Dan Weber over at the Press-Enterprise has a series of short articles at the P-E College Blog looking at a variety issues to look for in the upcoming season
5 Most Pressing Issues for USC
1) Getting Up To Speed On Offense: The Trojans learned last season against Stanford and Oregon that even a veteran team couldn't afford offensive letdowns. This younger USC team won't have much time to get ready.
2) Throwing the Ball Downfield: Combine the wide receivers' speed and route-running discipline with the long-ball accuracy of QB John David Booty and USC couldn't stretch the field last season. They'd better be able to go deep this year.
3) Special Teams: A new long-snapper, new short-snapper, new holder and renewed emphasis to run returns back with Ronald Johnson (kickoffs) and Joe McKnight (punts) is especially challenging with no Sam Anno to work with the kicking game.
4) Red Zone Offense: Not an area of strength this past spring. The biggest challenge for Sanchez, who has struggled a bit in the scoring zone, needs OC Steve Sarkisian to figure things out here.
5) Nose Tackle: Junior Averill Spicer and sophomore Christian Tupou will battle for a spot Carroll said he's most "concerned about'' right now. It is, however, the only unresolved question on defense.
The two most important here are the receivers and the nose Tackle position. The receiving unit underachieved last season and they really need to step up and provide Mark Sanchez a more effective weapon on offense aside from our solid running game. With Fred Davis also gone a lot of production at the tight end position needs to be replaced.
5 USC Veterans Who Must Step Up
1) WR Patrick Turner: The nation's top prep player four years ago out of Nashville has one last chance to show the potential that so riled up the Tennessee fans when he told them he was leaving for USC.
2) QB Mark Sanchez: A no-brainer. Sanchez, a fiery Mission Viejo native anointed starter in the spring, must take over right now with the Ohio State game two weeks into the season.
3) P Greg Woidneck: The senior's hang time has improved but his 36.7-yard average, below the middle of the pack in the Pac-10, has to pick up.
4) TE Anthony McCoy: The 6-5, 255-pound junior from Fresno caught a TD pass early last year against Nebraska but All-American Fred Davis didn't leave him much chance to to show what he could do. He'll get that this year.
5) NT Averill Spicer: The Rancho Cucamonga junior missed spring ball but will battle sophomore Christian Tupou for the vacant nose tackle spot manned by an All-American the last five seasons.
This ties in pretty much with what I wrote above. Turner needs to step up and lead the receivers he has to put it out of his head that could take a bone crushing hit. if hes' so worried about thn the he should not be on the field. He needs to concentrate on hanging onto the ball and worry about hearing "footsteps" right before he make a catch over the middle. McCoy is going to get a lot of reps, as the TE position really is key to the production of the offense, he some big shoes to fill.
The battle for who starts at nose tackle will be an interesting one to watch as both Spicer and Tupou will battle hard to win out. Again, big shoes to fill here with the departure of Big Sed so its pretty much game on for these two.
Special teams continue to be a bit of an issue. Sure Tom Malone was a great punter but he was hardly used during the Bush/Leinart era so it really is hard to judge just how effective he was because he hardly saw the field. Woidneck needs to put some distance on his punts to give the defense a little bigger field to work with or if you prefer the opposing offense very little wiggle room if they can be backed up.
5 USC Newcomers To Watch
1) TE Blake Ayles: The 6-5, 255-pound Ayles was the nation's top high school tight end prospect not to mention also the state's No. 2 discus thrower, No. 3 shot putter and sometime sprinter and triple-jumper.
2) OL Matt Kalil: The Corona kid who's both the "big'' and "little'' brother (at 6-7 and 290 pounds) of USC All-American center Ryan Kalil has the technique, toughness and bloodlines to play right away.
3) OL Tyron Smith: At 6-6 and 270, Moreno Valleyt's Smith brings the body of an NFL defensive end to the USC offensive line. Trojans can't wait to see where he fits in.
4) WR Brice Butler: The 6-3, 215-pound son of 12-year NFL cornerback Bobby Butler was considered the top prep pass-route-runner in the nation last year.
5) T.J. Bryant: Left his Tallahassee, Fla. home and Florida State to come across country to contribute his 6-1, 190 athletic pounds to the Trojans. Should play some.
With the way Pete Carroll recruits it is lway interesting to see just how well the talent he brings in adjusts to playing at SC.
With a lot of newcomers on the OL it will be interesting to see if Kalil and Smith make an impact in training camp. Butler probably won't see a lot of action with all the depth we have at WR but you never know, if any of the vets fail to step up will he get on the field? Blake Ayles will make a run at Anthony McCoy and the starting job at TE this will be fun to watch! Finally Just getting T.J. Bryant is special in and of itself but I also think he could have some impact at CB early on if he gets on the field.
USC's 5 Top Payback Games - In Order
Let me see which one is first....Duuuuhhhhhh!
1) Stanford: Last year's home loss to the 41-point underdog Cardinal must be revenged -- in Palo Alto and against improved Stanford. Carroll and Co.'s occasional "playing-not-to-lose'' gameplan surely will be junked for this one.
2) Oregon: Loss at Eugene on a final-drive interception cost slow-starting USC a spot in last year's BCS title game. A worse loss, in fact, than the one to Stanfrod, as it turned out.
3) Oregon State: Back in Corvallis on a Thursday night in September, this USC team surely will recall what happened here two seasons ago. Hard to win when you play only the final 30 minutes.
4) UCLA: Last time in Pasadena against the underdog Bruins, brutally unprepared Trojans lost a spot in the BCS title game -- and possibly a national title. With ex-OC Norm Chow on the other sideline, it shouldn't happen again.
5) Tie: Ohio State and Notre Dame: Doesn't everybody want to pay these two back for something? As the No. 3 team on ESPN's "most-hated'' college football teams roster, Trojans get shots at No. 1 ND and No. 2 OSU at home. 'Nuff said..
No brainer there...
There will be a lot of neat story lines in 2008!