Without quarterback Matt Leinart, tailback Reggie Bush, offensive tackle Winston Justice and possibly tailback LenDale White, the Trojans suddenly look a lot more normal next season. “Now the question is can you be dominant three out of four years?” Carroll said, wondering if the Trojans can win a national championship next season. “We’ve done this before. I ain’t worried about it.” When USC coach Pete Carroll agreed to a five-year contract extension last week, he said, “I want to see how far we can take this.” Some might argue he found out before serving a day of his new agreement, when USC lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl and fell short in its historic chance for a third straight national title. The quarterback situation is less muddled but still a question mark. Sophomore John David Booty played in seven games this season, which is far more experience than Leinart got before he started. But will Booty beat out highly regarded freshman Mark Sanchez? Between the two, Sanchez owns the stronger arm, but Booty’s been in the program three years. Carroll wants to choose a starter in spring practice, like he did with Leinart in 2003, so everyone knows who the No. 1 quarterback is before training camp. That presents a dilemma: Booty would be a safe choice, but Sanchez possesses more potential. There won’t be any problems finding someone to throw to, because USC returns starting wide receivers Jarrett and Steve Smith, along with freshman Patrick Turner. The offensive line returns three starters (Ryan Kalil, Fred Matua, Sam Baker) although offensive tackle Winston Justice is expected to turn pro. It’s still a pretty good offense, but not the greatest in history, like the 2005 version made a claim for. And it will require a punter. But who? Tom Malone graduated, and USC only has walk-on Taylor Odegard. No recruits impressed the coaches in the summer, and USC might sign a junior-college punter as a stop-gap measure. The role of freshman kicker Troy Van Blarcom also figures to increase. Carroll said Van Blarcom would have kicked a game-tying field goal against Texas in the closing seconds, even though the freshman did not attempt a field goal all season. But next year, the Trojans are going to need a long-range kicker. Going for it on fourth down inside the 30-yard line won’t be as easy without Leinart and Bush. The lack of experience at tailback and quarterback puts the burden back on the defense, which will be considerably stronger next season. Linebacker will be the Trojans’ top position, especially at the middle (Oscar Lua, Rey Maualuga) and strong side (Dallas Sartz, Thomas Williams, Brian Cushing) spots, where five starters return for two positions. It won’t surprise anyone if Carroll finds a way to get as many of those players on the field as possible. Sartz could play safety, especially if junior Darnell Bing goes pro. That would enable Josh Pinkard to remain at cornerback, although he’s expected to return to his natural safety spot. Terrell Thomas, Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris will be the top candidates at cornerback. The defensive line remains solid, losing only senior Frostee Rucker. Defensive ends Jeff Schweiger and Kyle Moore assume far bigger roles at defensive end and make the Trojans bigger and more athletic. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson, despite being nearly invisible against Texas, will be projected as an All-American candidate next season. But more than names and faces, next year’s USC team also battles expectations. A 37-2 record the past three seasons means no one on the current roster knows what it means to lose three games in a single season. USC opens at Arkansas (where Coach Houston Nutt no doubt remembers the Trojans throwing play-action touchdown passes with a 63-17 lead) and the second game is against Alamo Bowl-winner Nebraska. Even Carroll acknowledged it’s tougher to get back to the top than staying there. “I like the burden, I haven’t had a problem with the burden,” Carroll said. “Is it harder to stay there or get there? We’ll find out now, but we didn’t have a problem staying there.” Scott Wolf, (818) 713-3607 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson Maybe not, but right now it’s hard to say who could replace Leinart and Bush, or if it’s even possible. If you listen to the hype, the Trojans lost two of the greatest quarterbacks and tailbacks in college history. As impressive as USC recruits these days, it’s hard to imagine another Bush turning up, and even Bush required time to develop as a freshman, which means next year the Trojans might not be able to just win on sheer athletic ability. Who is going to break off 36- and 45-yard touchdown runs against Notre Dame, like Bush did against the Irish this season? Those plays didn’t get the attention of Leinart’s fourth-and-9 pass to wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, but they were just as important and prevented the Irish from building momentum. No one on the current roster is even close to Bush’s explosiveness and if White goes pro, tailback becomes a huge question mark. The Trojans go into next year with a committee of Hershel Dennis, Desmond Reed, Chauncey Washington and Michael Coleman at tailback. Additionally, USC will bring in at least three recruits at tailback. Emmanuel Moody (Coppell, Texas) committed Saturday, while Stafon Johnson (Dorsey High of Los Angeles) and Michael Goodson (Houston) are also expected to select USC.
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