LOS ANGELES -- This is the senior year John David Booty never had. USC's quarterback could win the Heisman and national championship this season but isn't about to give career advice.
|Coming out west was 'the best decision I made in my entire life.' (Getty Images)|
Seems like ancient history, but four years ago Booty became what is believed to be the first high school football player to skip his entire senior year to sign a major-college scholarship.
It wasn't planned that way. There were mitigating factors. Booty's father Johnny was also his coach. He had been fired at Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian.
That made it easy for Booty to try to make history -- with some regret.
"It was the last year with all my friends ...," Booty said. "All that was kind of taken away. I'm glad I did it. Going back if the situation was the same I'd do it again, (but) I wish the situation wasn't what it was."
Booty arrived here with hoopla over the top even for Troy. The Booty name in football is golden. Brother Josh was a star at LSU who played in the NFL. Abram Booty was a record-setting receiver. Little brother Jake is a senior quarterback at Calvary Academy in Shreveport.
The signing caused ripples across the country, not just because Booty arrived so early. USC lost out on Chris Leak (who eventually went to Florida and won a national championship) and Kyle Wright (Miami).
|1. Southern California|
|4. Oregon State|
|6. Arizona State|
|9. Washington State|
|Team to beat:|
|DeSean Jackson, Cal|
|Keith Rivers, USC|
|Coach of the year:|
|Pete Carroll, USC|
Not that anybody at USC cares that much now. John David adjusted to campus life just fine. He just couldn't seem to get on the field. After becoming the backup quarterback as a true freshman (throwing all of 14 passes) he broke his wrist against UCLA and played only five games. A bruised throwing elbow caused him to redshirt in 2004.
The ascension of Matt Leinart delayed the Booty era further. Then a little more when Leinart decided to come back for his senior season in 2005. After three years on campus, Booty had two national championship rings but had thrown only 56 passes.
"When he first made his visit to SC there were so many signs that were positive. It was going to be quite a run," Johnny said. "Not many football players have had the kind of football successes he's seen.
"Every great athlete has to go through stuff that tests your mettle."
A fine 2006 has set Booty up for a Heisman and (another) championship run. But even during a 29-touchdown season, Booty wasn't all there. Neither was a spotty running game.
Back surgery in March 2006 limited Booty. There was that weird loss at Oregon State fueled by turnovers but almost overturned by a furious Booty-led comeback. UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker said he wanted to make Booty beat the Bruins by taking away that struggling running game.
Walker delivered on his promise on that day. Playing behind a skittish offensive line, Booty couldn't deliver. For the first time in 64 games, USC didn't score in double figures.
"He didn't have an opportunity to lift or run, get his body physically prepared (because of the surgery)," offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. "As the year wore on you could see his body, his explosiveness was not there."
Those aren't excuses, not after a month's rest before the Rose Bowl. Not after a Rose-tying four touchdown passes against Michigan.
|Before you give props to DeSean Jackson, show some respect to OSU star Sammie Stroughter. (Getty Images)|
There's something about everything being worth the wait at USC. Carson Palmer didn't surge until halfway through his senior season in 2002, clinching the Heisman. Leinart returned as a senior after back-to-back national championships and a Heisman to chase more greatness.
Booty, too, could have gone but wisely stayed, perhaps listening to Leinart.
"We were best friends for three years, roommates," Booty said. "Football was the last thing we talked about."
This fall will mark three years on campus for Booty's backup Mark Sanchez, the latest five-star can't miss quarterback who gladly got in line on the depth chart. Why do they come? Why do they stick around?
"You think a quarterback wants to come here?" Carroll said, pointing out the current successes of Palmer and Leinart in the NFL.
"Those are the reasons. This is the best program in the world for those guys."
To call it delayed gratification isn't even the point. Matt Cassel backed up Palmer and Leinart, never starting a game, and still got drafted. Now he gets paid for holding a clipboard, backing up Tom Brady in New England.
After battling this hard to get on the field how difficult can it be to chase a Heisman or another national championship?
"The Heisman? That's not on my list," Booty said. "(But) I'm definitely in a place where that could happen ... Coming here to SC was the best decision I made in my entire life."
Offensive MVPDeSean Jackson, WR/PR, Cal, Jr. You can kick away from him or double cover him, or both. But sooner or later Jackson is going to get you. He is the most dynamic offensive performer in a league full of them. Jackson averaged a touchdown every seven touches last season.
Defensive MVPKeith Rivers, LB, USC, Sr. It has to be somebody from the USC defense, right? Ten starters return. Eight of them were at least honorable mention all-Pac-10. Rivers is the veteran of the best linebacking group in the country.
Predicted order of finish
|Ben Olson is injury-free and back at starting QB for the Bruins. (Getty Images)|
2. Cal: Jeff Tedford finally gets a veteran returning quarterback (Nate Longshore). The secondary is vulnerable but the Bears have plenty of time to improve before the Nov. 10 showdown against USC.
3. UCLA: Still trying to figure out Karl Dorrell. Bruins held USC to nine, then gave up 44 to Florida State in the bowl game. If Dorrell doesn't enter November with a chance to win the league with this crew (20 starters) he might never do it.
4. Oregon State: If not for Jackson, receiver/returner Sammie Stroughter might be the most dangerous player in the conference. Beavers could win 10 again but will have to do it outscoring opponents.
5. Oregon: After the Oklahoma gift, the Ducks finished 4-6. Mike Bellotti was upset that his quarterback Dennis Dixon tried baseball in the offseason. There's a new offensive coordinator in Chip Kelly. Whatever happened to the mighty Ducks?
6. Arizona State The Devils will get tougher under Dennis Erickson. Dirk Koetter was a one-trick pony. Erickson brings the entire package. Given time, he will begin to challenge USC.
7. Washington: With home games against Boise State, Ohio State and USC before Oct. 1 we'll know early if the Huskies continue to make progress under Ty Willingham. Regardless, Husky Nation can't wait for the Jake Locker era to begin.
8. Arizona: Big year for Mike Stoops. The worst thing you can say about a team is that it is boring. Stoops has never had a quick-strike offense. That might change with the addition of new offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
|2007 Conference Previews|
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9. Washington State: Optimism is as common as upscale bars in Pullman. The Cougs lost the final three to blow a bowl in '06. Only one of the first five in '07 are at home. Alex Brink will quietly challenge the school's career passing records.
10. Stanford Palo Alto's Old Faithful (Jim Harbaugh spouts off every hour, too) now has to actually coach. The quotes will be good, the Cardinal won't.