Football Opens Against Penn State In Kickoff Classic XVIII|
Aug. 21, 2000
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1999 FINAL PAC-10 STANDINGS
USA TODAY/ESPN POLL
USC VS. PENN STATE (3-4-0)
N1-Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
N2-Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
N3-Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
*-1923 Rose Bowl
+-1982 Fiesta Bowl
=-Kickoff Classic XIV
NO. 15 USC FOOTBALL OPENS 2000 SEASON IN KICKOFF CLASSIC VERSUS PENN STATE IN MATCHUP OF TWO OF COLLEGE'S WINNINGEST TEAMS
THE FACTS -- USC (0-0 overall) vs. Penn State (0-0), Sunday, Kickoff Classic XVIII, Aug. 27, 2:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 a.m. PDT), Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
THEMES -- USC and Big Ten representative Penn State -- two of the winningest teams in college football history -- meet in one of the opening games of the 2000 collegiate season. Both teams begin the campaign ranked in the Top 25 and are hoping this is a preview of the 2001 Rose Bowl. It's a rare Sunday game for the Trojans. This is USC's third appearance in the Kickoff Classic and a record fourth visit for the Nittany Lions (it's a rematch of the 1996 game). PSU coach Joe Paterno is within striking distance of becoming the winningest coach in major college history. All 79,646 seats have been sold in Giants Stadium, which features a new permanent grass field. The game will be shown live nationally on ABC-TV.
RANKINGS -- USC is ranked 15th by AP and 16th by USA Today/ESPN. Penn State is 22nd by AP and 17th by USA Today/ESPN.
SERIES -- Penn State holds a 4-3 edge in its series with USC and the Lions have won the past 3 meetings after the Trojans won 3 of the first 4 games (including in the 1923 Rose Bowl in the first matchup). The teams played 5 times in the 1990s. USC's last win came at home in 1991, 21-10. The last meeting was at Kickoff Classic XIV in 1996, with PSU prevailing easily, 24-7. TB Curtis Enis, with a USC opponent- and Kickoff Classic-record 241 rushing yards (and 3 TDs), led the No. 11 Nittany Lions over the No. 7 Trojans.
OTHER RANKINGS -- USC enters the 2000 season ranked in the national Top 25 and Pac-10 Top 3 by various pre-season prognosticators:
VS. BIG TEN -- USC is 60-27-2 against Big Ten competition. Troy has won 23 of its last 31 games (and 30 of its last 39) against Big Ten opponents. Penn State, on the other hand, is 22-10 against the Pac-10.
FOR OPENERS -- USC's record in all season openers is 76-23-8 (.748), with 35 shutout victories. In season openers on the road, Troy is 21-7-1 (.741). This is the second time USC has opened its campaign against Penn State (the 1996 Kickoff Classic was the other time).
EARLY BIRD -- This is the second earliest that USC has opened its season in the modern era. Only the 1996 Kickoff Classic against Penn State (played on Aug. 25) was earlier.
WINNINGEST SCHOOLS -- USC and Penn State both rank in the Top 10 in all-time NCAA Division I winning percentage (Penn State is eighth at 69.9%, USC is 10th at 69.4%) and victories (Penn State is tied for fifth with 734, USC is 10th with 673).
SUNDAY GAMES -- USC has played only 3 games on a Sunday, going 2-1: the 1993 opener versus North Carolina in the Disneyland Pigskin Classic (USC lost, 31-9), the 1996 opener against Penn State in the Kickoff Classic (USC lost, 24-7) and the 1998 opener versus Purdue in the Pigskin Classic (USC won, 27-17, in Paul Hackett's first game as Trojan head coach).
USC IN NEW JERSEY -- This will be only the third time that USC has played in the state of New Jersey. The others: Troy's 34-16 win over Syracuse in the 1990 Kickoff Classic and its 24-7 loss to Penn State in the 1996 Kickoff Classic. Before those contests, the closest USC had ever played to the Meadowlands was in 1951 against Army in Yankee Stadium, the Trojans' only visit to the metropolitan New York City area. Troy won, 28-6, behind the performance of All-American Frank Gifford (138 yards rushing on 26 carries, 2-of-7 passing for 50 yards, 4 PAT kicks).
CONNECTIONS -- No USC players claim Pennsylvania as their home state, while 3 Nittany Lions hail from California (CB Tom Humphrey and WR Rod Perry, both listing San Diego as their homes, and QB Zac Wasserman of Tarzana)?USC also has no players from New Jersey, while Penn State has 12?USC P Tommy Huff was born in Langhorne, Pa?WR Rod Perry was a two-sport athlete at USC, playing for the 1997 football team (he redshirted with a knee injury) and starting parttime in centerfield for the 1998 College World Series champion Trojan baseballers. He then transferred to Cal State Fullerton before heading to Penn State. He prepped at Santa Ana's Mater Dei High, the alma mater of 2 current Trojans, S Matt Grootegoed and OG-C Lenny Vandermade?Former Penn State player Al Pola (Aoatoa Polamalu) from the mid-1980s is the brother of USC running backs coach Kennedy Pola and the uncle of USC S Troy Polamalu?Three former Trojans currently play in Giants Stadium: CB Jason Sehorn and OT Rome Douglas of the Giants and WR Windrell Hayes of the Jets (Giants head coach Jim Fassel also played at USC)?USC associate athletic director Daryl Gross spent 3 years (1988-90) as a scout for the Jets.
