Ready or Not, USC Kicks Off : College football: Inexperienced Trojans open season against Syracuse tonight.


If nothing else, USC’s opener against Syracuse tonight at Giants Stadium promises to be colorful.

Coach Larry Smith has only seven starters back from last season, the fewest for the school since it adopted two-platoon football in 1965, so it will be a green Trojan team that takes on the Orangemen.

And a redhead is expected to play a prominent role.

A year ago, as USC embarked upon the season, Todd Marinovich was an unproven quarterback surrounded by a veteran team.


This year, he is quite the opposite.

Although Smith has said “Our game plan is not based on Todd Marinovich’s ability or what he achieved last year,” clearly the sophomore left-hander, college football’s freshman of the year last season, is the player around whom the young Trojans have rebuilt.

Certainly, he will be given more responsibility tonight than he was given in last year’s opener against Illinois.

An 11th-hour replacement for Pat O’Hara, who broke a leg and tore up a knee in the Trojans’ final scrimmage of the preseason, Marinovich was handcuffed by a conservative game plan against the Illini.

Believing that USC’s defense was strong enough to throttle the Illini, and that the Trojans would be able to run well enough to win, Smith limited Marinovich’s duties, explaining later that he didn’t want to put the burden of winning the nationally televised game on a neophyte.

But the plan backfired.

Illinois scored on two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Jeff George, overcoming a 13-0 deficit to win, 14-13.

Smith took the shackles off after that, and Marinovich responded by completing a school-record 62.2% of his passes and moving into sixth place on the Trojans’ all-time passing list after only one season.

And now?

“We’re a free-wheeling, let-it-go offense,” Smith said. “I would be upset if we didn’t go out and turn it on.”

The Trojans, who also have back Pacific 10 rushing leader Ricky Ervins, may have no other choice because their defense has been depleted by the loss of nine starters, including Junior Seau and Mark Carrier, who gave up their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.

Fortunately for USC, it will open against a Syracuse team that also was weakened by early defections.

Quarterback Bill Scharr quit the team midway through spring practice after passing for 1,625 yards and nine touchdowns last season while completing a school-record 63.3% of his passes. Wide receiver Rob Moore, who caught 53 passes for 1,064 yards, entered the NFL’s supplemental draft.

Also gone from last season’s team, which was 8-4 and beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl, is Michael Owens, who ran for 1,018 yards.

And on defense, the Orangemen had to replace seven starters.

Still, Syracuse has four of five starters back in its offensive line, which is considered among the nation’s best. Most prominent among them is center John Flannery, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound graduate student who, by most accounts, will be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring.

Coach Dick MacPherson, whose last three teams were 29-6-1, has named redshirt freshman Marvin Graves to start at quarterback over junior Mark McDonald, who passed for 728 yards last season and rallied the Orange from an 18-7 deficit to a 19-18 victory in the Peach Bowl.

McDonald missed a week of practice with a deep thigh bruise, and Graves looked sharp in his absence, MacPherson said.

Graves will run the option and throw to a corps of receivers that includes Rob Carpenter, a transfer from Notre Dame who caught 41 passes for the Orangemen last season; Qadry (Missile) Ismail, a younger brother of Notre Dame’s Raghib (Rocket) Ismail; Shelby Hill, son of former NFL receiver J.D. Hill and brother of Lonzell Hill of the New Orleans Saints and J.D. Hill Jr. of Washington, and Kerry Ferrell, a transfer from UCLA.

The strength of the Syracuse defense is in the secondary, where three starters return, led by free safety Rob Thomson.

An eager group of Orangemen takes on USC. “Our people have been watching them all of their lives,” MacPherson said of the Trojans. “USC is always on TV. They’ve got the pretty girls, they’ve got the horses, they’ve got Hollywood.”

And now they’ve got a more experienced Marinovich, too.

Trojan Notes

Three second-year freshmen are expected to start for USC: center David Apolskis, defensive tackle Terry McDaniels and cornerback Marcel Brown. . . . Joel Scott is expected to start at split end despite a sprained ankle. . . . Raoul Spears is expected to start at fullback, with Scott Lockwood splitting time between fullback and tailback.

USC has won 76.8% of its 97 openers--35 by shutout--but is 1-2 under Coach Larry Smith. . . . Smith’s first three USC teams were 21-1-1 against Pacific 10 Conference opponents but only 6-7 in nonconference games. . . . USC hasn’t played in the New York metropolitan area since 1951, when it beat Army, 28-6, at Yankee Stadium as All-American Frank Gifford ran for 138 yards and passed for 50. . . . In their only previous meeting, USC beat Syracuse, 16-0, at the Coliseum in 1924. . . . A crowd of about 60,000 is expected in the 76,891-seat stadium.

Smith, on moving USC’s best blocker, tackle Pat Harlow, to the strong side, where he will be teamed with All-American guard Mark Tucker: “I like the idea of putting those two together because we get some pretty good movement in there. And it takes some of the heat off the (freshman) center.”. . . Harlow and tailback Ricky Ervins rank among the top 30 prospects in next spring’s NFL draft, according to the NFL Scouting Combine. . . . Quin Rodriguez’s next conversion will be his 110th, breaking a USC record he shares with Steve Jordan.