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The X-Factor

Thats the title of's Stewart Mandel recent post that takes a look at the teams that should contend for the MNC and the one piece they need to take them over the top.

Here is is his look at USC.


Run defense: 84.2 per game
Turnover margin: +.15
Sacks: 45:17
QB efficiency: 133.9
Gamebreakers: None

X-factor: Gamebreakers.

It's hard to believe the same team that once boasted the likes of Reggie Bush, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett -- and has recruited umpteen five-star running backs and receivers since -- could suffer from a lack of gamebreakers, but that's exactly what happened to the Trojans last season.

There's little doubt USC will once again field a championship-caliber defense. To finish No. 1, new starting QB Mark Sanchez will need the help of a true go-to threat. The Trojans' top pass-catcher last season was since-departed TE Fred Davis (62 catches, 881 yards). Their top two wide receivers, Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazelton, averaged just 11.3 yards per catch.

While Turner and Hazelton could well improve, the buzz out of USC's camp is that Arkansas transfer Damian Williams will provide the game-changing threat the Trojans have been lacking. Meanwhile, touted sophomore RB Joe McKnight could render the issue moot if he lives up to billing. He averaged 12.5 yards on 10 carries in last year's Rose Bowl.

No secret there as receivers have not performed up to the level where they have needed to be to really make the offense multi-dimensional, just not appear that way on paper.

We have talked about the receivers ad nauseam and how the production has been lacking for the level of talent that is there. Turner and Hazelton, as well as Ausberry to a lesser degree, pretty much had the show to themselves last season and they were still out produced buy the since departed TE Big Fred Davis. This season a new dimension comes in, one that we have talked about a little bit, WR Damian Williams. Williams appears to bring the attitude of quiet confidence.

From the LAT:

The sophomore wide receiver is relieved to be past the upheaval of switching schools and having to sit out a year. Through the first weeks of training camp, he has displayed smarts and quickness.

"He's got a savvy about him, like he's a real veteran player," Coach Pete Carroll said. "He understands the game beautifully."

And he returns to the field just when the USC receiving corps needs a spark, a jump-start, something.

Williams had OK numbers at Arkansas playing 6 games getting 12 catches for 153 yards and a TD but with all the upheaval at Arkansas and the change in the game plan by ex-Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt it was time to move on.

I think Damian Williams has the opportunity to do some great things at USC. His versatility enables Williams to play any of the three receiver positions on this team so to me it puts him a great spot to really step up and be the play maker the receiving corps needs. Of course, as I said with Mustain real game experience matters and that will definitely go a long way to helping Williams get his groove.

But he is not the only one! As much as I can't wait to see Williams in action and I do think he will a big difference this year there a re a couple of other receivers who are going to make some noise and shake things up.

Two new receivers to watch out for are tight end Blake Ayles and wideout Jordan Cameron. Ayles is a 6-5, 255-pound freshman who, interestingly enough, was inserted with the first team offense for much of the afternoon. He is a huge target with great hands who also happens to be a ferocious blocker. At a position that appears otherwise thin on talent, Ayles is good enough to push for a starting job, maybe as early as two or three games in. Cameron is an athletic JC transfer with excellent jumping ability and a penchant for acrobatic plays. Look for him to make some key receptions, particularly in the red zone.

And don't forget Brandon Carswell and D.J. Shoemate. Shoemate is ready to make some thing happen.

Coming out of Servite High School this fall, D.J. Shoemate was considered, pound-for-pound, one of the best prospects in the country. But with 11 scholarship receivers on USC’s roster, I wondered how the true freshman would fit in. That was my mistake.

I had forgotten Shoemate is not a receiver. He is a football player.

Watch him on just about any play where the ball is not headed in his direction and his head is up, his eyes searching — who am I going to hit? Since the beginning of camp Shoemate has made an impression on coaches and teammates alike for his willingness to get physical and mix it up. For him it is instinct, although he’ll be the first to tell you he still has a lot to learn.

“This is like an advanced placement football class,” he said. “I just want to play the freshman role, learn as much as I can from my teammates and my coaches, just take advantage of what they tell me and try to apply that to my game.

Another gamer! Maybe I haven't paid close enough attention the past two years but this incoming group of receivers really seems to have their upperclassman teammates in their sights with all the talk and brashness. But while all the positive talk is great it has to produce results on the field.

It all hinges on the offensive line, if they can get Sanchez the time he needs then I see no reason why this group of receivers can't be the spark we need to get the offense somewhat explosive again.

It is going to be fun to watch, its just going to take a little bit of time to let it come together.