Near the end of the first half against Oregon early last season,
Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer took off on an ill-advised
scramble that left him with a broken collarbone--and the Trojans
with a shattered season. Completing 73.6% of his passes, Palmer
had led the Trojans to victories in their first two games, but
with the sophomore sidelined for the rest of the season, they
would lose that third game to the Ducks and then drop five of
their next six.
With a body (6'5", 220 pounds) built for the NFL, and great
passing ability, Palmer, in 1998, had become the second true
freshman in school history to start at quarterback, and USC went
8-5. But Palmer approached the position with a laid-back
attitude reflective of his surfer-dude upbringing in Orange
County, preferring on-field improvisation to preparation. That
all changed last fall when he was forced to break down film and
help prepare each week's game plan. Such immersion in the
complicated West Coast offense had never occurred to him during
his whirlwind freshman season. "Carson played only 2 1/2 games
last year, but his development has been staggering," says coach
Palmer's maturation is just one of the enticing developments at
USC. The Trojans boast one of the best defenses in the country
and retain 10 starters from a playmaking unit that led the nation
in takeaways (39) while also scoring eight touchdowns. Southern
Cal has a formidable linebacking duo in seniors Zeke Moreno
(team-high 108 tackles) and Markus Steele (team-leading 15
tackles for losses).
The offense has a few question marks, beginning at tailback.
With 1,000-yard rusher Chad Morton now with the New Orleans
Saints, Hackett plans to go with a tailback-by-committee, using
215-pound bruiser Malaefou MacKenzie, speedy Sultan McCullough
and Petros Papadakis, a short-yardage specialist. The receiving
corps is led by sophomore Kareem Kelly, the Pac-10 freshman of
the year in '99.
As for Palmer, who was granted a redshirt year, he's learned
from his mistakes and has developed a new strategy. "Next time,"
he says, "I'll go out-of-bounds."
1999 record: 6-6 (3-5, T6 in Pac-10)
Final ranking: not ranked
Seasons since a Trojan has put together back-to-back seasons
with 1,000 yards rushing.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Trojans
"They are the most skilled team in the Pac-10....Having a
healthy Palmer at quarterback is huge. He's a big strong guy
with good field vision....McCullough can fly, and their
offensive line is solid as always....Kelly is one of the most
explosive and exciting players in the country....Their defense
is big, athletic and aggressive. To get them on their heels you
better put a lot of pressure on their secondary."
Strength: 38th of 115
Aug. 27 vs. Penn State*
Sept. 9 COLORADO
23 SAN JOSE ST.
30 at Oregon State
Oct. 7 ARIZONA
21 at Stanford
Nov. 4 at Arizona State
11 WASHINGTON ST.
18 at UCLA
25 NOTRE DAME
*At East Rutherford
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]