USC IN KICKOFF CLASSIC -- USC is 1-1 in the Kickoff Classic. The No. 9 Trojans opened their 1990 season with rave reviews by beating Syracuse, 34-19, in Kickoff Classic VIII. USC QB Todd Marinovich was the game's MVP, hitting 71.4% of his passes (25-of-35) for a then-career-high 337 yards with 3 TDs and no interceptions. TB Ricky Ervins, who rushed for 96 yards on 25 carries and caught 4 passes for another 43 yards, scored twice (a 22-yard catch and a 2-yard run). In 1996 in Kickoff Classic XIV, 11th-ranked Penn State handily beat No. 7 USC, 24-7. The game was a 24-0 shutout before Trojan LB Chris Claiborne recovered a fumble in the end zone in the final minute. TB Curtis Enis ran for a USC opponent- and Kickoff Classic-record 241 rushing yards (and 3 TDs) as 313 of PSU's 462 total yards came on the ground.
KICKOFF CLASSIC HISTORY -- Since the first Kickoff Classic in 1983, two teams have opened their national championship season with wins in the game (Florida State in 1993 and Nebraska in 1994). This will be Penn State's record fourth appearance in the Kickoff Classic (it sports a 2-1 mark, as it lost to Nebraska, 44-6, in 1983 in the inaugural game, then beat defending national champion Georgia Tech, 34-22, in 1991, and USC, 24-7, in 1996). USC is the only Pac-10 team to have played in the Kickoff Classic. USC and Penn State will each receive the greater of $650,000 or 30 percent of the gross revenues.
LAST YEAR -- The 1999 Trojans went 6-6 overall (all 6 losses were by 10 points or less, a first in USC history) and tied for sixth in the Pacific-10 at 3-5. Troy started off 2-0 and appeared headed to a promising season, but when starting QB Carson Palmer went out with an injury in the third game, USC lost 6 of its next 7. USC then rebounded and won its final 3 games of 1999, including a victory over crosstown rival UCLA to snap an 8-game losing streak to the Bruins and a season-ending win over No. 25-ranked Louisiana Tech.
RETURNING TROJANS -- The 2000 USC team features 75 returning squadmen (44 were lettermen), including 17 starters (5 on offense, 10 on defense, plus the punter and placekicker). Back are 52 Trojans who saw action last year and 29 who have started at least once in their career. Thirty-three players return who were on USC's season-ending 2-deep.
SCHEDULE -- Although USC plays 7 of its 12 games at home, its 2000 schedule begins with a challenge as the Trojans travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to play Penn State in the Kickoff Classic. Beyond that, Troy doesn't have a long road trip, going to defending Pac-10 champion Stanford, 1999 bowl teams Arizona State and Oregon State, and UCLA. Visiting the Coliseum are non-conference foes Colorado (the 1999 Insight.com Bowl winner), Notre Dame and San Jose State, plus Pac-10 opponents Oregon (the 1999 Sun Bowl champ), Arizona, California and Washington State. Following the Kickoff Classic, 4 of USC's next 5 games are at home.
FUN FACT I -- Eleven Trojans were first-year freshmen the last time USC and Penn State met (in the 1996 Kickoff Classic): Shamsud-Din Abdul-Shaheed, Sultan Abdul-Malik, David Bell, Ennis Davis, Eric Denmon, Stanley Guyness, Faaesea Mailo, Brent McCaffrey, Petros Papadakis, Trevor Roberts and Mike Van Raaphorst. However, none played in that game.
FUN FACT II -- USC will be the visiting team in the Kickoff Classic, but will wear its cardinal (home) jerseys. It's the second year in a row that the Trojans have opened on the road in their home jerseys (also last year at Hawaii).
HACKETT -- Energetic and innovative Paul Hackett, a one-time USC assistant coach who has been on coaching staffs that have won a national championship in college and a Super Bowl in the pros, made an immediate mark on the Trojan football program upon his return to Troy as its head football coach. In his first year at USC's helm, he led the Trojans to an 8-5 record in 1998 (5-3 in the Pac-10 for a third place tie) and a berth in the Sun Bowl. With his 1998 opening win over Purdue, he became the first head coach to win his Trojan debut since Jess Hill in 1951, and by starting off 3-0, he became only the third Trojan coach since 1915 to win his first 3 games (joining Hill in 1951 and the legendary Howard Jones in 1925). Hackett is one of only two USC head coaches to have won their first outing against Notre Dame (John Robinson is the other). Hackett, Robinson and Larry Smith are the only USC coaches to have guided squads to a bowl game in their first seasons at Troy. In 1999 in his second year at USC, Hackett's team went 6-6 overall (4-5 in the Pac-10 for a sixth place tie) as Troy won its final 3 games of the season and snapped UCLA's 8-game winning streak over the Trojans. USC was in every game, as it was the first time ever that Troy lost all 6 games by 10 points or less. The 53-year-old Hackett signed a 5-year contract to replace Robinson on Dec. 17, 1997. Regarded as one of the game's most progressive offensive coaches, he has 31 years of experience as a college and professional assistant and head coach. He has tutored some of football's top players--including Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Jerry Rice, Andre Rison, Tony Dorsett, Steve Bartkowski, Charles White, Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker, Danny White, Dwight Clark and Vince Evans--and has worked under such head coaches as Bill Walsh, Tom Landry, Marty Schottenheimer and Robinson. Before coming to Troy, Hackett was the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs for 5 years (1993-97). The Chiefs advanced to the NFL playoffs in 4 of those years, including 1997. Before that, he was at the University of Pittsburgh (1989-92), the first season as the quarterbacks coach and then 3 seasons as the Panthers' head coach (posting a 13-20-1 record). As a college coach, he has a 21-25-1 overall mark in 4 seasons. Hackett began his coaching career for 3 seasons (1969-71) at his alma mater, UC Davis. He then was an assistant at California for 4 years (1972-75). Then, at age 29, Hackett moved to USC for 5 years (1976-80), where under Robinson he was in charge of the quarterbacks and receivers for the first 2 years and then the quarterbacks and passing game the final 3 years. During his Trojan tenure, USC was the 1978 national champion, won 4 bowl games (including 3 Rose Bowls), posted a 50-8-2 record and produced a Heisman Trophy winner (White). Hackett began his pro coaching career as quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Browns for 2 seasons (1981-82). He next was the quarterbacks and receivers coach with the San Francisco 49ers for 3 years (1983-85). The 49ers won Super Bowl XIX in the 1984 season. He then became the pass offense coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys for 3 years (1986-88) before returning to the college ranks at Pitt. A 3-year starting quarterback at UC Davis (1966-68), Hackett collects old music juke boxes filled with 1950s and 1960s rock ?n roll music. A rock music fan, he sat in the front row at the final Beatles concert, held in 1966 in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Born on July 5, 1947 in Burlington, Vt., he shares a birthday with former USC head coach John McKay. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have 2 sons, David, 28, and Nathaniel, 20. David played on the 1988 Texas Division III state football champion while at Carroll High in Southlake, Tex., and then was an administrative assistant with the USC football program, while Nathaniel is a sophomore on UC Davis' football team. Hackett is 0-3 against Joe Paterno and Penn State, with all 3 losses coming while Hackett was head coach at Pitt.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT THE 2000 TROJANS
Tom Dienhart, The Sporting News: "A title run is expected this fall. This is as talented a USC team in some time, and it is one that should win the Pac-10 title."
