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21 USC This season will determine whether the five-year investment in a potentially perfect quarterback pays off

Trojans fans, take heart. Carson Palmer says he has finally
grown up. The senior quarterback, blessed with a cannon of a
right arm and a 6'6", 235-pound body fit for the NFL, has the
natural tools to make pro scouts drool. But since leading USC to
an 8-5 record in 1998 as only the second true freshman in school
history to start at quarterback, the mellow Orange County native
has been maddeningly underachieving.

In the following three seasons (he redshirted after injuring his
shoulder in '99) Palmer played erratically, throwing for more
interceptions (33) than touchdowns (32). "I never realized how
hard I had to work," he says. This off-season Palmer has spent
more time in the weight room (he's bulked up 15 pounds) and
watched more tape than ever.

Palmer is finally ready to live up to his billing and will have
his best supporting cast yet. Eight starters return on offense,
including senior wide receiver Kareem Kelly (801 yards), who's
on the verge of setting school records for career receptions and
receiving yards. Even the running game, which averaged a
Pac-10-worst 95.5 yards, looks strong with the addition of
senior Michigan transfer Justin Fargas.

The defense features All-America strong safety Troy Polamalu
(118 tackles, 13 for loss), but with only five returning
starters it's coach Pete Carroll's biggest concern. "We will be
challenged right away," says Carroll, alluding to the Trojans'
schedule, which kicks off with nonconference games against
Auburn, Colorado and Kansas State. To get through the brutal
slate, USC will count on a big year from its hungry-to-succeed
quarterback. "I haven't accomplished nearly what I expected to,"
Palmer says. "This is my last chance, and I've never felt better
and more ready." --A.C.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER CARSON, DAILY Palmer has been the Trojans' starter forever, but for all his gaudy stats he has yet to haul USC back to the glory days.


2001 RECORD: 6-6 (5-3, 5th in Pac-10)
FINAL RANKING: not ranked


Seasons in which one Trojans player has had more rushing yards
than the 1,052 the entire team had last year.

ENEMY LINES An opposing coach's view

The key is confidence in the coaches and one another

"We'll have to wait and see if quarterback Carson Palmer is a
winner, but you can count on receiver Kareem Kelly's having an
outstanding season.... The defensive front doesn't have a lot of
experience, but tackle Shaun Cody and end Kenechi Udeze are
reliable.... They have an outstanding leader in safety Troy
Polamalu, who's always around the ball.... The team crumbled in
recent years, and the kids stopped believing in their coaches.
It seems they have started to believe in coach Pete Carroll."

Strength: 1st

Sept. 2 AUBURN
14 at Colorado
21 at Kansas State
Oct. 5 at Washington State
26 at Oregon
Nov. 9 at Stanford
23 at UCLA