An update on USC’s football team as...
An update on USC’s football team as the Trojans open practice today in preparation for their Aug. 30 opener at Virginia:
Facts and figures
* 2007 record: 11-2; Pacific 10 Conference: 7-2 (tied for first place).
* Bowl: Rose, defeated Illinois, 49-17.
* Starters returning: 11 (offense 4, defense 7).
* USC begins the season No. 2 in the college football coaches poll, once again putting the Trojans in position for a run to the Bowl Championship Series national championship game. If they avoid the tipped passes that foiled their chances in 2006 and the mega-upset loss to Stanford that did the trick last year, they could be playing in Miami in January -- even if they lose to Ohio State in September.
* Speed and experience could make this Pete Carroll’s best defense during his tenure with the Trojans. The linebacker corps and secondary have the potential to be outstanding, but national titles, at least under Carroll, are won when the defensive line dominates and the Trojans create and cash in on turnovers.
Ones to watch
* Mark Sanchez, Jr., QB -- After waiting his turn behind -- and making three starts in place of -- John David Booty, the former Mission Viejo High star tempered his gunslinger mentality and astutely managed the offense during the spring to hold off Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp.
* Joe McKnight, So., RB -- His statistics as a freshman were comparable to Reggie Bush’s first-year performance. Is a similar second-year breakout in the offing?
* Vidal Hazelton, Jr., WR -- The New York native showed flash (one-handed touchdown catch against Idaho) and dash (spectacular 48-yard catch-and-run touchdown at Notre Dame) last season and appears sound after abdominal surgery.
* Kris O’Dowd, So., C -- Stepped in for injured Matt Spanos last season and then stepped into a leadership position during spring practice, making him the pivotal man for a line that enters the opener as a question mark.
* Rey Maualuga, Sr., LB -- The 2008 Rose Bowl defensive MVP is prepared to show he can lead the defense and consistently put together complete games rather than a string of highlight-reel hits.
* Brian Cushing, Sr., LB -- The 2007 Rose Bowl defensive MVP might emerge as the Trojans’ most dominant defensive player if he can avoid the injuries that slowed him for parts of his first three seasons.
* Damian Williams, So., WR -- Mustain received most of the attention but Williams is the Arkansas transfer expected to provide an immediate spark for the receiving corps. Receivers Brice Butler and D.J. Shoemate and cornerback T.J. Bryant are part of an incoming freshman class that includes several outstanding linemen.
* Averell Spicer, Jr., NG -- Sedrick Ellis’ understudy the last few seasons missed his chance to secure the starting spot because of knee surgery during the spring.
* Josh Pinkard, Sr., DB -- Experienced safety and cornerback will not be rushed in comeback from knee injuries that forced him to sit out nearly all of the last two seasons.
* Kaluka Maiava, Sr., LB -- Keith Rivers’ probable replacement had thumb and wrist surgeries during the spring but could emerge as a much-needed ball-hawk.
* Kevin Thomas, Jr., CB -- The 2006 starter could be an impact player if he is healthy after overcoming ankle, foot and shoulder problems.
* Chris Galippo, Fr., LB -- Impressed during the spring after redshirting in 2007 following early season back surgery. A second surgery in the summer will keep him sidelined until at least the fourth game.
The big question is a line that must replace four starters. Sanchez should benefit from another loaded backfield that not only features McKnight, but also junior Stafon Johnson, sophomore C.J. Gable, junior Allen Bradford and redshirt freshmen Broderick Green and Marc Tyler, along with experienced fullback Stanley Havili.
The line has to replace two first-round NFL draft picks in Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson. Senior tackle Fili Moala got a lot of attention when one prognosticator surprisingly put him at the top of the 2009 NFL draft, but the proof will be in the production now that teams no longer have to double-team Ellis.
David Buehler is back after making 16 of 19 field-goal attempts. Punter Greg Woidneck looked stronger and quicker in the spring after three of his kicks were blocked last season. McKnight will return punts, Gable and sophomore receiver Ronald Johnson kickoffs.
Practices are open to the public and will be held on campus at Howard Jones Field, unless noted:
* Today, 5:30 p.m.; Aug. 7-9, 3 p.m.; Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m. (first day in full pads); Aug. 11, 9 a.m., 4 p.m.; Aug. 12, 4 p.m. (scrimmage at Coliseum); Aug. 13, 9 a.m., 4 p.m.; Aug. 14, 4 p.m.; Aug. 15, 9 a.m., 4 p.m.; Aug. 16, 4 p.m. (scrimmage at Coliseum); Aug. 17, 9 a.m., 4 p.m.; Aug. 18, 4 p.m.; Aug. 19, 4 p.m.; Aug. 20, 9 a.m., 4:15 p.m.; Aug. 21, 3:30 p.m. (mock game at Coliseum); Aug. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Aug. 23, 10:30 a.m.; Aug. 25-27, 4 p.m.
Home games are at the Coliseum; times Pacific and p.m.:
*--* Aug. 30 at Virginia 12:30 Sept. 13 Ohio State 5 Sept. 25 at Oregon State 6 Oct. 4 Oregon 5 Oct. 11 Arizona State TBA Oct. 18 at Washington State 12:30 Oct. 25 at Arizona 7:15 Nov. 1 Washington TBA Nov. 8 California 5 Nov. 15 at Stanford 4 Nov. 29 Notre Dame 5 Dec. 6 at UCLA 1:30 *--*
* Tickets: All home games are sold out. If you want to see USC at the Coliseum, bookmark a ticket broker or exchange, Craigslist and EBay.