LOS ANGELES - They are all coming now.
Some of the finest playmakers in college football are lining up to take their best shot at USC in one withering, three-week span. The big question of the month, or maybe the season, is this: Can the Trojans' defense handle them? Forget what happened last week at Stanford. That doesn't count. The 2006 Cardinal outfit, your basic Pac-10 punching bag, might be the worst team the conference has fielded in 25 years. Think back to all the other USC games, against the
"We're going to see some new game plans, some new styles (of offense)," Carroll said. "It's a big challenge for us." What they won't say at USC is that most of the defensive experiments the coaches attempted in the first half of the season didn't work. The new 3-4 alignment that was supposed to create a big-time pass rush was a dismal failure. Brian Cushing, playing a new hybrid position, virtually disappeared. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson, widely hailed as a preseason All-American candidate after registering 10 sacks last year, has yet to collect his first sack this season.
That touted collection of highly regarded young linebackers has alternated between terrific and mistake-prone. And the secondary has missed the leadership and consistency of injured Josh Pinkard, the safety Carroll described as the team's "best football player" before the season. The result has been an immature unit that has taken time to develop.
The story of November for USC will be how quickly those younger guys on defense mature. As long as Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith,
But he and his teammates know it won't be as easy against