'Sports Illustrated' cover jinx won't affect Trojans

By Arlie Rahn

Arizona Daily Wildcat

If sportswriters had their way, the Rose Bowl would feature Southern Cal and Penn State, and everyone would hail them as prognosticating geniuses.

But that's why they play the season.

So, without further adieu, here's what will really happen.

Southern Cal (Last season: 8-3-1 overall, 6-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) Coach John Robinson has found that success usually comes in threes. As he embarks on his third year back from the NFL, Robinson hopes to repeat the third season he had during his first campaign at Southern Cal that featured a 12-1 mark.

But before serious talks of a national championship are entertained by the former Rams coach, Robinson will have to find a way to improve a defense that allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense a game. With the exception of the defensive line, this unit will consist mostly of underclassmen. Junior strong safety Sammy Knight is expected to head the Trojans' youth movement.

"The areas that we, as a team, are most concerned with is a restart on defense," Robinson said. "In our conference, Washington State and Arizona have really flourished with their defensive sets and we are going to try and develop some of our own."

The other side of the ball is where USC will prosper this season. With a Heisman hopeful in senior wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and an All-America candidate in junior tailback Shawn Walters, the Trojan offensive attack does not lack firepower.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 205 pounds, Johnson is a big, strong receiver with great hands. He is coming off a season in which he caught 66 passes for 1,362 yards and nine touchdowns. His 123.8 yards receiving per game ranked second in the conference.

"Keyshawn is obviously a player with outstanding physical gifts, but he also brings a great mind to the game," Robinson said. "He is willing to continue to upgrade his game like the big names like (Jerry) Rice in the NFL."

Walters is also expected to improve on the Trojans' lethargic running game of last season that ranked 81st nationally with an average of 129.9 yards a game. In 193 attempts in 1994, the bruising 225-pound Walters ran for 976 yards and led the team with 11 touchdowns (the most at USC in 13 years). Sophomore tailback Delon Washington, who rushed for 170 yards last season in only 25 attempts (6.8 average), is also expected to see time.

On the offensive line, the loss of two-time All-America tackle Tony Boselli is one that, Robinson said, "leaves an unfillable hole." But with three returning starters in seniors Norberto Garcia (6-7, 270) and Jeremy Hogue (6-4, 270) and sophomore Chris Brymer (6-3, 300), Robinson expects a unit that is as effective as last year's.

The one weak link to this solid offensive chain could be the starting quarterback. With the graduation of Rob Johnson to the NFL, this spot has become one of concern. The leading candidate is junior Brad Otten, who successfully filled in twice for Johnson in '94. He completed 55 of 92 passes for 787 yards without an interception.

"We are going to try and make the quarterback less dominant this season," Robinson said. "We have to share the responsibility of winning with our entire offense."

UCLA (5-6, 3-5) UCLA was the biggest bust of last season. With a defense that finished ninth in the conference, allowing 407.2 yards a game, the Bruins knew where to begin this fall.

"Defensively, I expect us to be much improved over a year ago, when numerous young players had to learn on the job," said UCLA coach Terry Donahue. "I think we are a little faster and deeper on defense, especially at the secondary (position)."

This quicker and more experienced lineup will still revolve around senior linebacker Donnie Edwards, who totaled 106 tackles and 12.5 sacks in '94. Junior linebacker Phillip Ward is also coming off an outstanding campaign where he recorded 7.5 sacks in just his first year as a starter.

"Donnie is as good and versatile a linebacker as there is in the country," Donahue said. "He and Phillip Ward give us an outstanding tandem at this position."

On offense, UCLA returns a solid squad, losing only three players. Unfortunately, two of those players wide receiver J.J. Stokes and quarterback Wayne Cook accounted for over 3000 yards of offense. But the return of eight starters, including the Pac-10's leading rusher, junior Karim Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Sharmon Shaw), and leading receiver, senior Kevin Jordan, the Bruins still have one of the more explosive offenses in the conference.

Needless to say, Donahue was not dismayed when he was informed or his starting running back's name change.

"The most exciting thing that happened to me this spring is when Sharmon came in and said he would appreciate to be called Karim Abdul-Jabbar," Donahue said, laughing. "It's ironic because both wear the number 33. So we will now build our offense around Karim Abdul-Jabbar."

