Quarterback Brad Otton estimates that during a two-year stint in
the early '90s as a Mormon missionary in Italy, he converted one
individual. With a sheepish grin he then corrects himself.
"Well, that's what I sometimes tell people," he says. "Actually
I don't know that I ever converted anyone."
On the football field the fifth-year senior has been far more
persuasive. With his rousing 29-for-44, 391-yard performance in
the Trojans' 41-32 win over Northwestern in the Rose Bowl, Otton
convinced many that he was one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
That game came at the end of a sometimes frustrating season in
which he split time with Kyle Wachholtz, who has used up his
eligibility. Says Otton, "The sad thing was that every time one
of us made a mistake, people instinctively thought, Get the
other guy in there."
Otton needn't worry anymore; he is the clear-cut starter this
season. Whether the Trojans return to Pasadena, however, depends
on how quickly the rest of the offense develops. USC is deep at
running back. Senior Shawn Walters, who rushed for 976 yards as
a sophomore, is serving a yearlong suspension for accepting
money from an agent and won't return until the Trojans' fourth
game. When he does, he'll have a hard time cracking the starting
lineup. Delon Washington, now a junior, filled in last year by
rushing for 1,109 yards.
The offensive line, however, is not so deep. Coach John Robinson
must replace all five starters from last year. True freshman
Travis Claridge may even start in the season opener. The Trojans
must also deal with the loss of All-Everything wideout Keyshawn
Johnson (102 catches, 1,434 yards in '95), the No. 1 pick in
last April's NFL draft. While the returning receiving trio of
Chris Miller, Billy Miller and Larry Parker combined for 49
catches and 512 yards last fall, Johnson's brashness and swagger
Sophomore cornerback Daylon McCutcheon and tackle Darrell
Russell will be counted on to lead the defense. At 6'4" and a
shade over 300 pounds, Russell offers a rare combination of
strength and speed, and Robinson plans on occasionally moving
Russell to rush end in order to exploit his quickness.
McCutcheon, who will be used on kickoffs and even on offense at
times, is similarly versatile.
The Trojans will be tested early. They begin the season on Aug.
25 against Penn State in the Kickoff Classic and play at
much-improved Arizona State on Oct. 19. There are some late
tests, too, as the regular season ends with games against UCLA
and Notre Dame, which the Trojans have not beaten in six and 14
years, respectively. "Must-win games," says Russell. "We got
back to the Rose Bowl last year, but that's only one step. If we
don't beat UCLA and Notre Dame, we're going to hear it from our
fans about the good old days. To tell you the truth, I'm sick of
hearing about the old days."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Southern Cal's strength is on D, but the offensive line could run into trouble. [University of Southern California football players in game]