Athlon: "Certainly, there is enough talent for the Trojans to win 10 games. But will they do it? They have one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and return 10 starters on defense, so the answer to that question, at least on paper, is yes."
Bob Cunningham, Preview Sports: "The third time should be the charm, primarily because the Trojans have one of the nation's top defenses?If the USC offense can play on a short field, this team could do some damage?The Trojans have the personnel to return to the top."
Phil Steele's College Football: "USC should at least get a Pac-10 co-championship this year as it is solidly improved on both sides of the ball and loaded with NFL-caliber talent."
Joe Wojciechowski, ESPN.com: "The expectations are back. USC is simply loaded defensively and have enough talented players back offensively that anything less than a trip across town to Pasadena would be disappointing."
OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW -- Five starters return on offense in 2000, as do a trio of 1999 part-time starters. Five others who started at least once in 1999 also are back. USC's top passer, No. 2 runner and No. 2 receiver from 1999 return. Troy will look to continue to improve upon its offensive output, its 1999 production in all team categories was its best since 1995, as it averaged 402.7 yards of total offense, including 145.0 on the ground and 257.7 through the air (22nd nationally), and 29.0 points (fourth best in the Pac-10).
PALMER -- There's little doubt that sophomore Carson Palmer (39-of-53, 73.6%, 490 yards, 3 TDs, 3 interceptions in 1999) is one of the nation's premier quarterbacks. How valuable is he to the Trojans? With Palmer at the reins, USC started off the 1999 season undefeated as he completed nearly 75% of his passes. But when he broke his collarbone 2 plays before halftime in Troy's third game (at Oregon), USC hit a tailspin from which it took a while to recover. After missing the rest of the 1999 campaign while rehabilitating the injury (he was allowed to redshirt because he was knocked out so early in the season), he is cleared to go full speed. The question remains whether he can regain the form that has him already ranking 15th on USC's career passing ladder (with 169 completions) with just 8 starts under his belt.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT CARSON PALMER
Shana Newell, El Paso Times: "Rarely has a Trojan quarterback demonstrated as much promise as Carson Palmer. He could become USC's biggest name yet."
USC offensive coordinator Hue Jackson: "He makes good things happen?Two things I've notice about Carson now (after the injury). He's maturing and he has a burning desire to show everyone he's the player we all think he is."
USC wide receiver Kareem Kelly: "I knew he was good from watching him in high school. But I had no idea he was this good?He's the nucleus of the team. We need Carson. He's a playmaker?He just adds so much to the offense. It's a totally different team when he's in?On the first day of (2000) spring practice, you could tell right away how bad he wanted to be back because usually he would just be walking to practice, but now he was sprinting out there."
USC wide receiver Matt Nickels, Palmer's prep teammate: "In high school, the whole varsity would watch his freshman games and just stand around in awe. I knew this guy was going to be big-time some day."
Former USC safety David Gibson: "He has, by far, the strongest arm I've played against. And it's just not how hard he throws, either. It's his accuracy and touch, too. He can put the ball anywhere. You can have a receiver covered, but he's going to find a way to get the ball to him."
Former USC All-American quarterback Paul McDonald, now USC's radio analyst: "He's so far ahead of the learning curve, it's scary."
Former USC quarterbacks coach Ken O'Brien: "He is such a talented young man, with the potential to be as great as anyone I've seen."
Former UCLA cornerback Julius Williams: "If a receiver has a little bit of room and the defensive back is not covering him completely, Carson is going to throw the ball right there and there's no way the defensive back is going to get the ball."
Santa Margarita High coach Jim Hartigan: "Carson has the size of Troy Aikman and the arm strength of John Elway. He's got the super quick release of Dan Marino and the ability to put zip on the ball or touch depending on what the situation calls for. He is extremely calm and poised and he always makes the right decisions. He thrives on pressure. The bigger the game, the better he performs."
