Wednesday, August 25, 2010

season previews: USC and EMU

Wrapping up the season previews with the two I-A OOC opponents. You could hardly find two more polar opposite programs.

USC Trojans

Projected starters:

QB: Matt Barkley (So.)
RB: Marc Tyler (rJr.)
FB: Stanley Havili (5Sr.)
WR: Ronald Johnson (5Sr.)
WR: Brice Butler (rSo.)
TE: Rhett Ellison (rJr.)
LT: Matt Kalil (rSo.)
LG: Butch Lewis (5Sr.)
C: Kristofer O'Dowd (Sr.)
RG: Zack Heberer (5Sr.)
RT: Tyron Smith (Jr.)

DE: Armond Armstead (Jr.)
NT: DaJohn Harris (rJr.)
DT: Jurrell Casey (Jr.)
DE: Nick Perry (rSo.)
SLB: Michael Morgan (5Sr.)
MLB: Chris Galippo (rJr.)
WLB: Malcolm Smith (Sr.)
CB: Shareece Wright (5Sr.)
CB: T.J. Bryant (Jr.)
FS: T.J. McDonald (So.)
SS: Jawanza Starling (So.)

K: Joe Houston (5Sr.)
P: Jacob Harfman (Sr.)

Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Lane Kiffin (1st season)

Media prediction: 2nd, Pac-10


2009 1st team: WR/PR Damian Williams, OL Jeff Byers, OL Charles Brown, DB Taylor Mays
2009 2nd team: DL Everson Griffen, DB Josh Pinkard, DB Evan Thomas, ST Garrett Green
2009 HM: RB Allen Bradford, DT Jurrell Casey, LB Chris Galippo, S Will Harris, G Butch Lewis, TE Anthony McCoy, RB Joe McKnight, OT Tyron Smith, DT Christian Tupou

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Sure, you know the story. Bowl bans, scholarships, the works. It remains to be seen whether that'll have an effect on USC's season other than not seeing them in the postseason, but keep in mind this: any time you see someone, present company included, say that USC's kind of thin at a position or a little shaky somewhere, always add the words "for USC" to the end of the sentence.


The one exception to that last directive is at quarterback. While Matt Barkley is healthy and ready to continue his ascent on the path of hype, injuries and suspensions have decimated the QB corps behind him to the point where it's likely USC would have to use a walk-on at Hawaii should he get hurt between now and the end of that game.

UVA fans hoping to see the suspension of Dillon Baxter last beyond the Hawaii game will probably be disappointed; Lane Kiffin isn't noted for his iron fist. Allen Bradford looked like he'd get first crack at the tailback spot, but fall camp saw him get beaten out by junior Marc Tyler. But he's a big, bruising back who will always have a role, especially in short yardage. Baxter will likely see his carries increase as the year goes on. Stanley Havili is another big bruiser and one of the best all-around fullbacks in the country.

Wide receiver is another area where you should expect to see some super-hyped freshmen worm their way into the lineup sooner or later. Ronald Johnson's time on the field isn't going anywhere, but Markeith Ambles and Kyle Prater were two of the biggest 2010 recruits in all the country, and one of them could start edging Brice Butler out of the way at some point.

If Kristofer O'Dowd stays healthy, he'll anchor the offensive line and open some big holes at center, but his injury history is long and colorful. Butch Lewis starts next to him at left guard, but Lewis is USC's most versatile lineman and can play inside or outside, an important quality if brand-new starter Matt Kalil falters at left tackle.


On defense it's two rebuilding projects and one foundation for USC. The foundation is the linebacking corps, where experience abounds. On one side, Malcolm Smith is the leading returning tackler despite missing three games in 2009 with assorted injuries. Opposite him is Michael Morgan, who had 13 TFLs in 2009. The middle is manned by junior Chris Galippo, who was a Butkus semifinalist last season as just a sophomore in his first starting season.

The line is trickier, but answers are probably on the way. Wes Horton started 2009, his redshirt freshman season, as the starter at DE, but was largely unproductive and was eventually nudged out of the job. Getting it back will be tough this season with supertalented sophomore Nick Perry breathing down his neck; Perry didn't start at all in 2009 but still led the team in sacks with eight. Armond Armstead's 2009 season was injury-riddled, dragging down his production, but he'll get first crack at starting on the other end. It's not all inexperience among the starters, though: Jurrell Casey is a huge, playmaking tackle with a knack for getting turnovers.

All four starters in the secondary must be replaced. Shareece Wright returns to the lineup after being academically ineligible in 2009, and he'll bring experience to a unit that needs it. The opposite corner, T.J. Bryant, gets a promotion to the starting lineup from nickel cornerback, so the safeties should be the only major question mark here.


Joe Houston is a walk-on kicker who earned a scholarship (USC's got plenty to give these days after losing several players to the NCAA's get-out-of-jail-free policy) after winning the placekicking job this fall against punter Jacob Harfman. Harfman keeps the punting job, but isn't anything special.


