Top 25 Countdown

No. 4 USC

Monday, August 31, 2009

Record: 12-1 (defeated Penn State in the Rose Bowl).

Returning Starters: 12 (9 offense, 3 defense).

Key Game: at California, Oct. 3.

Why They're Worth Watching

Most of the skill players from an offense that ranked 22nd nationally in scoring (37.5 points) are back. The seven-time defending Pacific-10 champions are loaded at running back, with Stafon Johnson (team-high 705 yards last season), Joe McKnight (659 yards, 7.4 yards per carry), C.J. Gable (617 yards) and Marc Tyler (198 yards). Fullback Stanley Havili, a capable pass-catcher as well as blocker, is starting for the third season. Junior wide receiver Damian Williams (58 catches, nine touchdowns) is a threat. Anchoring it all is one of the best offensive lines in the country, with five starters and two part-time starters returning.

Why They're Vulnerable

Eight starters from the nation's top scoring defense (nine points per game) were drafted by NFL teams. The linebacking corps was gutted, leaving only one player who has started a game (junior Michael Morgan). The defensive line needs rebuilding, and suffered a blow when promising sophomore end Armond Armstead broke his left foot in practice. The offense has plenty of weapons, but an untested quarterback. Matt Barkley, the national high school player of the year as a junior, will be the first freshman to start the season opener for USC. Sophomore Aaron Corp won the job during spring practices, but missed two weeks of practice with a cracked left fibula. Wideout Ronald Johnson, meantime, will miss six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone.

Player to Watch

Taylor Mays, Sr., S

The hard-hitting Mays has drawn comparisons to Sean Taylor, and even writes Taylor's No. 21 on his arm before games. Mays is 6 feet 3 and 230 pounds, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds and has a 41-inch vertical leap. He's started since his freshman season and has made 180 tackles and four interceptions in his career.

-- Camille Powell

Tomorrow: 3 Oklahoma.

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