OTHER QUARTERBACKS -- USC might have the most experienced backup signalcaller in the nation in senior Mike Van Raaphorst (139-of-258, 53.9%, 1,758 yards, 8 TDs, 9 interceptions in 1999). A 15-game starter in his career, he is ninth on USC's all-time passing list (232 completions) and 19th on the Trojans' career total offense chart (2,809 yards). He took over for 5 games in 1999 when Palmer went down before being replaced by John Fox. Against Stanford, he set USC single game passing yardage (415 yards) and total offense (390 yards) records. Also a star in the classroom, he has a team-best 3.72 GPA and has begun classes in USC's M.B.A. program this fall after receiving his bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and political science this spring. Prep All-American Matt Cassel (Chatsworth High in Chatsworth, Calif.) joined the quarterback corps this fall.
RUNNING BACKS -- One tailback usually carried the ball for Troy in 1999: Chad Morton, a 2-year starter who ended his career as USC's No. 8 rusher (2,511 yards), including a dozen 100-yard outings, and now plays in the NFL. Last fall, he ran for 1,141 yards (the most at USC since 1990) and 15 TDs (the most by a Trojan since 1981). In 2000, look for a combination of players to share the load at tailback, some who are power runners and some who are speed burners. The power guys are junior Malaefou MacKenzie (25 carries, 121 yards, 4.8 average, 3 TDs in 1999, plus 5 catches, 8.0 average), who has 481 rushing yards and 2 starts in a career that has been injury-plagued, and senior Petros Papadakis, who ran for 365 yards and a team-best 8 touchdowns while starting 4 times in 1998 but missed all of 1999 and last spring's practice with a serious foot injury. He is ready to go this fall. Sophomore Sultan McCullough (90 carries, 413 yards, 4.6 average, 1 TD in 1999, plus 1 catch, 6.0 average) is a legitimate speed merchant. The 1999 Pac-10 100 meters champion and eighth-place finisher in the 2000 NCAA 100 (he also ran a leg on USC's 400-meter relay which was fifth at the 2000 NCAA Meet), McCullough is the fastest Trojan footballer ever (10.17 in the 100, the best mark in the world in 1999 by an under-20 runner). He showed flashes of his gridiron potential last fall, even jetting 48 yards against UCLA for Troy's longest run of 1999. Then there's prep All-American tailback Chris Howard (Banning High in Wilmington, Calif.), a freshman. A trio of Trojans will compete for the fullback job, led by returning starter Charlie Landrigan (11 catches, 5.8 average in 1999), an unheralded junior who performed solidly in 1999. Also in the mix are sophomore Chad Pierson (1 carry, -1 yard, -1.0 average in 1999, plus 2 catches, 8.0 average) and senior Brennan Ochs, who has 4 career starts (including USC's first 3 games of 1999). All 3 are rugged blockers and good pass catchers, but none has been asked yet to prove his running ability.
WIDE RECEIVERS -- You'd think that USC would be in trouble at the wide receiver spots in 2000, since such high-caliber players as starters R. Jay Soward and Windrell Hayes are gone. After all, Soward finished his time at Troy as the school's No. 4 all-time pass catcher (161 grabs, including 51 last fall) and was an NFL first round draft pick. Hayes caught 79 passes in his Trojan career, including a team-best 55 in 1999 with 4 TDs. Both have promising NFL careers. But USC might have the best young wideout corps anywhere, led by experienced sophs Kareem Kelly (54 catches, 16.7 average, 4 TDs in 1999, plus 2.8 punt return average), Marcell Allmond (14 catches, 16.6 average, 2 TDs, plus 17.0 kickoff return average) and Steve Stevenson (6 catches, 14.2 average). Kelly, the 1999 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American second teamer, was USC's second-leading receiver last fall. He set Pac-10 freshman records for most catches (54) and receiving yards (902) while starting twice. The only Trojan with a catch in every game in 1999, he had 4 outings with 100 receiving yards. He was third in the Pac-10 in receiving yards (75.2). He's on the 2000 Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Allmond started 3 times in 1999, while Stevenson's start at Oregon marked the first time that a true freshman started at wide receiver for USC since 1984. Kelly (sprints) and Allmond (hurdles, decathlon), former California state prep champs in their specialties, also compete for the Trojan tracksters. Kelly owns the world junior record in the indoor 50-meter dash, while Allmond was second in the 110-meter high hurdles and seventh in the decathlon at the 2000 Pac-10 Meet. Other wideouts who figure to contribute are senior Matt Nickels, an ex-walk-on who earned a scholarship this season, redshirt freshman Sandy Fletcher, who spent the early part of last season as a safety and also briefly played point guard on the USC basketball team this past season, and prep All-American Keary Colbert (Hueneme High in Oxnard, Calif.), a freshman.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT KAREEM KELLY
Former USC tailback Chad Morton: "He's going to be one of the game's greats. That's the Biletnikoff Award winner right there."
Karen Crouse, Los Angeles Daily News: "Kareem Kelly has more tools than a carpenter. Before he's through, he could add on another wing to Heritage Hall. He has height, heart, great hands, a gazelle's gait and as many gears as a Ferrari?He's just naturally equipped for success?He is an astute student of the game. On the field, the only thing churning faster than his legs is his mind."
Long Beach Poly track coach Don Norford: "His gait is so smooth and relaxed that you really can't judge how fast Kareem is. It's like when a cheetah attacks the gazelle. The gazelle doesn't realize how fast the cheetah is until it's right into him. With Kareem, a cornerback thinks he has an angle on him, then he shifts into another gear. And Kareem has about three or four more gears he can use."
