The Good News: Defense. The men of Troy will have one of the stingiest defensive units in the country this year. For my money, LB Rey Maualuga is the best defensive player in the country. It isn't often you will see a college linebacker dominant a game like Maualuga did in last year's Rose Bowl against Illinois. Maualuga is joined by Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava to comprise a formidable group of linebackers. Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison form the best safety tandem in the country and the corners are also an area of strength. Expect to see a lot of old school USC power running this season. The Trojans have a deep, talented stable of runners, led by Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and C.J. Gable. I think Johnson is the best of the bunch and he appears to have the inside track to be the starter but you'll see plenty of the dynamic McKnight as well. Pete Carroll wants to use McKnight like he did Reggie Bush, lining him up as a running back, receiver and punt returner. The line technically returns only one starter but the players taking over have a lot of game experience because USC suffered injuries in this area a year ago.
The Bad News: The Trojans actually have a lot of question marks for a National Title contender. The biggest is at quarterback where Mark Sanchez takes over. Sanchez started three games last season for an injured John David Booty and was decent but not spectacular. Now it's his show to run and while he has talent, he tends to take a lot of chances, which can lead to turnovers. USC has a lot of talent at receiver but no one has really stepped up and become "the guy" as of yet. That could change this season with the addition of Arkansas transfer Damian Williams. Williams was an All-SEC freshman selection two years ago and generated a lot of buzz after having a tremendous spring. The defense is loaded but it must replace its best player from a year ago, DT Sedrick Ellis.
Schedule: It comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. USC has two interesting non-conference games to kick off the year when they travel to Virginia and then host Ohio State two weeks later. Sanchez isn't going to have a lot of time to get comfortable with the Buckeyes and their top-rated defense coming to the Coliseum on Sept. 13. After the Buckeyes, USC then travels to Oregon State before hosting Pac 10 contenders Oregon and Arizona State. If the Trojans get by that stretch unscathed, they have a chance to go undefeated because the only real tough game the rest of the way is at UCLA, although a trip to Tucson to face the improved Wildcats could be dicey as well.
Gambling Angle: After years of piling on points, this looks to be a USC team that the late John Robinson would have been proud of. The Trojans are going to lean on what could end up being one of the best defenses in school history and a power running game that will wear opponents down with a bevy of blue chip backs. The UNDER looks to be a strong moneymaker with the Trojans this season, especially early on against Virginia and Ohio State. The Cavs will be lucky to score on the Trojans and the USC/Ohio State matchup has a 17-13 hard-fought game written all over it. Expect to see more 31-6 USC wins this year rather the 40-50 point blowouts we've become accustomed to seeing the last few years.
Outlook: The Trojans are one of the toughest teams to call this year in my opinion. They are still loaded with talent but have more question marks than the other premier teams. Because of their schedule, USC has a good chance to finish higher than this and be one of the two teams playing for the National Title. We know they can run the ball and play strong defense but how Sanchez plays at quarterback will be the determining factor in just how good the Trojans will be in 2008. If they beat Ohio State, USC will be set up nicely to earn a spot in the National Championship Game.
Trojans will dominate as always, sanchez just needs to hand the ball off with all the talent we have a tb university, not even gonna talk about the best defense in the country, another trojan nc should be in the books.
I'm with you on SC. Beat the Buckeyes at HOME & it could be clear sailing all the way to the BCS Championship Game.