A freshman’s guide to 2009 USC storylines


Let’s cut to the chase, freshmen.

You’re here, and you’re excited for football season.

You’re especially eager to cheer for the No. 4-ranked college football team in the nation, after you just spent four years’ worth of Friday nights supporting what was probably a mediocre high school team.

If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re more than familiar with the likes of head coach Pete Carroll and senior safety Taylor Mays.

So let’s dig into stories of some of the lesser-known players and stories that you’ll likely come across this fall.

Read up. There are 13 notes, one for each of the games USC is likely to play.

l First of all, one of your kind has already played a big role this preseason. Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, still just 18, became the starting signal caller for the two weeks that Aaron Corp was out of fall camp with a cracked fibula. He has impressed teammates and coaches alike: Carroll called him “unusually gifted;” Garrett Green, a senior quarterback/wide receiver, said that Barkley has made “amazing mental progress.”

l Fall camp took place between Aug. 8 to 22, and, after a two-day break, actual fall practice started Tuesday. To briefly recap the noteworthy events, visitors to Howard Jones Field and Heritage Hall included Magic Johnson and Bill Withers of “Lean on Me” fame. Carroll also took the players on two surprise trips: an advance screening of District 9 at the University Village Theatres and bowling night at Lucky Strike Lanes at LA Live.

l The highlight of camp was probably a prank brawl staged by junior running back Joe McKnight and carried out by nearly the entire team. The coaches rushed to separate the players, and redshirt junior running back Allen Bradford and junior defensive end Everson Griffen were kicked out of practice for starting the fight. Then McKnight told Carroll he’d been punked. The 57-year-old coach promised revenge.

l The first scheduled game is against San Jose State on Sept. 5 at the Coliseum, but the first real one is Sept. 12 in Columbus against Ohio State. Expect the Trojans to be favored by about 35 points in the home opener.

l USC’s schedule is tougher than it was in 2008. The month of October, in particular, looks brutal: trips to No. 12 Cal and No. 23 Notre Dame followed by a home matchup with Oregon State. No. 16 Oregon will host the Trojans on Halloween in raucous Autzen Stadium.

l As far as the Coliseum goes, you’ll often hear “Big Balls Pete” chanted by a grinning student section, but don’t be alarmed. It’s the student body’s way of persuading Carroll to take the plunge in high-risk situations. Think fourth-and-one on the opponent’s 35-yard line.

l Also, don’t be alarmed when you look over in your general education classes this week and see a football player. It happens. If you see a bunch of them, it’s a good bet your class is going to be pretty easy.

l USC has five running backs who would likely start at the majority of Football Bowl Subdivision schools: senior Stafon Johnson, juniors Allen Bradford, C.J. Gable, and McKnight, and redshirt sophomore Marc Tyler. The sad part is that at least one of them will get lost in the shuffle.

l There are new offensive and defensive coordinators, but they both come from within the system. Rocky Seto has ascended from secondary coach to the coordinator on defense, and John Morton moves up from passing game coordinator to offensive coordinator. But neither of them will call plays, as those duties will fall — on offense — on new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, a transplant from the NFL, and to Carroll on defense.

l The four team captains: senior offensive guard Jeff Byers, senior safety Josh Pinkard, redshirt junior receiver Damian Williams, and Mays. Byers is the only repeat captain as he returns for his sixth year of eligibility.

l Another note on Byers: Aside from being the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year upon graduating high school in 2003 — the only lineman in history to win the award — he’s also a remarkable five years and one day older than Barkley. Incidentally, Barkley earned the same accolade in 2008 and third-string quarterback Mitch Mustain was the 2006 award winner.

l The quote of the offseason, thus far: “I don’t want my teammates to see me at a party, because then they might think it’s cool for them to be at a party,” Mays said to laughter at Pac-10 media day last month. “I have no problem sitting in my room looking at the wall. I’ll do that all day long if that’s what it takes for my teammates to see it.”

l For the first time since 2003, USC will not face UCLA in its final regular season contest. The Trojans will instead play Arizona to conclude the pre-bowl season on Dec. 5. What does that mean? Nothing, really.

“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Pedro at pmoura@usc.edu.