TIGHT ENDS -- Look for USC's tight ends to be more prominent in 2000. Senior Antoine Harris (8 catches, 12.3 average, 1 TD in 1999), a reliable veteran, will start at tight end for his fourth season in 2000 and could be in for a big senior campaign. An accomplished blocker and able receiver, he has 33 receptions with 2 touchdowns in his career. Three top-quality recruits have entered the picture this fall: sophomore Doyal Butler (Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz.), who spent 1998 at Purdue, plus freshmen Alex Holmes (Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood, Calif.), a prep All-American, and Gregg Guenther Jr. (Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif.).
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN -- For the first time in Paul Hackett's 3 years, USC has solid depth on its offensive line. But, as has been the case the past 2 seasons, Troy's offensive success will depend heavily on the performance of these blockers. Dependable senior Brent McCaffrey will start for his third season at left tackle. Senior Trevor Roberts, who started 3 times at left tackle last year, entered the fall as the starting left guard, but has been slowed with a foot injury. So, redshirt freshman Lenny Vandermade, who can also play center, likely will step in there in the interim. The right side of USC's line suffered the loss of 1999 All-Pac-10 first team tackle Travis Claridge, last year's Pac-10 Morris Trophy winner who started all 48 games of his USC career (the first Trojan offensive lineman ever to do so without redshirting) and is now in the NFL. But junior Faaesea Mailo, who started 5 times last fall at guard, has moved out to right tackle. He also was used as a fullback in short yardage situations at times last year and proved to be a devastating blocker, watch for him in the backfield again in 2000. Sophomore Zach Wilson, who started the final 7 games of 1999 at right guard and was impressive enough to earn Freshman All-American second team notice, figures to start there once again. Senior Eric Denmon started most of last year at center, but his Trojan career has been marked by nagging injuries. Freshman prep All-American tackle Joe McGuire (Servite High in Anaheim, Calif.) might get some time in 2000.
DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW -- Ten starters return on defense in 2000. Three others who started at least once in 1999 also are on the roster. USC's top 3 tacklers from last fall are back, as are its 1999 leaders in every other defensive category (tackles for losses, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles, pass deflections and blocked kicks). This group will be asked to improve upon a defense that was fairly stingy in 1999. Last fall, USC led the Pac-10 in rushing defense (117.3), and was third in both total defense (373.0) and scoring defense (23.2). Also, the Trojans were third in the U.S. in turnover margin (+1.2, tops in the Pac-10), USC was first nationally in total takeaways (39), tied for second in fumble recoveries (18) and tied for third in interceptions (21). Trojan defenders scored 8 touchdowns in 1999 (5 on interceptions, 3 on fumble recoveries).
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN--The defensive line is the most veteran unit on the entire USC team. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better pair of tackles than USC's returning starters: senior Ennis Davis (31 tackles, 7 for losses, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries in 1999), a 2-year starter, and junior Ryan Nielsen (39 tackles, 6 for losses, 1 fumble recovery in 1999). Davis, a 1998 All-Pac-10 first teamer, was never quite himself last season after suffering a knee injury in the 1998 Sun Bowl, but he still showed his big-play potential often, tying for the team lead in sacks (5) and even intercepting a pair of passes (returning one 30 yards for a TD as he hurdled his 300-pound body over an opponent to get into the end zone). The underrated Nielsen was named USC's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1999. Sophomore Bernard Riley (5 tackles in 1999), who appeared mostly in short yardage situations last fall, will push this duo for time. USC's already-deep group of ends was bolstered by the return of senior Sultan Abdul-Malik (27 tackles, 7 for losses, 1 fumble recovery in 1999) to the position. He was USC's sack leader in 1997 and 1998 while starting at end, but started at strongside linebacker last fall. He has been moved back to the line to take advantage of his pass rushing skills (he has 19 sacks in his career). Abdul-Malik will compete with junior Lonnie Ford (25 tackles, 10 for losses in 1999), who started at end in 1999 after playing tight end earlier in his USC career. Ford's 5 sacks last fall gave him a share of the Trojan lead. The other end spot again will be manned by seniors Matt Childers (24 tackles, 7 for losses in 1999) and Shamsud-Din Abdul-Shaheed (22 tackles in 1999). They are an interchangeable pair as Childers started 7 times last season and Abdul-Shaheed had 5 starts. Childers tied for the team lead in sacks (5) in 1999. Abdul-Shaheed also can slide over to play tackle, something he did often in 1998.
MORENO/STEELE--USC's 2 returning starters are good enough to merit consideration for the Butkus Award: seniors Zeke Moreno (108 tackles, 7 for losses, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries in 1999) in the middle and Markus Steele (91 tackles, 12 for losses, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception in 1999) on the weak side. Moreno, who will be starting for his third year, was USC's leading tackler in 1999. He was third in the Pac-10 in tackles (9.0), tied for first in forced fumbles (5) and tied for third in fumble recoveries (2). Steele, who made an immediate impact in 1999 after transferring from a junior college, topped Troy in tackles for losses last season and was second in total tackles. He was third in the Pac-10 in forced fumbles (3) and tied for third in fumble recoveries (2). Each found the end zone in 1999, Moreno twice (on an interception and fumble recovery against Oregon State) and Steele once (on a fumble recovery at Hawaii).
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT ZEKE MORENO AND MARKUS STEELE
Tom Reynolds, USC Report: "On the field, Moreno -- USC's ferocious inside linebacker -- stalks every play, searching for a ball carrier to pounce on. He is like a cat searching for prey. Off the field, Moreno couldn't be any more the opposite of his on-field demeanor. He is a soft-spoken, God-fearing momma's boy (by his own admission). But don't call him soft."
David Cisneros, Daily Trojan: "Ask anybody who knows him. They'll tell you what a wonderful guy he is. They might tell you how he has become a role model. And they'll tell you he's a hell of a middle linebacker?Moreno displays character rarely seen in sports."