The football-playing Abdul-Jabbar ran 210 times for 1,227 yards (5.8 average) in '94. Combined with Jordan's 73 catches for 1,228 yards, this tandem could be more potent than USC's Johnson-Walters duo.

But the brightest spot in this improved offense could be the five returning offensive linemen, led by senior All-America candidate Jonathan Ogden (6-8, 315). Consisting of four seniors, this group has the size (6-6, 291-pound average) and the experience to rate among the top lines in the country.

"Jonathan is a very gifted athlete," Donahue said. "He's big, physical and tough. He has the ability to become the best offensive guard in the country this year."

And while Jordan's play should ease the loss of Stokes, Donahue is hoping that junior Ryan Fien will fill the hole left by Cook at quarterback. In five games in relief of Cook last year, Fien completed 19 of 38 passes for 195 yards.

"Ryan has grown up during his years here and I feel he now has the talent and maturity to lead our football team," Donahue said.

California (4-7, 3-5) The California Golden Bears are the dark horse of this season's Pac-10 race. This team returns more offensive starters (9) than any other team. Add that to a veteran defense that finished third in the conference and you have a team that can do some damage.

"This is the most starters that we've returned in my four years at Cal," said coach Keith Gilbertson.

The big question for this team will be, "Is there life after Dave Barr?". The Bears were 1-10 in the last two years while Barr was injured. The coaching staff feels that junior Pat Barnes, Barr's understudy in last season, is the answer for '95. Barnes has shown the talent by completing 67 percent of his passes for 713 yards in three games a year ago, but he has to overcome a history of inconsistent play.

"We took some heat last season for playing Pat, but that should benefit us this year," Gilbertson said. "Pat is a talented guy who likes to compete. And along with a great arm, he brings a high level of excitement to our offense."

One positive for Barnes is he will have one of the top wide receiver tandems in the conference in senior Iheanyi Uwaezuoke and junior Na'il Benjamin. These two Nigerian natives accounted for 101 catches for 1,303 yards and nine touchdowns.

"They are two of the most talented wide receivers in the conference," Gilbertson said. "They should take some of the pressure off Barnes."

Another concern for Gilbertson will be juicing up a running game that averaged an anemic 126 yards a game last season. The bulk of this burden will be on the shoulders of senior tailback Reynard Rutherford. He totaled 713 yards in 1994, but averaged only 4.4 yards per carry.

If he falters, speedy sophomores Tarik Smith and Brandon Willis will be the next candidates. Smith was clocked at 4.35 seconds in the forty and might be the fastest player on the team.

On defense, junior end Regan Upshaw and sophomore Brandon Whiting will be two names that Pac-10 offensive linemen will know well. Upshaw used his 4.67 speed to record 18.5 sacks in two seasons. And unlike many pass rushers, he also has shown the ability to stop the run.

Whiting's 7.5 sacks last season as a freshman have established him as on of the Pac-10's rising stars. Senior Jared Cherry will lead a decimated Cal secondary that lost three starters last season.

Oregon (9-4, 7-1) For Oregon, last season's Cinderella Rose Bowl appearance might have been more Duck than fluke. Oregon's "Gang-Green" defense stifled opposing teams, limiting them to just 18 points a game, while its offense, ranked second in the conference, scored 27 points per game.

And while Oregon returns 15 starters, the two people most responsible for last year's success have left: quarterback Danny O'Neil and head coach Rich Brooks. Brooks, the 1994 Bear Bryant Award winner for coach of the year, and a majority of his staff left Eugene for the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

Reluctant to fix what isn't broken, new head coach Mike Bellotti has decided to stay with what worked last season.

"I think we have a great opportunity to build off last year's success," Bellotti said. "I told the new coaching staff when they came in that we have a program that has achieved some success and, more importantly, our players believe in it."

The first obstacle for Bellotti to climb will be finding out who will carry on the torch that O'Neil lit last season at quarterback. The answer is probably last year's backup, junior Tony Graziani. Graziani completed 37 of 69 passes for 525 yards last season and was best remembered for his 287-yard effort in the Ducks' pivotal victory against Southern Cal that helped them get to Pasadena.