Lane Kiffin brought a decade's worth of drama to Knoxville, Tennessee in just one year; imagine what he might be able to do in Hollywood. Kiffin's clownish behavior makes it easy to peg him as incompetent, but he's got a hell of a lot more talent to work with in LA. USC is still USC, and their backups could play at three-fourths of the schools in the country. They might not be eligible for a bowl game, but they're going to make life miserable for a lot of teams trying to get there themselves.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Projected starters:

QB: Alex Gillett (So.)
RB: Dwayne Priest (Sr.)
RB: Dominique Sherrer (Jr.)
WR: Tyrone Burke (5Sr.)
WR: Kinsman Thomas (So.)
TE: Ben Thayer (5Sr.)
LT: Bridger Buche (rJr.)
LG: Andrew Sorgatz (So.)
C: Eric Davis (5Sr.)
RG: Dan DeMaster (5Sr.)
RT: Korey Neal (rSo.)

DE: Javon Reese (Jr.)
DT: Brandon Slater (rJr.)
DT: Ryan Leonard (Sr.)
DE: Brad Ohrman (rJr.)
SLB: Tim Fort (5Sr.)
MLB: Marcus English (rJr.)
WLB: Nate Paopao (Sr.)
CB: Arrington Hicks (Sr.)
CB: Marcell Rose (So.)
FS: Latarrius Thomas (Sr.)
SS: Ryan Downard (Sr.)

K: Kody Fulkerson (Fr.)
P: Jay Karutz (Fr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Ron English (2nd season)

Media prediction: 6th place, MAC West


2009 1st team: none
2009 2nd team: P Zach Johnson
2009 3rd team: LB Andre Hatchett

(Italics indicate departed player.)

It's not easy to put together a winning program when you share a county with the winningest program of all time. Eastern Michigan has had its ups and downs, the latter far, far outnumbering the former, and the last decade was an especially painful one - Eastern hasn't seen the bright side of .500 since 1995, and hit rock bottom last year as new coach Ron English purged the older, more malcontent elements of the program en route to a winless season.


It wouldn't be a bad team without a quarterback controversy, and EMU has their share of that. Alex Gillett won the starting job midseason, although how is something of a mystery as he threw just three touchdowns against seven picks and completed less than 50% of his passes. The job isn't his in stone yet.

Gillett did prove to be a capable runner, averaging 5.1 yards a carry. Actual starting RB Dwayne Priest isn't going to scare anyone with his 3.6 average, and he'll probably have to split the carries more evenly than he did last year when he had 175. If there is a big-play threat on the Eagles' offense, it's probably sophomore receiver Kinsman Thomas, whose 18.3 yards/catch and three touchdowns led the team during his freshman season.

There's experience on the line, if a shortage of talent. Dan DeMaster is a longtime starter who moves back to right guard from left tackle. This opens up the tackle spot to give back to Bridger Buche, who was a full-time starter in 2008 but missed all of '09 with an injury. Sophomore LG Andrew Sorgatz was a full-time starter as a freshman and is part of an improving group of younger linemen that Eastern needs for the future.


The defensive line is woefully underproductive; the four projected starters combined for a total of 2.5 sacks in 2009, and end Brad Ohrman chipped in zero. Eastern relied on now-departed Brandon Downs for quarterback pressure, and someone is going to have to step up.

EMU also lost their one non-punter all-conference selection in linebacker Andre Hatchett. Mike backer Marcus English (no relation to the coach) could be a capable replacement in the playmaking role, racking up 41 tackles in just six games. But overall, this front seven has a ton of work to do in order to claw their way up to sub-mediocrity: Eastern gave up 6.3 yards per carry and 277 yards per game to opposing running games.

They were also worst in yards per attempt when defending the pass, at 8.0. The only reason they appeared to have the MAC's best pass defense was because the media usually (foolishly) bases that on yards per game, and nobody ever bothered passing when they could run the ball so easily. But there should be an upgrade in the secondary this year; the simple presence of Latarrius Thomas should be enough. Thomas is a one-time starter for Louisville in the Big East and transferred to EMU to follow Ron English; having a legitimate, tested I-A talent in the secondary will be a plus.


Total revamp here, and little depth. Both starters are true freshmen, and Aussie Jay Karutz is the only punter on the roster.


Richmond would beat this team. Eastern Michigan tends to rank outside the top 100 in just about every conceivable category, and though it's not easy to go 0-12, Eastern is the likely underdog in every one of their games. English is a decent coach and should have them on the upswing in time, but he was handed a huge, huge mess. It's a very long road to respectability. Their presence on UVA's schedule, along with VMI, means that 2-10 should be considered the worst-case scenario and dropping below that level would be cause for pitchforks and torches.

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