It’s been the same story for the last five season openers. USC begins at or near the top of all the preseason polls as many expect them to finish their season in a BCS Bowl at the beginning of the new year.
The latest chapter of the Trojan empire starts Saturday at the Coliseum as the No. 1 team in the land gets sets to make French fries of the Idaho Vandals from the Potato state.
USC bring their strongest defense in years with a fierce front seven that will put fear into all comers this year. At the same time, their offense is ready to prove that despite the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 rusher and receiver, they can still be efficient and fill in the shoes of their All-American ancestors.
Okay, maybe Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Reggie Bush and Lendale White were only at the program a year or two ago, but that might as well be ancient history because this group of Trojans has the potential to make their own mark in the empire.
Last year, the team rushed by committee as Chauncey Washington, Emanuel Moody and true freshman C.J. Gable split the majority of carries. During fall practice this year, the question has not been who will be the No. 1 guy, but how will the team find time for its 10 Prep-All American tailbacks.
That question is slowly being answered with Moody transferring to Florida and injuries affecting most of the backs leading into Saturday’s game.
Washington is out with has a sprained shoulder, Gable is fighting through an abdominal strain and hot shot freshman Joe McKnight has a stretched ligament in his right knee and will be a game time decision.
Two backs who appear to be the healthiest heading into the opener are senior Desmond Reed and sophomore Stafon Johnson, who combined for 10 carries and 36 yards last year.
Johnson, a former City Section co-Player of the Year while at Dorsey High School, has been rising up the depth chart the last week and a half and is considered the front runner to start on Saturday.
Expect to see the two of them, along with sophomore Allen Bradford and possibly Gable, get quality minutes on Saturday.
The Trojans also have to find replacements for Jarrett and Smith, who finished their career as All-American wide receivers. Junior Patrick Turner (29 receptions for 272 yards with two touchdowns) is the most experienced wideout on the roster and he’ll be called upon to step into the No. 1 slot and be an instant contributor.
But the calling card this year will be the heavily experienced defense, which could boast several All-Americans by season’s end.
Start by looking at All-American senior defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, a three-year starter who won the Pac-10 Morris Trophy last year as the league’s top defensive lineman. On that same line, you have senior defensive end and former Inglewood High standout Lawrence Jackson, an All-American candidate who will be starting his fourth year.
If that’s not intimidating enough, then teams should fear perhaps the best linebacker corps in the nation. Coach Pete Carroll has already called them the best he’s ever had at USC and for good reason.
Senior Keith Rivers is an All-American candidate who led the team in tackles (85) and forced fumbles (three) last year. He and junior Rey Maualuga, both of whom made the all-conference first team last year, are also candidates for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
The secondary is just as frightening as senior cornerback Terrell Thomas is lock-down specialist, leading the team in deflections last year, while junior strong safety Kevin Ellison (64 tackles) was a second-team Sophomore All-American last year.
So as fans strap in for a familiar ride that they hope ends in New Orleans on January 7, USC football will once again have the eyes of America watching to see how the 2007 version of the Trojan empire will unfold.