Aside from the quarterback spot, Oregon is returning an experienced squad on offense that features tight end Josh Wilcox, tailback Ricky Whittle and virtually its entire offensive line and receiving corps. Against Penn State in the Rose Bowl, Whittle caught a school-record 11 receptions. Last season, as the second-string back, he rushed for 561 yards, averaging 4.7 yards a carry. He was voted to the All-Pac-10 team for his kick returning (33.4 average), receiving (14 catches) and rushing abilities.

The heart of this team, however, will still be its defense. Senior linebackers Jeremy Asher and Rich Rule, along with senior cornerback Alex Molden, will lead a more experienced "Gang-Green" unit. Asher and Rule both recorded over 100 tackles with Molden registering three interceptions to bring his career total to eight.

"On defense we return seven starters, including a very talented group of linebackers," Bottelli said. "While we did lose three members on our secondary, we still have Alex Molden, whom I feel is one of the best covering backs in the conference."

And while last season put the Oregon program on the map, Botelli is not satisfied quitting there.

"The Rose Bowl left us with a good and bad taste," Bottelli said. "Our players want to get back there and prove it wasn't a fluke."

Washington (7-4, 4-4) Washington has finally rolled the dice three times and left jail. Because of its sentence, the team now has to field a team composed mostly of walk-ons and remaining scholarship players. Furthermore, a non-conference schedule consisting of Ohio State and Notre Dame, along with away games at Arizona and UCLA, might have this talented team finishing around .500. Still, the important thing for Washington coach Jim Lambright is that this time his team is now able to play in the postseason.

"I have had no pressure for the last couple of years, so I'm excited to be back in the hunt. It's difficult to explain what it's like to work with that cloud over your head," Lambright said. "Now the challenge for our program is to how far we can bring it back to the level it was at three years ago."

The first order of business for the Huskies will be trying to replace the 1,390 yards that Napoleon Kaufman took with him to the Oakland Raiders. That means senior quarterback Damon Huard will have to pull the offensive wagon this season. Huard completed 153 of 275 passes for 1,887 yards last season but surrendered a league-high 12 interceptions. Huard also lost his top three targets in Eric Bjornson, Mark Bruener and Kaufman. He will now have more unproven players to throw at with sophomores Fred Coleman and Jerome Pathon, and redshirt freshman Andre deSaussure taking over the duties.

After Huard, senior tailback Leon Neal and fullback Richard Thomas will be counted on to continue Washington's successful ground game. Both combined last season for 124 carries and 526 yards. Place-kicker John Wales, a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award, is the top returning kicker in the conference and made 18 of 25 field goal attempts last year.

"With Napoleon gone, his yards will be devided between seniors Damon, Richard and a young wide receiving corps," Lambright said. "Replacing Napoleon will be Leon Neal who is very capable but just hasn't had the carries."

A solid Washington defense will be anchored by an experienced line and secondary. The returning linemen consist of seniors Steve Hoffman and Mike Ewaliko, and junior David Richie. The secondary returns All-America candidate free safety Lawyer Milloy along with senior cornerback Reggie Reser. Milloy led the team with 106 tackles and Reser's four interceptions were also top for the Huskies.

Junior inside linebacker Ink Aleaga will also be a player to watch. Aleaga was second on the team with 96 tackles last year.

"What we are looking for on defense is a return to dominance in an attacking style. You'll see us getting after things a lot more," Lambright said. "Lawyer Milloy and Ink Aleaga are capable of making those big plays for us."

Washington State (8-4, 5-3) The good news is that last season Washington State dominated the country on defense, allowing only 229 yards a game (second in the nation). The bad news is that they lost eight members of the "Palouse Posse," including Pac-10 defensive player of the year Mark Fields.

"We lost two of the best linebackers in the country in Mark Fields and Ron Childs," said WSU coach Mike Price. "But I think we will still have a strong unit due to recruiting."

This young defensive unit will be patrolled by senior defensive end Dwayne Sanders and senior linebacker Chris Hayes.

