Out of Conference Opponents for Week 1
USC (vs Auburn)
2002 saw the Trojans re-enter the nation's elite. They compiled an 11-2 record, including a 38-17 pasting of Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
The Trojans bring back some of the best talent in the nation, but are relatively inexperienced at some key positions. The Trojans must replace starters at the quarterback, running back, middle linebacker, and safety slots. They are thin at WR, and have practically no experience in the offensive backfield. But, they have super talent there.
The offensive line boasts 5 NFL caliber players, including the best pair of tackles in college football. Sophomore WR Mike Williams (81 catches, 1265 yds, and 14 td's) leads the WR crew. He has the size and speed to be an All-American this year.
The Trojans have 4 guys competing for the starting QB slot. Sophomore Matt Leinart has the strongest arm, and leads in the race to be the Trojan signal caller this year. Junior Matt Cassel has experience. Junior Brandon Hance has the best mobility. Sophomore Billy Hart is the most athletic. Of the 4, one will emerge to lead this club.
RB Hershel Dennis is the only rojan RB with experience. He is only 175 pounds, but extremely quick and explosive. Freshman Reggie Bush (a 2002 Parade All-American) will push for time if Dennis falters. He has good size and blazing speed.
On defense, the front 7 may be the best in college football. Defensive end Omar Nazel has blinding speed. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson is one of the best in the country. Both could be All-Americans this year. Linebacker Matt Grootegoed led the team in tackles last year, and recorded 8 sacks and had 17 tackles for loss. If there is worry on the defensive side, it is in the secondary. Senior CB Marcell Allmond is the only returning starter, but he may be the best in the Pac-10. He has sensational speed, and good size.
The Trojans are picked by most to win the Pac-10 this year.
South Florida (vs Alabama)
It is unfortunate that the Bulls did not get a bowl bid last year. They finished 9-2 with wins over Southern Miss and Bowling Green, and North Texas. Big losses to Arkansas (42-3) and Oklahoma (31-14) sealed their fate. Still, IMO, this team was very deserving of a bid.
This season, the Bulls move to CUSA. A 9-2 reocrd this year will translate to a bowl somewhere. The only problem is: the Bulls will not be as good this year as last. The loss of QB Blackwell may be insurmountable. He was a leader. That is not to say that South Florida lacks talent.
Senior WR Huey Whittacker is a deep threat (14.7 yds/catch last year), and caight 26 balls for 383 yds. He will be the primary receiver this year. Junior Ronnie Banks will call the signals. He has a strong arm and good passing skills. But, he lacks mobility. Junior Clenton Crossley will be the featured RB. He led the Bulls with 415 yds rushing and 3 td's.
On the defensive side of the ball, FS J.R. Reed will lead. He runs like a cornerback, and hits like a linebacker. He is one of the nation's best safeties. The entire front 4 is gone, along with both corners. This unti will be tested early and must produce.
South Florida is being projected to finish near the bottom of CUSA.
UL-Monroe (vs LSU)
Former Navy Head Coach Charlie Weatherbie inherits a program that is fighting for its' life as a major college program. The Indians were 3-9 last year. Folks, 3-9 in the Sunbelt is not going to get you much attention.
On a brighter side, the Indians do return 14 starters and 49 lettermen. Senior WR Mack Vincent (79 catches, 1198 yds, 7 td's) is one of the best WR's in the country. He has a solid receiving coprs around him. Sophomore QB Steven Jyles (2318 yds passing, 17 td's) is one of the more exciting players to watch in the Sunbelt. The Inians have returning experience at most offensive positions except RB. RB Krishun Williams carried the ball only 39 times for 172 yards. He will have to learn quickly. The offensive line is experienced.
Pass defense was sorely lacking last year (238 psg yds/game, and 22 td's), but this year's squad should be better. The Indians have experience in the secondary, and the safeties will lay a hit on you. DE John Thompson (all-SBC selection last year) has size and speed. Maurice Sonnier is one of the best LB's in the south. He is coming back from a broken ankle and, if healthy, will lead the club in tackles and be an all-SBC selection.
UL Monroe is picked to finish the year at the bottom of the pile in the Sunbelt Conference race.
Oregon (vs Mississippi State)
After starting the year 6-0, the Ducks stumbled their way to a 7-6 campaign in 2002, which included a 38-17 drubbing at the hands of Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl.
This team is full of talent. The quarterback situation is not clearly defined. Senior Jason Fife (2752 psg yds, 24 td's) has experience, but is battling Sophomore Kellen Clemons (201 psg yds, 2 td's) for the top spot. The running back corps looks solid. Redshirt Freshman Chris Vincent has great cutting ability and speed to burn. WR Sammie Parker (49 catches, 724 yds, 8 td's) has world class speed and good hands. He gained valuable experience last year. The offensive line is very good in the interior.
The defensive secondary was the primary reason for last season's collapse. They gave up 291 yds/game last year (and 35 td's). They have experience, but are undersized. Senior linebacker Kevin Mitchell has 255 career tackles, 13 sacks, and 38 tackles for loss. He missed some time in spring with a knee injury. If healthy, he is a force. The defensive line is strong, especially at the tackle slot. Sophomore Haloti Ngata (339 pounds) is pushing for time. He will be a great one.
The Ducks are being picked as a top-3 team in the Pac-10.