. How could they be? Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart were once in a generation type players, and Norm Chow was an offensive genius too good for college football. That height of dominance will probably never be reached again. In hindsight, I think we were spoiled rotten by their awesome firepower and today, we unfairly judge every subsequent USC team by those lofty standards.
There probably won’t be another team like we saw in 2004, but as long as Pete Carroll is in town, La-La Land will always have top 5 recruiting classes, and thusly, will always be in the hunt for National Titles.
Call this 2007 Southern Cal squad overrated—I’ll partially agree with that. But don’t declare this dynasty dead just yet.
I forgot one final reason why USC is not about to fall: true freshman Joe McKnight. Highly touted, last year’s number one recruit has drawn comparisons with none other than Reggie Bush. And last Saturday’s game against Arizona looked to be his coming out party. Today may be dim, but the future is bright in Troy.