USC coach already thinking about next season

Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 10:41 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 10:41 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - With Southern California's 34-game winning streak snapped and the chance for an unprecedented third straight national title denied, coach Pete Carroll looked to the future.

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Southern California head coach Pete Carroll talks to quarterback Matt Leinart (11) during the second quarter of the Rose Bowl, the national championship college football game against Texas, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006, in Pasadena, Calif.

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

He liked what he saw.

"What my thoughts come back to about this football team right now, this is a program that has found a level of excellence," Carroll said after Texas beat the Trojans 41-38 in the Rose Bowl. "We'll get back to work and see how it comes together. We have great players coming on to offset the guys that are leaving."

Carroll knows 2004 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, offensive guard Taitusi Lutui, tight end Dominique Byrd, fullback David Kirtman, defensive linemen LaJuan Ramsey and Frostee Rucker, and defensive backs Justin Wyatt and Matt Ware are gone because they're seniors.

There's a good possibility 2005 Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush, fellow tailback LenDale White and offensive tackle Winston Justice will also leave, passing up their final year of eligibility to turn pro. Wide receiver Steve Smith and safety Darnell Bing could join them.

"We've always lost great players, but we've replaced them," Carroll said. "Recruiting efforts are extremely important right now, to be able to come in and fill these spots, let's get ready, let's go, we need them.

"Recruiting efforts are obviously enormous right now, to have another great year and get excited to come back for spring football."

USC went 48-4 under Carroll the past four seasons _ one of the most impressive runs in college football history. The Trojans' run of 34 straight victories also ranks near the top.

"We have been winning for a very long time. You can't win them all," White said.

Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak from 1953-57 is the longest among Division I-A programs in the modern era. Toledo, a midlevel school, won 35 straight from 1969-71 but wasn't in the national championship mix. Miami also won 34 in a row, from 2000-03.

"We've made tremendous things happen here," Bush said.

USC entered the Rose Bowl with only 10 seniors listed on its two-deep depth chart _ eight starters and two second-stringers. So, even with the likely early departures, the Trojans will have plenty of talent and experience returning next season.

Third-year sophomore John David Booty and freshman Mark Sanchez will compete for the starting quarterback job. Booty was considered one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country in 2002, and Sanchez was in the same boat two years later.

Among the possibilities at tailback, should Bush and White leave, are Hershel Dennis, Michael Coleman, Desmond Reed and Chauncey Washington. And that doesn't include any incoming freshmen. Dennis started in 2003 _ ahead of then-freshmen Bush and White.

The returning wide receiver corps, led by first-team All-American Dwayne Jarrett, is outstanding, as is the offensive line, including tight end.

The defense, young and often hurt this season, should be significantly better if for no other reason than experience. The linebackers, for example, were mostly freshmen and sophomores, and Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis, two members of the starting front four, were sophomores.

"It's been wonderful doing what we've been doing," Carroll said. "It's too bad it had to end."

At least until next season.

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