At this point, it's so close to the new season that it really doesn't make much sense to overwhelmingly research the previous season, so we haven't had much on the analysis front as of late. That will change in a couple of weeks, of course, but for now, there's just not much. What can you say? So close, yet so far away.
At this time of year, of course, you see the pre-season rankings, so I figure I may as well join the party.
So, in the following five days I will list my top five for 2007, listing one each day beginning with number one. Why only five teams? Two reasons. One, it's hard enough to predict the top five teams with any legitimate accuracy, and trying to do a top ten, or deeper, is basically just a waste of time. Two, by narrowing the list down you can go more in-depth with each particular team.
Without further adieu:
Number One: USC Trojans
I realize that some people seem to think I specialize in disputing the consensus opinion on things around here -- and that may be true to a degree -- but sometimes the consensus opinion is dead on. The Trojans aren't too popular in the Southeast, but it really doesn't matter what people think of them in this part of the world. The fact of the matter is, this team has a chance to be truly incredible. To say that this USC team has the potential to be the best team they've had in the Pete Carroll era is a very legitimate statement. Last year was definitely the year to dethrone USC with the loss of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and others, yet the Trojans still won the Pac-10, won the Rose Bowl in a dominating fashion over a top five team, and likely came within one tipped ball of an appearance in the national championship game, and that was with no running game whatsoever.
Now here's the scary part if you aren't a USC fan: That same team returns somewhere in the area of 18 starters, and has more returning lettermen than any other team in the country.
They aren't everyone's favorite for nothing, folks.
The overall talent level that Pete Carroll has assembled in Los Angeles is simply laughable. You aren't supposed to do this sort of the thing in real world FBS college football, this is something you only do on Playstation 2 or something when you have it on Varsity mode. According to Scout.com, over the course of the past four years, USC has signed thirty-one players rated as five stars, and seven of those players have been rated as the number one player overall at their position. Again, you are supposed to do those things only in the world of video games. But alas, the Trojans have done it. They literally have boatloads of five star recruits at every position, and basically every starter on either side of the ball will play in the NFL. Hell, USC has more five-star tailbacks on the roster right now than Alabama has signed five stars in general this entire decade. Truthfully, many of the back-ups on this team would start at basically every other school in the country, and that includes places like Alabama. Even the Miami teams of the early 2000's (specifically 2000-2002) probably didn't have this much talent. Honestly, this team could turn out six or seven first round picks in the 2008 NFL Draft, and to predict that this team's current roster, over the course of the next five years, will eventually turn out perhaps fifteen or more first round NFL Draft picks is quite reasonable.
John David Booty -- considered the number one quarterback in the nation as a high school senior -- waited forever to get his turn, and when he finally did, he far surpassed expectations. All told, last year he threw for over 3,300 yards, completed over 60 per cent of his passes, threw 29 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions, and led the nation in passer efficiency. The odds are, if he stays healthy, the fifth-year senior will win the Heisman Trophy, and probably be a top ten pick in the NFL Draft next year. Even if he goes down, Mark Sanchez, the number one quarterback recruit in the country two years ago, should come in and play fine.
The running game, which was non-existent a year ago when USC played most of the year with no healthy tailback, will be exponentially improved this year. Existing players have gotten healthy (namely Chauncey Washington and C.J. Gable), and they racked up the number one and number two rated prep tailbacks in the country (Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler).
The offensive line has to replace two starters -- namely center Ryan Kalil -- but it's a line with a lot of talent, a lot of experience, and a lot of depth. Left tackle Sam Baker is probably the best in the country, and he has a great chance at being a top five pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The Trojan offensive line should perform basically like it did last year, when Booty was sacked only nine times in thirteen games.
