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Dare We Say Dynasty?

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The University of Southern California has certainly had its stretches of stellar play on the gridiron over the years, but the last couple under the watchful eye of Pete Carroll have been simply dominating. After winning a share of the national title following the 2003 season and capturing a second crown (outright) this past year, is there anyone out there that doubts that a third straight championship is unattainable, or unavoidable for that matter?

It had been 25 years since USC's last national crown, but the Trojans' 28-14 win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl two years ago, capped off a brilliant season, earning Carroll's squad the AP National Title. LSU disposed of Oklahoma in the BCS Title Game, marking the first split national title since 1997).

Pete Carroll
The USC Trojans have been simply dominating under the watchful eye of Pete Carroll.
Topping that feat wasn't supposed to be so easy, but USC breezed through most of its 2004 schedule to set up a showdown with Oklahoma for the nation's top spot. However, only one team showed up for the "showdown," with the Trojans destroying the Sooners in the Orange Bowl, 55-19. Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart threw an Orange Bowl record five touchdown passes, a fitting end for a guy that could have been the top choice in the most recent NFL Draft. However, in a move that had to put a smile on Carroll's face, Leinart decided to put off what would have been a multi-million dollar payday from the NFL and return to school for a run at yet another national title.

There is little reason to think that anything short of that goal will come to fruition. USC is once again loaded on both sides of the ball and it all starts with its gifted signal-caller. Leinart completed 65.3 percent of his passes last year, for 3,322 yards and 33 TDs, with just six interceptions. While it is hard to imagine that he could do much better, his supporting cast heading into 2005 could make it easy for him. Leinart is not the only player that the opposition has to worry about this year, as USC has arguably more NFL-ready talent than any team in the country.

While Leinart is certainly the field general, the catalyst for USC's explosive offense is All-American Reggie Bush. A threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball, expect Carroll to utilize Bush often in 2005. Perhaps the nation's most dangerous player, the ultra-talented tailback and 2004 Heisman finalist rushed for over 900 yards last year and was second on the team in receptions (43) for another 500+ yards, leading to 13 TDs. Throw in two punt returns for scores and it is easy to see why Bush is a legitimate Heisman candidate in 2005. What makes Bush so effective is not only his obvious talent, but also the fact that there is plenty of other highly skilled players in the backfield and on the outside.

Joining Bush in the backfield is junior LenDale White, who at 6-2, 235 pounds, is a workhorse, who has put up huge numbers in his first two seasons. Last year, White rushed for 1,103 yards and 15 TDs. The season before, he put up 754 yards and 13 scores. The receiving corps is certainly young, but has plenty of experience in big-game situations. Leinart has the luxury of looking downfield for not only Bush, but a pair of game-breaking wideouts in sophomore Dwayne Jarrett and junior Steve Smith. Jarrett emerged as the top pass-catcher last year as a freshman, leading the way in receptions (55), receiving yards (849) and TDs (13). Smith fought through an injury-plagued season, but still put up 42 receptions for 660 yards and six scores in eight games.

Defensively, the Trojans will not be as stocked in 2005, as key losses like All-American tackles Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson and linebackers Lofa Tatupa and Matt Grootegoed will be hard to replace. Throw in the loss of DT Manuel Wright along the defensive line as well (NFL Supplemental Draft due to academic problems) and the defensive front will not be the dominating unit it was a year ago. Lawrence Jackson is a talented pass rusher who will need to step up this season, while nose tackle Sedrick Ellis will have to disrupt things in the middle. The linebacking corps will go through a transition period with Tatupa and Grootegoed gone, but the secondary should be in good shape anchored by one of the nation's premiere defensive backs in strong safety Darnell Bing.

While the defense may not be as efficient as last year's unit, the loss that may hurt the most will be Norm Chow's departure to the NFL. Chow was the mastermind of USC's offensive juggernaut under Carroll the last few years, but has now taken his talent to the Tennessee Titans. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and QB coach Steve Sarkisian will try to fill the void. Kiffin is the son of Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive guru Monte Kiffin, and was in charge of USC's passing game under Chow. While it remains to be seen what Chow's absence will mean in terms of offensive creativity, with talent like Leinart and company on that side of the line, the task of assuaging the loss may not be that daunting this season.

The 2005 schedule is challenging to say the least. The team opens in Honolulu against Hawaii and will also take on Oregon, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and California on the road. The home slate starts with Arkansas, followed by Arizona, Washington State, Stanford, Fresno State and UCLA.

Anything short of a national title we be deemed a failure for USC this year.

That is the kind of statement that only dynasties can make.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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