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Originally published August 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 19, 2008 at 5:51 PM

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Bud Withers

Pac-10 Preview | USC again a powerhouse

Here at the home of the Untouchables, er, Trojans, Taylor Mays has a theory. He puts it out there to counter questions about why the NCAA...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Trojans at a glance

2007: 11-2 Pac-10: 7-2.

2008 Pac-10 media pick: 1st.

Playmakers: RB Joe McKnight, LB Rey Maualuga, LB Brian Cushing, S Kevin Ellison, S Taylor Mays.

Worth noting: In the past six years, USC is 70-8, with five BCS bowl victories. ... McKnight has had several camp ailments that limited practice time. ... A number of Trojans have been plagued in camp by "jock itch." Carroll said he thinks it was caused by compression shorts they're wearing.

Pac-10 previews

LOS ANGELES — Here at the home of the Untouchables, er, Trojans, Taylor Mays has a theory. He puts it out there to counter questions about why the NCAA is so docile when it comes to the Troyboys and some pretty powerful evidence in the Reggie Bush case.

"USC has built this powerhouse program," Mays said recently on the USC campus. "Regardless of whether it's jealousy, there's always going to be people to provide negative feedback. I think that's what it is."

As usual, there's plenty to be jealous of at USC, including the fact the Trojans are aiming for another national title under Pete Carroll. They appear to be capable of it.

Take Mays, the 235-pound free safety from Seattle's O'Dea High School.

"He ran our fastest 40[-yard dash] time," reported Carroll. "I'm not even going to tell you what it was. You won't believe it."

So we will. Mays ran 4.25 seconds — that's motoring, even by wide-receiver standards — just as he did a year ago.

There's ridiculous talent around Mays on defense, even without departed All-American nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson, the Seahawks' No. 1 draft pick.

"We have a lot of experience," said Mays. "We're big, we're fast, we're physical, and we're very smart."

You get a feel for the national regard for the Trojans when you realize they have genuine question marks on offense, yet they're seen as a solid contender for what would be a third national title under Carroll.

Florida has Tim Tebow at quarterback. Oklahoma has Sam Bradford. Georgia has Matthew Stafford. USC has Mark Sanchez, who is recovering from a fall-camp knee injury and has all of three starts on his résumé. One was a loss at Oregon, another was a scruffy 20-13 win over Arizona.

The Trojans' offensive line is at least suspect until proven otherwise, with a single starter returning. And the receivers of 2007 didn't stir echoes of recent Trojans like Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

But with USC, there's the belief that things will just work out. When you consider it has won or tied for the Pac-10 title six straight years, that's a logical hypothesis.

Carroll doesn't seem to doubt Sanchez. Drawing a comparison to departed John David Booty, Carroll said, "John David is a very serious guy. Mark has more energy to him. He's a more mobile guy.

"He's very well-versed. He has a great arm. He's really a fantastic prospect."

But Sanchez, who has been out with a dislocated kneecap, might have to wait. The job would fall either to much-discussed Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain or redshirt freshman Aaron Corp.

It's more likely another ex-Hog, 6-foot-1, 190-pound wideout Damian Williams, will have a greater impact. As a freshman flanker at Arkansas, Williams caught 19 balls and started five games.

Carroll has favored a committee approach at running back and likely will again, parlaying Joe McKnight's breakaway ability with C.J. Gable's blocking/catching skills and Stafon Johnson's knack for finding holes where there aren't any.

"It's never been a problem for us," Carroll said of the job share. "It's a problem for everybody else."

If USC can caulk gaps created by Ellis and Jackson, its defense could be frightening. Understand, the Trojans were second nationally in 2007 in total defense (273.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.0).

The linebackers — "monsters," in Mays' description — include run-jamming Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, the past two defensive MVPs of the Rose Bowl.

Mays keys a secondary that has a combined 75 starts. He's clearly one of the favorites of Carroll, who said, "I don't know if there's a limit to the football Taylor Mays can play. He's an extraordinary kid with unbelievable talent."

Soon enough, the NFL is going to explore that limit. A third-year junior, Mays is eligible for the draft next spring.

"I can't lie and say I never thought about what's going to happen after the season," Mays said, exhaling deeply. "But I think I realize I can't do anything about it right now. I can just give myself the best shot by being the best player I can be today, tomorrow, one day at a time."

Lots of Trojans fans can't do it that way. The second game of the season is against Ohio State in an early gauge of national-championship chops.

"You know, it's interesting," Mays said. "People talk about it all the time, that matchup. Outside the football team, it's a bigger deal than it is inside."

That's part of a bruising early schedule that also brings Virginia, Oregon State and Oregon in the first four games.

But for each of those four, USC has built in more than the usual one-week preparation time. Here, they seem to think of everything.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Schedule
All times Pacific
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 at Virginia 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Ohio State 5 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Oregon State 6 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Oregon 5 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Arizona State TBA
Oct. 18 at Wash. St. 12:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Arizona 7:15 p.m.
Nov. 1 vs. Washington TBA
Nov. 8 vs. California 5 p.m.
Nov. 15 at Stanford 4 p.m.
Nov. 29 vs. Notre Dame 5 p.m.
Dec. 6 at UCLA 1:30 p.m.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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