The defense will be one of the best in the country, bar none. In 2006, they finished first in the Pac-10 in total defense, first in scoring defense, first in rushing defense, and first in pass efficiency defense. Get the idea? Nearly everyone returns from that unit, and it will only be better in 2007. The defensive line -- considering Sedrick Ellis and Lawrence Jackson passed up the NFL and returned for their senior seasons -- is likely to be the best in the nation, and that includes LSU with Glenn Dorsey. Ellis and Jackson, if they can stay healthy, will almost certainly be All-Americans. All three starters at linebacker -- Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing -- are All-America candidates, and all three will be playing in the NFL. The secondary is just as good, and everyone returns from a year ago. They'll form the Pac-10's best pass defense for the second year in a row.
The only real "concern," and that's a major misnomer, is at receiver, where they must replace Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. But honestly, there's no problem for the Trojans here. Patrick Turner is massive, and a great receiver. Actually, he was the number one receiver in the country when he came out of high school in 2005. When Dwayne Jarrett went down last year, he stepped in and the Trojan passing game didn't miss a beat; he'll have a big year and will eventually be the next Trojan wide receiver in the NFL. Vidal Hazelton, yet another big and fast receiver, will start opposite him, and his story is about like that of every other Trojan. Hazelton was the number one receiver in the country when he came out of a high school in 2006. Fred Davis is the tight end, and he's one of the best receiving tight ends in the country (38 catches for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns last year).
The schedule, too, works out well for the Trojans. Playing at Nebraska is a scary game, but this isn't your Daddy's Cornhuskers, and USC should win with no major problems, much like it did a year ago. Notre Dame is in a major rebuilding year, and they had nothing for the Trojans a year ago. As for the rest of the Pac-10, truthfully they've had nothing on the Trojans since 2001, and that won't change this year. The likes of Oregon State and UCLA won't sneak up on them again, and Cal will again fall to the Trojans. Moreover, being in the Pac-10, they don't have to worry about a conference championship game tripping them up.
As I said before, this team is just plain sick. They have everything you would ever need. They have the talent, they have the senior leadership at quarterback, they have the depth, they have the defense, they have the offense, they have the coaching staff, and so on and so forth. Again, there's a reason they are everyone's favorite. Long story short, this team could legitimately be Pete Carroll's best to date.
Seriously, just think of all of the things that you would ever need to win a national championship, and put them in a checklist format, seeing how USC stacks up.
Coaching staff with national championship experience? Check.
Raw talent? Check.
Future first-round draft picks? Check.
Potential All-Americans? Check.
Potential Heisman Trophy winner? Check.
Talented incoming freshman class? Check.
Quality depth at every position? Check.
Great defense? Check.
Great offense? Check.
Experience at quarterback? Check.
Talent at quarterback? Check.
Leadership on both sides of the ball? Check.
Boatloads of returning starters? Check.
Manageable schedule? Check.
Pre-season hype? Check.
Get the idea?
The truth is, USC will simply be a much better team in every aspect than any other team they will face in the 2007 regular season. They might slip up and lose somewhere, but it will likely be in a situation where USC does not come out prepared to play and blows a game that they should win easily.
But here is the real kicker with USC: Even if they lose a game -- which most likely won't happen -- they still have a great chance at making the BCS title game, considering their pre-season ranking and the certainty of a lot of blowout wins. In the nine years thus far of the BCS, five times a team with one loss has played in the national championship game, and that's of course possible again this year. The truth is, even if USC loses once in the regular season, they will still be a lock for the national championship game as long as there is only one undefeated team in college football this year. Say if, for example, West Virginia goes undefeated, and USC ends up with a loss (Nebraska), as does LSU (Virginia Tech), and Texas (Oklahoma), the Trojans will be the ones headed to the Big Easy, and I'm not talking about appearing in the Sugar Bowl either. For USC not to make the national championship game, they are likely going to have to really bomb the schedule and lose twice; a one-loss season could very well be all they need to get into the title game.
You may hate USC, but regardless of your personal feelings, this is the harsh truth: If this team plays up to its potential, they will go 13-0 and John David Booty will end his collegiate career in New Orleans hoisting the crystal ball in his home state of Louisiana. Make no mistake about it, watch this USC team closely this year. If they play up to their potential, it could be one of the best college football teams to ever take the field.