[ UH FOOTBALL ]
but USC is still
stacked for UH
Second in a Series
They enter the season riding an eight-game winning streak and a horse named Traveler -- despite earlier concerns they might lose their longtime mascot. They finished last year with victories over UCLA, Notre Dame and then Iowa in the Orange Bowl. They return 14 starters and 49 lettermen from last year's 11-2 team.
But No. 8 USC comes into 2003 with one of college football's most burning questions: Who replaces Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer?
Coach Pete Carroll is confident tentative starter Matt Leinart (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) can do the job. If not, one from the group of Matt Cassell, Brandon Hance and John David Booty will emerge. And the defense and running game will be strong enough to let the new QB settle in.
So far, sophomore Leinart -- who threw two touchdown passes in a scrimmage last week -- hasn't done anything to make anyone, including offensive coordinator Norm Chow, doubt the choice.
"Matt Leinart's the starter. If someone beats him out later, then they'll play," said Chow, a Punahou grad and former Waialua High School and Brigham Young coach.
Someday -- and it could come this season -- the QB might be Booty (6-3, 220), who was in booties not very long ago. The brother of former Hawaii Winter League baseball player and LSU quarterback Josh Booty is supposed to be a high school senior this year. But when his father was fired as an assistant coach of his team, Booty decided to take the one class he needed to graduate last summer and report to USC this fall.
Whoever ends up at quarterback will have lots of talent around him, as usual at USC.
Wide receiver Mike Williams (6-5, 230) draws comparisons to Keyshawn Johnson, as well as double coverage. Many considered him the top freshman pass receiver in the nation last year; Williams pulled in 81 passes for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns. Senior Keary Colbert (6-2, 210) is steady and a fourth-year starter.
The three top running backs of last year are all gone, but sophomore Hershel Dennis (5-11, 190) starts at tailback and will be pushed by true freshman Reggie Bush (6-0, 190), a player some say was the best of the nation's high school crop at his position last year. Sophomore Brandon Hancock (6-1, 235) leads the candidates at fullback.
This will probably be one of USC's best offensive lines in years, with four returning starters. Tackles Jacob Rogers (6-6, 305) and Winston Justice (6-6, 300) were All-Pac-10 as a junior and Freshman All-American, respectively, last year.
Senior center Norm Katnik (6-4, 280) has started two years and left guard Lenny Vandermade (6-3, 275) has for three. Fred Matua (6-2, 300) was going to start as a true freshman last year before he suffered a knee sprain, and he gets the first look at right guard.
Tight end is deep, and the returning starter is senior Alex Holmes (6-3, 270); he's also a special teams monster.
Sophomore punter Tom Malone averaged 42.1 yards as a freshman and junior Ryan Killeen is the incumbent place-kicker.
On defense, a name familiar to USC and island football fans could be right in the middle of things. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (6-0, 225), son of Mosi and a sophomore transfer from Maine, might win the starting inside linebacker spot.
"He's quicker and more agile than (previous starter) Michael Pollard so far," Carroll told the Los Angeles Daily News recently.
The outside linebacker spots are a definite strength, with junior Matt Grootegoed (5-11, 215) and senior Melvin Simmons (6-1, 220) combining for 152 tackles and 23 for loss last fall.
The defensive front is considered best in the nation by many. Senior Omar Nazel (6-5, 245) and junior Kenechi Udeze (6-4, 285) dominated last year. Udeze's gaudy stats included six forced fumbles. Junior Shaun Cody (6-4, 285) joins junior Mike Patterson (6-0, 285) at the starting tackles.
The Trojans lost one of the best defensive players in the nation in strong safety Troy Polamalu, and two other starters are also departed.
Senior corner Marcell Allmond (6-0, 200) is the only returning starter in the secondary. Senior Kevin Arbet (5-11, 190) comes back from a broken foot last year to guard the other corner.
Junior Jason Leach (5-11, 210) will likely start at free safety. Leach led USC with four picks in 2002.
Freshman Darnell Bing (6-2, 220) from Long Beach Poly gets the first shot at replacing Thorpe Award winner Polamalu.
Bing is so gifted that USC athletic director Mike Garrett -- first of the five Trojans to win the Heisman gave --him permission to wear his formerly retired No. 20.
||at Arizona State
||at Notre Dame
11-2 overall, 7-1 Pac-10
||at ColoradoW, 40-3
||at Kansas StateL, 20-27
||Oregon StateW, 22-0
||at Washington StateL, 27-30
||at OregonW, 44-33
||at StanfordW, 49-17
||Arizona StateW, 34-13
||at UCLAW, 52-21
||Notre DameW, 44-13