USC eager to chase top spot
USC Coach Pete Carroll did not do so intentionally, but when asked Tuesday if he would return next season to coach the Trojans, he invoked the slogan of the 2004 national championship team.
“No doubt,” Carroll said as he left Heritage Hall for the start of a vacation.
Carroll’s presence on the sideline -- and on the recruiting trail -- for a seventh year is regarded as perhaps the most important key in USC’s hopes for another Bowl Championship Series title.
The Trojans finished 11-2 by bouncing back from their stunning upset loss to UCLA and beating third-ranked Michigan, 32-18, in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans could be atop the preseason polls with a team that loses only one starter on defense and returns quarterback John David Booty, who vaulted into Heisman Trophy discussion with his performance in the Rose Bowl.
Linebacker Rey Maualuga said the Rose Bowl victory was a springboard for the Trojans.
“Hopefully, it proves that losing to two unranked teams was just a fluke,” Maualuga said. “If we realize who we are ... we can come out next year and do what we do.”
Carroll sees the same possibilities.
“With our defense ... we shouldn’t give up very many points -- that gives you half a chance right off the bat,” Carroll said. “If we get the running game going as a solid part of our attack that’s enough to have a good team.
“And then, if any of the special aspects show up, we could have a chance to be great team.”
But Carroll, who has guided the Trojans to a 59-6 record, two national championships and five BCS bowl games in the last five seasons, is the linchpin.
Carroll’s name has been connected with NFL coaching vacancies after most of the last five seasons. Most recently, he has been linked to the vacant Arizona Cardinals job.
Carroll reiterated that no NFL teams had contacted him. He also said that he was not worried about possible sanctions against USC that could result from an NCAA investigation related to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
The NCAA wants to know if Bush or his parents received improper benefits from sports marketers while the running back was playing for USC. If it can be proved that Bush broke NCAA rules and USC knew about it, the program could face sanctions.
“I don’t think anything is happening,” Carroll said. “I’ve never heard a word.”
Asked if an NFL team could change his mind to remain at USC, he said: “No, it won’t change. I expect 1,000% to be here.”
The odds of receiver Dwayne Jarrett’s return are less quantifiable.
Jarrett, a junior this season, has until Jan. 15 to decide whether he will make himself available for the NFL draft and Carroll said Jarrett would probably use all of the time to collect information.
Other draft-eligible players have stated they would return, but Carroll said Tuesday night that, “there still could be a couple questions that could pop up here.”
Running back Chauncey Washington, who got only two carries in the Rose Bowl, is one of several players who have requested draft projections from the NFL.
If Jarrett stays, Booty will again have an experienced All-American as a main target and the Trojans will not have to rely on mostly unproven replacements from a receiving corps that is also losing Steve Smith and Chris McFoy.
If Jarrett leaves, sophomore Patrick Turner becomes the most experienced receiver. Freshmen Vidal Hazelton, Travon Patterson, David Ausberry and Jamere Holland must step up.
“These guys are all good enough to contribute, but we’re going to have to find guys that we can really count on consistently to make the plays,” Carroll said.
Running back is another question mark for the Trojans, who play games at Nebraska, Washington, Notre Dame, Oregon, California and Arizona State in 2007.
Freshmen C.J. Gable and Emmanuel Moody and Washington started games for a team that averaged 128 yards rushing. The Trojans produced 55 and 47 yards in their last two games.
Freshmen Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson also return and senior Hershel Dennis hopes he will be granted a sixth year of eligibility.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to start all over again with what they know and to see how they compete,” Carroll said of the running back corps. “I would probably be most excited to see what Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson can add to the mix.”
High school running backs Marc Tyler of Westlake Village Oaks Christian High and Broderick Green of Pulaski Academy in Arkansas have committed to USC.
Fullback Brandon Hancock, who missed this season because of a knee injury, could return if he decides to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and freshman Stanley Havili should be fully recovered from a broken leg that forced him to redshirt.
Tackle Sam Baker and guards Drew Radovich and Chilo Rachal return for an offensive line that loses center Ryan Kalil and right tackle Kyle Williams.
Junior Matt Spanos could start at center or tackle if he is academically eligible, Carroll said. Sophomore Jeff Byers, who has played center and guard, returns after redshirting this year because of a back injury.
Carroll said freshman Charles Brown, junior Alatini Malu, Radovich and freshman Thomas Herring also could play tackle.
The defense is expected to be one of the best in Carroll’s tenure.
Starting end Lawrence Jackson and starting tackles Sedrick Ellis and Fili Moala are back. Sophomore Kyle Moore and junior Jeff Schweiger will probably play more prominent roles at end if USC returns to a 4-3 scheme, as expected, and moves sophomore Brian Cushing from the “elephant” position along the line to replace strong-side linebacker Dallas Sartz.
Cushing, Maualuga and junior Keith Rivers all will be regarded as All-American candidates.
Junior Josh Pinkard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Arkansas, returns to the secondary, providing Carroll with options at safety and cornerback.
Carroll said Pinkard would probably rotate with sophomore Kevin Ellison and freshman Taylor Mays at safety, but he can also play cornerback for a group that includes returning starters Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris along with Kevin Thomas, Mozique McCurtis, Vincent Joseph and Shareece Wright.
Carroll said he expected the competition to be fierce for spots at every position on offense, defense and special teams.
Even quarterback, where redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez will be given equal repetitions with Booty during spring practice.
“John David has done awesome,” Carroll said. “No disrespect. This is just the philosophy. They’re going to go head to head and see what happens as well everyone else.”
Ellison (knee), Jackson (ankle) and Johnson (shoulder) will have arthroscopic surgery in the next few days but will be ready for spring practice, Carroll said.... Martin Coleman, an offensive lineman from Huntington Beach Edison, will enroll in the spring semester, according to Carroll.