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March 25, 2008
Expectations are high again at USC, where the Trojans are projected to be a national title contender. The rest of the Pac-10 keeps getting closer to USC, with California and Oregon taking their turn in the national spotlight and Oregon State and Stanford earning wins over USC in recent years. Still, Pete Carroll has led USC to six consecutive Pac-10 titles. He has the talent again this season with what should a stifling defense and rising star Joe McKnight at tailback. All eyes, though, will be on the quarterback situation, where two former five-star recruits - Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain - will compete for the job.
Mark Sanchez will try to win USC's quarterback job this spring.
Defense—7: LB Brian Cushing, SS Kevin Ellison, CB Cary Harris, LB Rey Maualuga, FS Taylor Mays, T Fili Moala, E Kyle Moore.
Offense—4: G Jeff Byers, FB Stanley Havili, WR Vidal Hazelton, WR Patrick Turner.
Special teams—2: K David Buehler, P Greg Woidneck
G Matt Meyer (high school).
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
USC's defense will be among the most fearsome in the country after linebackers Maualuga and Cushing elected to return to school. They return to a defense that was second in the nation in points and yards per game and fourth against the run. The secondary also will be a strength with one of the top safety tandems in the nation in Ellison and Mays. USC still has depth and talent at tailback.
HELP IS NEEDED
USC needs everything to click on the offensive line. Youngsters Kristofer O'Dowd (center), Butch Lewis (tackle) and Zack Heberer (guard) are in the mix for starting jobs. The defensive line loses two bona fide stars in end Lawrence Jackson and tackle Sedrick Ellis. There is talent on hand, but it's relatively untested.
KEEP AN EYE ON
TE Blake Ayles: Fred Davis became the go-to guy in the passing game as the wide receivers struggled. Davis is gone, but Ayles, a freshman who enrolled early, could challenge upperclassmen Anthony McCoy and Jimmy Miller for playing time at tight end.
DE Everson Griffen: He has the look of USC's next defensive superstar. He was a late-blooming pass rusher last season, and look for him to continue his development as a sophomore.
QB Mitch Mustain: He went 8-0 as a starter for SEC West champion Arkansas as a true freshman in 2006 before transferring to USC. Mark Sanchez has been on campus longer, but he and Mustain will battle to replace John David Booty.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Patrick Turner was touted as the next great USC receiver after he sat behind Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. But that didn't happen when he became the primary option. After 569 yards and three touchdowns in 2007, more will be expected from Turner in his senior season.
USC should be a player on the national stage, but the Trojans need to find some answers on offense during the spring. For the first time since Carroll's first season in 2001, USC did not rank in the national top 25 in any offensive category. A new quarterback will have to lead the way.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.