For the first time in five years USC appears vulnerable.
Which means more than the obvious (below) after the Trojans fell 19 seconds short of a third consecutive national championship ...
- Only 10 starters return, none of them named Leinart or Bush.
- The Trojans won't start the season as everyone's choice to at least play in the BCS title game. Top 10 is likely, but even that qualifies as slippage for a program that has won 47 of its past 49.
- An amazing eight-year streak is in jeopardy. For the first time since 1997, USC might not have a future or current Heisman winner on the roster. That's a big "might." Receiver Dwayne Jarrett will start high on most lists.
Yeah, real problems (sarcasm noted).
But there are some legitimate reasons to be concerned as USC heads into its final spring practice Tuesday. Carroll's program is one of only five in last season's final AP top 25 to lose both its starting quarterback and tailback. In addition to Matt Leinart, USC lost its top two ground gainers in Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
Leinart's replacement, John David Booty, lasted one spring practice before back pain and surgery to correct disc problems knocked him out. Booty is listed as the No. 1 quarterback going into fall drills by Pete Carroll, but that can viewed skeptically as loyalty to the redshirt junior who has waited patiently behind Leinart for three years.
One of those years (2004) was taken as a redshirt while Booty recovered from a bruised elbow.
|Ryan Powdrell has to step up with Reggie Bush and LenDale White gone. (Getty Images)|
His absence obviously gives redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez a chance. The all-everything prospect from Mission Viejo is seen as the next Carson Palmer/Leinart. But whoever gets the call on Sept. 3 at Arkansas will be making his first college start.
That will likely be the case at tailback as well. Converted linebacker Ryan Powdrell is listed No. 1 at the position, and right now, Carroll has no other scholarship players at the position. Powdrell isn't even playing the position he converted to, which is fullback. Less than a year ago, the former juco transfer was a reserve linebacker and playing on special teams.
Projected No. 1 tailback Herschel Dennis was lost for the season after he tore ligaments on a wet field during practice. Dennis started in 2003 (rushing for 661 yards) but played sparingly since then. This will be his second consecutive season lost to knee surgery.
Junior Chauncey Washington would be a likely candidate to replace Bush/White but counting on him is a risk. Washington was last academically eligible in 2003. Sophomore Michael Coleman (95 yards in four games) backed up last season but missed the spring recovering from hip surgery.
What's more likely, given Carroll's habit of starting rookies, is a true freshman in the backfield. Look out for Parade All-Americans Stafon Johnson, Emmanuel Moody, C.J. Gable and Kenny Ashley.
Are these signs of legitimate concern? Maybe. The toughest stretch on the schedule -- three in a row against Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame -- are all home games. The defense, particularly the linebackers, will be significantly improved. Center Ryan Kalil and offensive tackle Sam Baker are All-America caliber. The top two receivers return.
OK, maybe vulnerable isn't the right word. The last time USC lost a game, it then won 34 in a row.
The NCAA is considering adding four new bowls to its already glutted 28-bowl lineup. If all are approved, 64 of the 119 Division I-A schools (54 percent) will be guaranteed postseason berths.
And you thought the Stanley Cup playoffs were too inclusive?
The new bowls have to be first approved by the NCAA bowl certification committee. More important, concerned parties are waiting for the NCAA board of directors to define bowl eligibility in 2006.
The board almost has to set the standard at 6-6 when it hands down the decision on April 27. The last time a 12-game schedule existed in 2002 and 2003, at least four teams became bowl eligible each year because of the six-win standard.
The NCAA barely found enough bowl-eligible teams last year (it needed 56) during the 11-game regular season. If teams were required to finish above .500 -- in other words 7-5 in a 12-game schedule in 2006 -- it's almost certain there wouldn't be 64 bowl-eligible teams.
A look at the new bowls waiting to be certified:
- The new BCS national championship game which debuts Jan. 8, 2007 in the new Glendale, Ariz. stadium. Approval is a slam dunk.
- The Birmingham Bowl, to be played at Legion Field, where UAB struggles to attract fans. This newbie would match Conference USA against either a Big East or MAC rep. Can't wait.
- The New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. Who cares who plays in it (Mountain West vs. WAC), this is what bowls are all about: a destination city where you can go from teeing off to snow skiing in 30 minutes.
- International Bowl in Toronto. Nothing says college football like a match between Big East and MAC runners-up in Canada.