The Cougars are also returning an experienced secondary led by junior Ray Jackson and seniors Brian Walker and Greg Burns. Burns was a three-year starter before redshirting last season due to a knee injury.

"Burns' return is a big boost for us," Price said. "Our corners are already very strong, but we recruited an excellent corner in junior Shad Hinchen for added depth."

Why is Price so concerned about an offense that returns seven starters? Because that offense was in the Pac-10 cellar last season in virtually every offensive category, scoring only 17 points a game on 280 yards.

"Experience is always a factor and we should be better on offense than we were a year ago," Price said. "I expect improvement and will be frustrated if none is shown."

The lone star in this lackluster group is quarterback Chad Davis, who completed 170 of 304 passes for 2,013 yards while surrendering only six interceptions.

Oregon State (4-7, 2-6) It was Heartbeak Hotel for Oregon State last season. With a couple of bounces going their way, the Beavers might have won nine games. But it was not to be, and OSU's NCAA-record string of consecutive losing seasons reached 24. It seems Beaver coach Jerry Pettibone has scheduled his non-conference opponents this season (Idaho, Pacific and North Texas State) with hopes of ending that dubious honor.

"I feel good about our progress over the last four years, especially last season," Pettibone said. "Now every player has the same philosophy and we have great continuity as a result of it."

The Beavers should continue their success in baffling opposing defenses with their wishbone offense. Junior quarterback Don Shanklin returns to lead the nation's fifth-ranked rushing offense. Last season Shanklin rushed for 630 yards and added 560 yards through the air.

"The option offense we run is different and unique in our conference, and therefore difficult to defend," Pettibone said. "If we can balance it up with an effective passing game I think we can open some eyes."

Free safety Reggie Tongue will head a much-improved defensive cast. Tongue led the conference with five interceptions last season, returning three for touchdowns. Senior nose tackle Tom Holmes, a two-year starter, should solidify the Beavers' front line.

"We have six starters returning on defense and have one of the top backs in the conference in Reggie," Pettibone said. "Our defensive line is also a strength for our team."

Arizona State (3-8, 2-6) This could be a make-or-break year for the program at Arizona State. After a successful 6-5 '93 season, the Sun Devils faltered last year. And with only 10 starters returning, it looks like the program is moving in the wrong direction.

The lone saving grace for the Sun Devils might rest in the right arm of junior quarterback Jake Plummer. Plummer, looked on as the Pac-10's top signal caller, spurred ASU to the conference's fourth best passing mark last season averaging 214 yards a game. He completed 54 percent of his passes last season for 2,179 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"Jake is a very bright quarterback. He has a good, accurate arm and his escape ability is terrific," said ASU coach Bruce Snyder. "His only limitation is the ability of his supporting cast."

On defense, the Sun Devils have the chore of improving on their Pac-10 worst 440 yards allowed per game. Senior outside linebacker Harlan Rashada led the team with 103 tackles and will again be counted on this season.

ASU will be tested early and often with road games against Washington, Nebraska and USC.

"The strength of our schedule should work in our favor," Snyder said. "We could really build on those three games if we go out and play successfully."

Stanford (3-7-1, 2-6) In a nutshell, new head coach Tyrone Willingham has his work cut out for him and then some. Not only does he inherit a team that allowed a Pac-10 worst 33 points a game, he loses the conference's all-time passing leader in Steve Stenstrom. And when he thought things could not get any worse, last year's backup Scott Frost decided to transfer to Nebraska. So now the quarterback duties will be given to either senior Mark Butterfield or junior Tim Carey. Junior wide reciever Brian Manning should give whoever gets the call one reliable target.

The only positive out of this situation is that Willingham, the former running back coach of the Minnesota Vikings, prefers to use a rushing attack over passing. And with Phoenix native Mike Mitchell healthy, the running game should prosper this season. Mitchell rushed 43 times for 323 yards (7.5 yards a carry) in three games before succumbing to an ankle injury that kept him out the rest of season.

Although its defense was among the cellar dwellers of the Pac-10, the Cardinal does return nine starters with another year under its belt.

"If we can accomplish some of our goals we set this preseason, then 1995 will be a successful season," Willingham said. "I am excited about winning a lot of games not tomorrow, but today."

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