Sports Illustrated to put Trojans to ultimate test

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

As the highly touted Southern Cal football team prepared to enter camp this fall, everything seemed to be going its way. The Trojans returned seven offensive starters and six defensive starters from a team that finished 1994 ranked 13th. They have arguably the top wide receiver in the country in senior Keyshawn Johnson and a backfield of Shawn Walters and Deion Washington, a duo which collectively averaged 5.3 yards per carry and 12 touchdowns.

So with all this going for them, why are many Trojan fans cringing with fear? Because of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, that's why.

The magazine picked the Trojans for its annual top honor, meaning USC will now have to shake the ghost of an Arizona season that featured two losses to the Western Athletic Conference, including a Freedom Bowl loss to a Utah team that accumulated only 75 yards of total offense.

"It sure put an X on our chest," said UA coach Dick Tomey about the magazine picking Arizona No. 1 last season. "I think everyone we played had the cover up on their bulletin board."

And even though USC coach John Robinson is aware of the additional pressure that follows the prestigious appearance, he is content to focus on the lighter side of the dubious honor.

"I understand Sports Illustrated is picking us number one. In their long history, I think they're 0-29 with those picks," said Robinson at Pacific 10 Conference media day Aug. 1. "But we have taken the stance that they did pick UCLA to finish number one in their preseason picks in basketball, so we will try and make them 2-0 in recent history."

The Pac-10 is facing a quarterback drought with five of the top seven quarterbacks leaving the conference through graduation last season, three of whom are now in the NFL. The loss of Dave Barr (California; 1077 yards passing in 1994), Danny O'Neil (Oregon; 1756 yards), Rob Johnson (USC; 2499 yards), Wayne Cook (UCLA; 2501 yards) and Steve Stenstrom (Stanford; 2822 yards) have left huge voids to be filled by their respective teams. Each team has a competant back-up coming in this year, but the lack of experience could generate some problems in the first few weeks of the season.

With inexperienced Brad Otten at the helm, USC's Robinson is trying to move the pressure that has recently accompanied the quarterback position to his talented corps of wide recievers and running backs.

"We have to give our quarterback less responsibility for winning than we did in the last couple of years with Rob," Robinson said. "We have to share the responsibility with the entire offense."

Oregon is downplaying the loss of last year's miracle-worker O'Neil by focusing on backup Tony Graziani's success in his limited appearances.

"The big question for us is in the quarterback spot, but we have confidence in Tony to continue to perform like he did in last year's USC game," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "That was a big game for us and probably the turning point of our season."

And while many of the teams have been trying to focus on the positives at the quarterback slot, Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham took the honest approach.

"Truthfully," Willingham said, "I would love to have Stenstrom back."

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