Lords of the rings
You can flash all the Super Bowl rings you want, some things still remain the same.
Terry Bradshaw recently donated six rings (four Super Bowl, one College Football Hall of Fame, one Pro Football Hall of Fame) and other awards to his alma mater, Louisiana Tech.
The implication is that Bradshaw's largesse will help recruiting.
"This is probably the most significant gift of this kind to any program in America," coach Jack Bicknell III said.
Or maybe not. Louisiana Tech is still Louisiana Tech when it comes to bling. We'll take Charlie Weis' four Super Bowl rings over Bradshaw's as a recruiting advantage any day.
"Terry said this would mean a lot more to him if he knew what 'alma mater' meant," Jay Leno cracked during a recent monologue.
Central Michigan tragedy
Why doesn't Central Michigan president Michael Rao say right now, out loud, he will not allow Spencer Lewis back at the school?
Last week, a judge dismissed second-degree murder charges against the Chippewas player in connection with the beating death of DeMarcus Graham in June 2004.
The school issued a statement saying it would be "inappropriate" to comment on the case until it is completed. Two other former Central Michigan players are still scheduled for trial. One has pleaded guilty to other charges. Two other former Chips have been sentenced to prison.
We're not saying Lewis is guilty; the murder charge was dismissed because some key evidence was disallowed, and the extent of his involvement remains in question. But the school can do itself a great service by simply saying it will not allow him back in the program.
And saying it now.
Graham was beaten unconscious outside a Mount Pleasant, Mich., club. He died three weeks later.
Lewis, a senior running back, played only in the season opener last year. Mostly a backup, Lewis, 23, has run for 268 career yards. He could conceivably apply for a redshirt year and complete his eligibility at Central Michigan -- or some other school.
Lewis had been held since September on charges of involuntary manslaughter, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and perjury.
A wire report stated that the judge in the case blocked an incriminating statement made by Lewis from being introduced as evidence. Prosecutors actually asked for the dismissal when they determined they could not proceed.
By not dismissing Lewis immediately, Rao is leaving the possibility open that he, and other players, could be reinstated in the future. That only adds to the ugliness hanging over the program.
An early nominee for the Football Writers Association of America Courage Award:
Cal offensive lineman Mike Tepper is back on the field, 10 months after being intentionally run over -- twice. Tepper was on Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue last June coming to the aid of a female Cal volleyball player who was propositioned by some men in a car.
The driver intentionally backed up, hit Tepper, running over his right leg. He then put the car in drive in ran over it again. Tepper broke a leg and had ligament damage.
Tepper, 6-feet-6, 334 pounds, is now starting at left offensive tackle. The driver is in prison for violating parole.
Cutting corners or cheating?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently unearthed some interesting violations by major programs that didn't exactly make it to the headlines.
- Alabama turned itself in last November for providing victory cigars to players. The "tobacco products" are considered an extra benefit.
- LSU allowed a walk-on practice player to travel with the team to Arizona State in September. In its report to the NCAA, LSU wrote that it thought the trip would be "uplifting" to the player; his father was missing at the time because of Hurricane Katrina.
- Texas turned itself in for allowing a recruit to charge excessive food and drinks to his hotel room. From now on, Texas says mini-bar keys won't be placed in the rooms of recruits. Maybe the next step is not putting recruits up at the Austin Four Seasons, where candy bars can cost $6.
- Memphis has shown a tremendous commitment to coach Tommy West. Following triple bypass surgery barely two months ago, West, 51, recently received an extension through 2010. West deserves every penny for putting the Tigers on the map in the middle of SEC territory. The performance of record-setting tailback (and fast-rising draftee) DeAngelo Williams should open doors to more top recruits. The Tigers have been to three consecutive bowls, a school record.
- Submitted without comment: Last season, Utah State played a 29-year old point guard, David Pak, who had served eight years in prison for sexual assault. On Saturday, police announced Aggies quarterback Jerod Walker had been arrested, accused of rape.
- Spring games to watch this weekend: Ohio State, where Jim Tressel has to replace nine starters on defense. ... Kansas State, where true freshman quarterback Josh Freeman tries to grab the starting job after leaving high school a semester early.
- Ronnie Lott has joined the advisory board of the National Football Foundation's Play It Smart program. Play It Smart assigns academic "coaches" to work with high school football teams in 35 states. One of the noted beneficiaries: Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr.