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Some rebuild, USC reloads

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Within the world of college basketball, there is a general consensus that the North Carolina Tar Heels have a huge recruiting advantage that helps bring a never ending supply of blue-chippers to Chapel Hill. Of course, a great reason for that advantage is the past success of the program, as the conference titles, Final Four appearances and national championships have piled up along the way.

The football equivalent is on the left coast, in the form of USC. The Trojans possess a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of talent, and the result is seven straight campaigns of 11 wins or more, seven Pac-10 crowns in a row, seven consecutive BCS Bowl appearances and a couple of national titles sprinkled in.

The 2008 campaign brought more of the same, as Pete Carroll's troops won 12 of their 13 games, with the one blemish being a 27-21 upset loss at Oregon State in late September. The Trojans buckled down after that, winning 10 straight, including a 38-24 victory over a good Penn State team in the Rose Bowl.

Does USC have the talent to remain on top of the Pac-10?
The team was once again stellar on both sides of the football, averaging well over 400 yards per game, while yielding just over 200 defensively.

The real question heading into 2009, is whether or not USC has the talent to remain on the top of the heap in the Pac-10 and stay in the hunt for yet another national title.

On the offensive side of things, the Trojans will go into the season with very little experience under center. Mark Sanchez has jumped ship to the NFL and from a financial perspective made the right move, considering the New York Jets made him the fifth pick overall.

The quarterback crop this year consists of Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain. Following the spring, Carroll announced that it will be Corp leading the troops, although competition will still be lively heading into the summer and fall. The main problem with the selection is that Corp, just a sophomore this season, completed only two passes last year as the third-string QB. Still, Carroll has plenty of confidence in Corp, who was a Parade All-American in the prep ranks. Mustain has the most experience, starting eight games at Arkansas before transferring to USC in 2007. Barkley is a true freshman and while he possesses a huge upside, he is still a year or two away from making a real impact under center.

The team's ground game, which averaged almost 200 yards per game last year, returns intact and is a real strength heading into the season. A limitless supply of quality backs will be difficult for defenses to contend with. Expect Carroll to lean heavily on his stable of thoroughbreds, most notably Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Joe McKnight.

The receiving corps loses big target Patrick Turner (third-round draft pick), but returns emerging star Damian Williams, who posted a team-high 58 receptions, for 869 yards and nine TDs in 2008.

The offensive line will also be a real strength, with five starters returning led by Preseason All-American Kristofer O'Dowd at center. There is plenty of depth behind the incumbents, and the result should be one of the nation's best offensive fronts.

The other side of the ball has its share of questions, with only five starters returning. The main concerns are within the front seven, which has lost standout linebackers Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews (both first round draft picks) and Rey Maualuga (second-round pick), as well as Fili Moala (second- round), Kyle Moore (fourth-round) and key reserve Kaluka Maiava (fourth- round).

The new-look front could be built around junior end Everson Griffin, who has star potential and served as an effective pass rush specialist last year.

The secondary loses a pair of steady performers as well in Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris (both selected in the NFL draft), but the crown jewel of the defense returns in the form of All-American safety Taylor Mays. The 6-3, 235- pounder could have left for the NFL after his junior campaign, but the two- time All-American returns to anchor the Trojan defense and is poised for another huge campaign.

With all the holes on both sides of the football heading into the season, most teams would chalk up 2009 as a time to recruit heavily and reload for 2010 and beyond.

However, if we have learned anything since the turn of the century, it is that USC does not qualify as "most teams."

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