Arizona head coach Dick Tomey: "He's an incredible player. There was nobody in our conference who was as outstanding at linebacker in 1999."
USC cornerback Kris Richard: "Markus can play. He had a lot of hype coming in and he backed it up. When you watch him on film, it's pretty amazing. To be as fast as he is at that position. He plays fast and he hits hard. And he is so intelligent on the field."
Former USC tailback Chad Morton: "He's fast, real fast. People try comparing him to (ex-USC Butkus Award winner) Chris Claiborne, but they're not the same type of players. Chris would run through people and rough you up. Markus' game is to get to the ball and cover well. He's very fast. He'll catch you if you're not running your fastest."
USC safety DeShaun Hill, Steele's junior college teammate: "The first time I saw him with pads on, I knew what the deal was. I started calling him ?freak' because he has freaky athletic ability. He's fast enough to play defensive back but strong enough to take on offensive tackles. He's just amazing. He's just scratching the surface."
Phil Collin, South Bay Daily Breeze: "He makes numerous highlight film-type plays with his relentless pursuit and ability to slither away from blocking schemes designed to slow him down."
Scott Wolf, Los Angeles Daily News: "His speed and size make him attractive. He could probably even play strong safety in the NFL because of his athleticism."
Former USC linebackers coach Shawn Slocum: "He's a guy with the ability to make plays all over the field. He's just plain fast. He comes off the edge and slithers through. What stands out is his range and that he plays with violence."
USC football television analyst Craig Fertig, a former Trojan player and assistant coach: "People are starting to run away from him. But, hey, go ahead. He'll catch them."
Long Beach City College head coach Larry Reisbig: "He's the best player I've ever had. Sure, he's got great athletic ability, but he's much more than just a great athlete. He has a real feel for the game and how the position is supposed to be played. He'd constantly talk to the coaches and watch as much film as he could. He's a great leader and a wonderful kid to coach."
OTHER LINEBACKERS -- Even though one of 1999's starting linebackers--Sultan Abdul-Malik--moved to the defensive line, there's no cause for concern at the Trojan linebacker position in 2000. Besides the previously mentioned Moreno and Steele, USC has a number of quality players here. The starter at the strongside position vacated by Abdul-Malik will be junior Kori Dickerson (14 tackles in 1999), who played defensive end earlier in his career (even starting once there last fall). He also high jumps for the USC track squad. Backing up Moreno in the middle will be sophomore Aaron Graham (4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery in 1999). Juniors Henry Wallace (8 tackles in 1999) and Darryl Knight (19 tackles, 2 for losses in 1999), a 2-game starter last fall, back up Steele, while redshirt freshman Chris Prosser is behind Dickerson.
DEFENSIVE BACKS -- If it's competition you're looking for, watch USC's secondary throughout the 2000 season. The Trojans are well-stocked here, particularly at the cornerback spots, so expect all the players to be going all out all the time to get into the lineup. It's also possible that there could be some shifting of positions between the corners and safeties. Both cornerbacks who started in 1999 came back and they're good ones. Junior Kris Richard (44 tackles, 6 interceptions, 9 deflections, 1 fumble recovery in 1999) led USC in interceptions (tied for 17th nationally) last season (he returned 2 for scores), opening some eyes in the process. Senior pre-season All-American Antuan Simmons (49 tackles, 6 for losses, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 10 deflections in 1999), a 3-year starter who has blocked 6 kicks in his career (including 2 field goals and a PAT last year), missed spring drills while recovering from late-season back surgery. He then had surgery in May to remove a benign abdominal tumor and will redshirt the 2000 season while recuperating. He returned a fumble 44 yards for a TD at Arizona in 1999. Among the corners looking to grabs Simmons' spot are sophomore Darrell Rideaux (31 tackles, 5 deflections in 1999), who started USC's last 2 games of 1999 for an injured Simmons and was named a Freshman All-American second teamer, and junior Chris Cash (Palomar Junior College in San Marcos, Calif.), a junior college transfer who enrolled at USC last spring and participated in spring practice. Rideaux doubles as a sprinter for the Trojan tracksters (in the spring of 2000, he was fifth in the 100 meters at the Pac-10 Meet and ran leadoff for the 400-meter relay squad which was fifth at the NCAA Meet). Sophomore Kevin Arbet (13 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery in 1999), who made such an immediate impression in 1999 that he earned a scholarship during his initial fall camp, is available at cornerback and safety. Last season's starting free safety, senior Ifeanyi Ohalete (84 tackles, 15 deflections, 2 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries in 1999) can also play strong safety in 2000, where he will compete for the job with sophomore Troy Polamalu (12 tackles, 2 for losses in 1999). Ohalete led USC in deflections (15) and was third in tackles (84) in 1999, and also tied for first in the Pac-10 in forced fumbles (5) and fumbles recovered (3). They'll be looking to fill the shoes of USC's only departed defensive starter from last season, 1999 All-Pac-10 first teamer David Gibson, a 3-year starter who had 241 career tackles (81 last fall). If Ohalete moves to strong safety, two players will go at it to take over Ohalete's free safety spot: junior Frank Strong (1 tackle in 1999), a one-time tailback who was moved to defense in the middle of last season and sophomore DeShaun Hill (2 tackles in 1999), who was able to redshirt last fall after suffering an early-season back injury. Arbet, who started twice in 1999 as an extra defensive back, returned an interception 75 yards for a TD against Louisiana Tech last season. Don't count out prep All-American freshman safety Matt Grootegoed (Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.) having a say this fall, either.
