USC senior tailback Petros Papadakis counts Che Guevara and T.S.
Eliot among his heroes; refers to his father, John, who played
linebacker for the Trojans under John McKay, simply as the Don;
and was so inspired by reading Moby Dick that he purchased a
harpoon. In the land of Troy, Papadakis is an eccentric Greek.
He initially wore number 22 in honor of Catch-22 author Joseph
Heller and thinks wideout R. Jay Soward's off-season problems
stem from his devilish choice of wearing number 18 (the sum of
three sixes). "I'm a Greek-American icon," says Papadakis, whose
eight rushing touchdowns led Trojan runners last season.
"They're tired of Pete Sampras. I'm what's new."
That's not the only thing new at USC. Gone from the Pac-10's
stingiest defense are Butkus Award-winning middle linebacker
Chris Claiborne and secondary standouts Daylon McCutcheon and
Rashard Cook. For the first time in three seasons there is also
no quarterback controversy. Sophomore Carson Palmer, one of nine
returning starters on offense, has the job. Second-year coach
Paul Hackett believes Palmer's development, and the key to the
team's fortunes, rests in the hands of the running game. If
senior tailback Chad Morton (985 yards) can avoid the nagging
injuries that have slowed him for three years, USC will have its
first 1,000-yard rusher since Delon Washington in 1995.
Papadakis is adept at finding the end zone, while redshirt
freshman Sultan McCullough is a human comet (10.17 speed in the
100). The X factor on offense is Soward, whose talent and
conduct bring to mind Dennis Rodman. The senior was AWOL for the
team's winter workouts and absent from informal training
following spring practice. No one questions his All-America
talent: Soward has scored a touchdown every 6.9 times he has
touched the ball at USC.
On defense the key spot is middle linebacker, where junior Zeke
Moreno replaces Claiborne. Senior David Gibson switches from
weakside linebacker to strong safety to help a questionable
secondary. The line, led by junior tackle Ennis Davis, is the
strength of a unit that will need time to jell.
The road to Pasadena has potential roadblocks at Arizona and at
California, as well as the usual border war with UCLA. "It's
sickening," Morton says of the Bruins' eight consecutive
victories over USC. "But I guarantee this year we are not going
USC over UCLA? Now that would be something new.
1998 record: 8-5 (5-3, tied for 3rd in Pac-10)
Final ranking: unranked
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
OFFENSE 27.3 139.3 211.8 351.0
DEFENSE 17.8 142.4 187.4 329.8
Schedule strength: 12th of 114
Oct. 9 at Arizona
The last time USC went to the Rose Bowl (1995), it beat the
Wildcats in Tucson. This year expect Arizona to be the victor.
Nov. 20 vs. UCLA
The Trojans haven't beaten the Bruins since 1990. Expect the
losing streak to reach nine this year.
The Bottom Line
A more experienced Palmer and an improved running game will help
the Trojans challenge for the Pac-10 championship. Winning that
crown, however, will be another story.