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IMHO Sunday: And they’re off!

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

After further review: I found the overall opening first day of training camp to be a typical upbeat, energetic, and positive beginning. There were a lot of Trojans fans lined up outside the John McKay Center to greet their heroes upon entering the practice field. The practice itself was spirited, and it was reassuring to see last season’s injury victims back on the gridiron. However, the biggest intrigue of the day, IMHO, was seeing that fabulous freshman class together and finally performing. I’ll say this, that new infusion of freshmen defensive linemen is big, big, and big – both literally and figuratively.

After further review – Part 2: There were a few freshmen noteworthy items. Both freshmen linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin played exclusively at linebacker and neither was sent to work with the tight ends. Running back Ronald Jones ll looks taller and heavier than his listed measurements of 6-foot, 180-pounds, and he excited the masses with an impressive run. Defensive lineman Rasheem Green looked noticeably bigger than his listed 6-foot-5 and 280-pounds. Tight end Tyler Petite made some impressive catches. QB Sam Darnold (above photo) certainly caught some positive second looks with his play.

After further review – Part 3: It’s entirely possible that the surprise of training camp may turn out to be the play of converted redshirt freshman quarterback-to-receiver-yet-still-quarterback Jalen Green, who hauled in a deep pass from Max Browne near the end of practice.

After further review – Part 4: The biggest takeaway I got from Saturday is the positive reality that there is finally enough depth and talent to again make “competition” a reality and not just some idle comment. Players not only know now that the body behind them could actually take their spot, but the player opposing them on the opposite side of the ball will be if quality. Don’t kid yourself, the fear of sitting on the pine or being passed will jack up the competition immensely.

Lookie loos: While much of the attention seemed to focus on the Trojans highly touted freshmen class, the astute fans concentrated not just on quarterback Cody Kessler but back-up signal caller Max Brown, who had a wonderful Day 1.

More Max: No doubt Max Brown is looking for any opportunity to play in 2015 and is more than ready, but in the back of his mind he knows that next season he’ll likely be the starting quarterback against Alabama in the 2016 season opener in Dallas.
Concentration: One of the early focal points of Day 1 was watching the offensive line and the return of former starting left tackle Chad Wheeler from knee rehab. If healthy, it’s expected that Chad will compete for his old starting spot, which will make things mighty interesting with his 2014 understudy, Freshman All-America left tackle Toa Lobendahn. Toa would then probably be battling sophomore buddy Damian Mama for Lobendahn’s former starting left guard position. What a world, what a world of competition.

The future: Word is that the Trojans will be in pads for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. practice on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields. Speaking of fields, both practice greens looked in immaculate shape.

The hyphen: Trojans sophomore receiving phenom JuJu Smith – in honor of his stepfather – says he will now be called JuJu Smith-Schuster. That would give the Trojans two players with hyphenated last names if junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick returns from academic purgatory, which could be resolved by Tuesday when Jalen’s academic status from summer school becomes official.

The decommit: Tailback Melquise Stovall (Lancaster, Calif./Paraclete) declared via his twitter he’s no longer pledged to the Trojans and their Class of 2016. In his de-commitment announcement, Stovall said that USC was still his “dream school,” which says to me that there is more to this “situation” than meets the eye.

From the press box…

The mentor: On the Dan Patrick Show in “Dannywood,” the veteran sportscaster asked Steve Sarkisian how much of an influence has Pete Carroll been on him and Sark replied, “He’s an unbelievable mentor to me, unbelievable. That guy, he’s the reason why I am sitting here talking to you.”

Overrated: Sports Illustrated has its annual College Football Preview edition on the stands, and SI is predicting a College Football Playoff Final Four matchup of No. 1 Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl with No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 TCU in the Orange Bowl. Pardon the snicker, but I am just not convinced that the Irish have rebounded that strongly after the Trojans shellacking of the lads from South Bend last season in the Coliseum, but we’ll find out the validity of the Irish on Oct. 17 when the Men of Troy invade South Bend.

