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Football fans rejoice! A month and a half away from the first kickoff of the 2007 college football season and you can already feel the anticipation of greatness in Westwood and Exposition Park.
USC is the overwhelming favorite to begin the year ranked No. 1 and why would you doubt them? They capped an 11-2 season with a win over Michigan in the Rose Bowl in January and return most of their starters from last year. Quarterback John David Booty will be a favorite for the Heisman trophy but it is the Trojans’ defense that could earn rave reviews next year.
Coach Pete Carroll called last year’s defense the best he has ever seen during his tenure and with 10 starters coming back, teams will have plenty of trouble scoring against this team.
History will perhaps be on USC’s side this year. The last time they won in the Rose Bowl was in 2004 - coincidentally, over Michigan - and the following season, they went undefeated en route to winning the national title.
On the other side of town lies UCLA, a team of mystery because you don’t know who will show up. Will it be the team that upset the Trojans 13-9 in one of last season’s biggest upsets or the team that was overwhelmed by Florida State 44-27 in the Emerald Bowl?
The Bruins finished 7-6 last year and despite the goodwill over the USC victory, expectations are high to perform on a more consistent level. Their strength lies in their defense, which ranked ninth in the country against the run last year. This year, they return 10 starters including playmakers defensive end Bruce Davis and middle linebacker Christian Taylor.
The biggest questions lie on offense where conservative play calling cost them in several games. Incoming offensive coordinator Jay Norvell from Nebraska will need to open up the field for quarterback Ben Olson and take better advantage of his receiving corps.
In his fifth year at the helm, Coach Karl Dorrell has only won more than seven games once in his career. The pressure will be on him to capitalize on last season but with a great team of coordinators, a possible Top 20 preseason ranking and a favorable schedule, all the cards are in his favor to win at least eight to ten games before their showdown with USC.
Both teams pulled off strong recruiting classes with kids from California and around the country. The Trojans arguably pulled off the steal of the year in signing five-star running back Joe McKnight from Louisiana while the Bruins mined local talent and scored kids from Crenshaw and Verbum Dei.
UCLA may have found an all-around weapon in training in incoming freshman Raymond Carter of Crenshaw. Carter was one of the fastest 100-meter runners in the City last year before suffering an injury at the City Track and Field semifinals. Although Chris Markey will likely start at tailback, expect Carter to be utilized in some fashion because you don’t leave speed on the bench.
Summer practices begin in early August for both schools and both begin their season on September 1.