SPECIALISTS -- Junior Mike MacGillivray (41.4 average in 1999) is back for his third season as USC's punter. An effective placement punter with an above-average leg (22 of his 161 career punts have traveled at least 50 yards), he'll look to become more consistent in 2000. Although junior David Newbury (11-of-20 field goals, 40-of-42 PATs in 1999) was USC's placekicker last fall, a 3-way battle for the job was waged this fall between Newbury, senior David Bell (1-of-2 field goals, 2-of-2 PATs in 1999) and 1999 prep All-American John Wall (Birmingham High in Van Nuys, Calif.), a freshman. Newbury, who has the edge on reclaiming his job, began his first year at Troy by nailing a season-long 48-yard field goal on his first attempt at Hawaii in 1999, but then struggled with consistency the rest of the way. Bell, who has been USC's strong-legged kickoff man for 3 seasons, took over the placement chores for Newbury in the third quarter of the season-ending Louisiana Tech game and nailed a 38-yard field goal and both extra point kicks.
NEW COACHES: There are 4 new assistant coaches on the USC staff: linebackers coach A.J. Christoff (whose 27 years of experience include stops at Colorado, Alabama, Notre Dame, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Georgia Tech), wide receivers coach/special teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno (formerly at California and Oregon State), running backs coach Kennedy Pola (the former Trojan fullback who has worked at San Diego State, Colorado and UCLA), tight ends coach Brian Schottenheimer (the son of ex-NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer who was at Syracuse and in the NFL). Also, Steve Morton takes over the offensive line coaching duties this year after handling the tight end in 1999 and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson goes from running backs to quarterbacks. Two young coaches: Matt Irvin (offensive line) and Derrick Winston (secondary): joined the staff as graduate assistants.
STATS OF NOTE -- USC returns its 1999 leaders in every defensive category (tackles, tackles for losses, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, forced fumbles, pass deflections and blocked kicks)...USC was first nationally in total takeaways (39) in 1999...USC's defense scored 8 touchdowns in 1999...All 6 of USC's losses in 1999 were by 10 points or less, a first in Trojan history...USC lost 6 of its next 7 games in 1999 once starting quarterback Carson Palmer was sidelined by a broken collarbone in the third game of the season...USC was penalized a Pac-10 record 128 times for 1,093 yards, an average of 10.7 penalties and 91.1 yards a game.
ROSTER UPDATES: There are several personnel updates that are not listed in the 2000 USC football media guide: Malcolm Wooldridge, a 6-2, 300-pound first-year freshman defensive tackle (he'll wear #96), joined the Trojans midway through training camp as a scholarship player. He played at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., in 1999 after spending the 1997 and 1998 seasons at Olympic Heights High in Boca Raton, Fl. (he was a 1998 All-Palm Beach County Athletic Conference Class 5-A first teamer and made 80 tackles with 9 sacks in 1997)...OT Nate Steinbacher is now #71...Nine walk-ons have joined the Trojan squad: #13, CB Peter Polk (5-10, 175, Los Angeles, St. Bernard HS/West Los Angeles CC), #15, QB Matt Harris (6-4, 210, Las Vegas, NV, Meadows HS), #18, P Tommy Huff (6-1, 225, Bellevue, WA, Bellevue HS, U. of Michigan), #31, P-PK Drew Thomas (6-3, 200, Johnson City, TN, Westlake HS), #41, P-CB Matt Lemos (5-10, 165, Redwood City, St. Francis HS), #46, WR Forrest Mozart (6-1, 195, Los Altos Hills, St. Francis HS), #48, S Kyle Matthews (6-0, 170, Agoura, Westlake HS), #61, LB Aaron Orndorff (6-1, 235, Bakersfield, Stockdale HS), and #70, OG Spencer Torgan (6-1, 265, Calabasas, Harvard-Westlake HS). Huff and Polk are redshirt freshmen and the others are first-year freshmen...A trio of walk-ons: #40 Michael Torres, #47 Spencer McCroskey and #82 D. Hale: have quit the team...Freshman DT Sagan Atuatasi did not meet USC admission standards and is not with the Trojans in 2000...Four Trojans likely will redshirt the 2000 season, but should return in 2001: CB Antuan Simmons (abdominal tumor), TE Chad Cook (torn knee ligament), DE Jamaal Williams (broken leg) and C Carlos Acosta (personal issues): while a fifth: S John Morgan (torn knee ligament): also will miss the season, but his eligibility will expire.
USC: COLLEGE OF THE YEAR 2000--USC was named the "College of the Year" by the 2000 edition of the Time/The Princeton Review College Guide. USC was chosen because of the remarkable bonds the university has forged with local schools, community residents, police, businesses and community organizations. "More institutions might do well to emulate USC's enlightened self-interest," according to the guide's editors. "For not only has the 'hood dramatically improved, but so has the university." The editors cited the university's model of service learning -- the practice of applying academic theory to real-life situations through public service -- as their main reason for choosing USC as college of the year, saying USC has one of the most ambitious social-outreach programs of any university in the nation. USC also has seen its undergraduate applications nearly double over the last few years and enrolled the most academically accomplished freshman class in its history. And USC is the only university in history to have received three individual gifts of $100 million or more.
USC: "HOT SCHOOL" OF 2001--USC has been chosen as one of America's nine "hottest schools" by the 2001 edition of the Newsweek/Kaplan College Guide. USC was selected because it lives up to its reputation as a top-notch institution of higher education. "Just as East Coast students go for New York and NYU, the West Coast is gravitating to USC in Los Angeles," according to the guide's article. "USC has morphed from a jock school to a serious contender for top students." Students quoted in the article said Los Angeles' ethnic diversity, the offer of scholarships, the small classroom sizes and USC's standing in academe attracted them to the university.