Overrated? – Part 2: As pointed out this week to me by esteemed WeAreSC colleague Steve Bisheff, Sports Illustrated’s College Football Preview edition lists its top 15 Heisman Trophy candidates and Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler is not amongst the 15 mentioned and not even listed in the “Long Shots” category. Who goofed, I’ve got to know.

The Bish: Speaking of WeAreSC Hall of Fame writer Bisheff, Steve-o is part of a large panel that will vote on the Pac-12 All-Century Football Team. I wait with baited breath to hear who’s on Bish’s team, especially at quarterback.

Arbo: WeAreSC contributing writer and radio voice of the Trojans Pete Arbogast will also vote on the Pac-12 All-Century team.

Ticket stubs: Player photos on this season’s ticket stubs include C Max Tuerk (Arkansas State), LB Anthony Sarao (Idaho), QB Cody Kessler (Stanford), LB Su’a Cravens (Washington), RB Justin Davis (Utah), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (Arizona), and CB/WR/KOR Adoree’ Jackson (UCLA).

Bad news-good news: If you can call it bad news, Sports Illustrated tabbed the Trojans No, 8 in the country in the their preseason college football issue. SI was obviously being cautious on how high they wanted to place the Trojans nationally. The good news is that they weren’t No. 1 and on the cover, which is generally the kiss of death.

MM QB: The public is invited to Troy’s Monday Morning Quarterback with Steve Sarkisian on September 21, October 12 and 26, and November 9 and 23. Once a weekly tradition during a USC football season, the release says that “fans will get an in-depth video breakdown of the previous game by the head coach, plus a chance to ask Sarkisian questions.” Since the sessions are not weekly, fans won’t be getting a breakdown of a number “previous game” breakdowns by the head coach.

Coliseum for rent: The Times has reported that thus far in the process, only the Coliseum, which is administered by USC, is the only “rental” available to a potential transferring NFL franchise. The rub here is that by contract the Coliseum can only rent to one NFL team, but you can imagine the money that could be made by the university if two NFL used the Grand Old Lady.

The post-game show…

Pop the cork: Congrats to former Trojans all-star defensive lineman Willie McGinest who was inducted last week into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. McGinest joins two other another famous Trojans, Junior Seau and Sam Cunningham, in the Patriots exclusive club.

Four-to-eight: Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw believes the College Football Playoff (CFP) will expand from four teams to eight within the next five years. Of course McCaw feels that way after having watched his beloved Bears left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. Be that as it may, we certainly hope that Trojans athletic director and CFP selection committee member Pat Haden feels the same way as McCaw. I have believed from the start the CFP should have been an eight-team playoff.

Rivers of tears: Former Trojans linebacker Keith Rivers recently announced his retirement through a social media release that was very touching and heartfelt. It was a reflection of what many already knew about the private Rivers.

Rivers of tears – Part 2: Of all the touching comments in his farewell address, Rivers final paragraphs were the ones I found the most profound. Keith wrote, “I’m terrified to leave what I know. I’m terrified that I can’t earn right now what I’ve earned in the NFL. I’m terrified to lose the identity I’ve tried so hard not to entrench myself in.

“But today I’m also proud to say I’m being who I am. I’m being what I was taught to be from a young age when I started playing. I’m going to be different. I’m not going to put the suit on one more time. I’m going to recreate success by using the same discipline and work ethic that made me who I am… Keith Rivers.”

Passing of a legend: While football is at hand and the excitement is soaring, we pause here to reflect on the passing this past week of a Trojans basketball great, two-time All-American John Rudometkin. While there were probably greater basketball players than “Rudo,” who fought constantly serious health issues as an adult, he remains my favorite Trojans men’s basketball player of all-time.

Passing of a legend – Part 2: I remember my late uncle Eddie taking me to the “futuristic” Los Angeles Sports Arena in the very early 60s for the old L.A. Classic and watching Rudo do his thing against powerhouse teams like Ohio State. The Trojans have had their share of great hoopsters, but there was only one John Rudometkin.

The last word: It’s amazing just how many people are talking the 2016 opener against Alabama in Dallas and we haven’t even played a game in 2015.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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