ACADEMICS -- USC's official 2000 NCAA football graduation rate is an all-time high 80%...and the 2001 rate will rise to 82%. That rate is more than 20 points higher than the national football average for Division I schools. Among the top scholars on the 2000 Trojan squad are QB Mike Van Raaphorst and LB Ryan Shapiro, who both sport a team-best 3.72 GPA. Both received their bachelor's degrees last spring and are taking graduate courses this fall (Van Raaphorst received his degree in broadcast journalism/political science and is now taking M.B.A. classes, while Shapiro was a business administration grad who is going after his master's in communication). Other USC footballers who star in the classroom are: FB Brennan Ochs (3.12, political science), TE Scott Huber (3.10, business), TE Chad Cook (3.00, business), OG-OT Trevor Roberts (2.96, public policy and management), OT Brent McCaffrey (2.82, planning and development), DT-DE Bobby DeMars (2.82, business administration) and OT Phillip Eaves (2.80, business). Van Raaphorst and Ochs made the 1999 Pac-10 All-Academic first team (Van Raaphorst was an honorable mention selection in 1997 and 1998 and Ochs was an honorable mention pick in 1998), while Huber was an 1999 Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention pick. In its history, USC football has produced 22 Academic All-American first teamers (tops in the Pac-10 and tied for fifth in the nation), 20 NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship winners, 12 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes, 4 NCAA Today's Top Six winners, 1 Rhodes Scholar and 1 Academic All-American Hall of Famer.
IN THE NFL -- USC is always well-represented in the NFL. At the start of training camp this summer, there were 37 ex-Trojans on NFL rosters. Last year, there were 26 Trojans on opening day NFL rosters, including players such as LB Junior Seau, OLs Tony Boselli and Bruce Matthews, DLs Willie McGinest and Darrell Russell, WRs Keyshawn Johnson, Curtis Conway and Johnnie Morton, QB Rob Johnson, and DBs Jason Sehorn and Mark Carrier. Six NFL head coaches have USC ties (either as former players or assistants): New York Giants' Jim Fassel, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher, Seattle's Mike Holmgren, San Francisco's Steve Mariucci, Washington's Norv Turner and San Diego's Mike Riley. Seven current USC players have relatives with NFL playing backgrounds: C Eric Denmon (cousin, Rod Jones), WR Kareem Kelly (cousin, Rashard Cook), LB Darryl Knight (brother, Sammy), S Kyle Matthews (grandfather, Clay Sr., father, Clay Matthews, uncle, Bruce Matthews), OT Brent McCaffrey (father, Bob McCaffrey, uncle, Mike McCaffrey), S Troy Polamalu, (cousin, Nicky Sualua), QB Mike Van Raaphorst, (father, Dick Van Raaphorst). Additionally, head coach Paul Hackett and assistants Dennis Thurman and Brian Schottenheimer were NFL assistants (Thurman also played in the NFL).
ON TV -- USC is one of America's most televised teams. The Trojans have appeared on live national, regional or local telecasts 272 times, including all 12 games in 1998 and 1999. In fact, USC had an amazing streak of 111 consecutive games on some form of live television from 1988 to 1997.
SCOUTING PENN STATE -- Penn State, 10-3 overall in 1999 with a No. 11 final ranking and a convincing 24-0 Alamo Bowl win over Texas A&M, features 9 returning starters (7 on offense). The Nittany Lions are playing the 2000 season with added incentive, as 35th-year head coach Joe Paterno is 7 victories shy of passing Bear Bryant's major college record for career victories (Paterno is at 317-83-3, 79.0%). QB Rashard Casey (59-of-94, 62.8%, 856 yds, 6 TD, 3 int passing in 1999, plus 76 tcb, 290 yds, 3.8 avg, 5 TD rushing), who topped the Big Ten in passing efficiency (153.94) last fall, is a multi-threat signalcaller. TB Eric McCoo (148 tcb, 739 yds, 5.0 avg, 4 TD in 1999) led the Nittany Lions in rushing last fall and SE Eddie Drummond (35 rec, 17.7 avg, 5 TD) was PSU's No. 2 receiver last season. OT Kareem McKenzie, a 1999 All-Big Ten first teamer, anchors the offensive line. Top returning tacklers are S James Boyd (69 tac, 7 dfl in 1999), DE Justin Kurpeikis (52 tac, 13 for loss, 9 sac in 1999) and DT Jimmy Kennedy (33 tac, 6 for loss in 1999).
HACKETT SAYS -- "We are honored and excited to have the chance to play in the Kickoff Classic and against such a highly-regarded opponent as Penn State. It's an opportunity to showcase our team on a national level?I'm glad we're not playing the Penn State team from last year, because that defense was really spectacular. This new defense is a veteran group with a lot of fifth-year seniors who had a chance to play last year even though they weren't starters. The offense takes your breath away. You're talking about power-running, smash-mouth football. We are very concerned about the Penn State offense and wary about the defense because we know their history and the reputation of Coach Paterno?Our training camp went well, with no major injuries. We were focused and accomplished a lot. We're a strong team on the defensive side, with lots of experience and a blend of some new players. Offensively, there's uncertainty because consistency has haunted us, but Carson Palmer is healthy at quarterback and we have an interesting competition between three tailbacks."
INJURY UPDATE -- OUT: CB Antuan Simmons (abdominal tumor), TE Chad Cook (knee), DE Jamaal Williams (leg), C Carlos Acosta (personal issues), S John Morgan (knee). POSSIBLE: OG-OT Trevor Roberts (foot), OG-OT Derek Graf (ankle). PROBABLE: TE Antoine Harris (hamstring), DE Matt Childers (knuckle), TE Gregg Guenther Jr. (back).