CARSON PALMER won a Heisman. Matt Leinart got one too and became a favorite of both Paris and Perez Hilton. No trophy for Mark Sanchez, but he ended up dating the Estée Lauder model Hilary Rhoda, with whom he posed in GQ last spring. Who's next on this launching pad to stardom, the quarterbacking gig at USC?
Meet Aaron Corp, the rangy (6'4", 195) redshirt sophomore who, at first glance, would appear to lack the Q rating and sizzle of his predecessors. Though, this season, that might not be such a bad thing.
The Trojan known to his teammates as Corpy earned the starting job in the spring based on—this doesn't sound very sexy, does it?—his grasp of the playbook and steady, error-free play. "I just focused on playing consistent, playing within myself," says the understated, unassuming Corp. His goal: "Not trying to do too much, and letting our playmakers make plays."
That eagerness to distribute the ball works well in an offense with a constellation of stars. The line returns intact, as do all but one of last season's top skill-position players (wideout Patrick Turner). USC was loaded at running back before the spring emergence of sophomore Marc Tyler and redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal, of whom coach Pete Carroll effused, "He's tough, instinctive, fast, creative. He can catch the ball, and he blocks beautifully. He's going to play for sure in the fall."
Another new face is that of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, 32, who arrives from the Denver Broncos with a reputation for innovation. It will be interesting to see what Bates does with Corp, who has run the 40 in 4.5 and is by far the most dangerous runner to quarterback a Carroll-era USC team. The coach has stayed true to his pro-style roots, but the system Corp ran at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High included elements of the veer and the zone-read option. Might the Trojans be entering a brave new world?
That would be a no, says Bates, who adds, "I think winning seven Pac-10 titles in a row is kind of impressive. We're going to stay true to our nature: run the ball, run some keepers and feature a drop-back passing game like the NFL's." (Should Corp get his bell rung on one of those keepers, Carroll will have no qualms entrusting the offense to incoming freshman Matt Barkley, whom he calls the great surprise of the spring.)
With Corp at the controls, USC will play it safe, and that's a good thing. As loaded as this offense is, there's no telling how far a caretaker can take it.
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USC WILL PLAY IT SAFE, AND THAT'S A GOOD THING.
COACH: Pete Carroll (9th year)
2008 RECORD: 12--1 (8--1 in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK: 3
RETURNING STARTERS: 12 Offense 9, Defense 3
5 San Jose State
12 at Ohio State
19 at Washington
26 Washington State
3 at Cal
17 at Notre Dame
24 Oregon State
31 at Oregon
7 at Arizona State
Aaron Corp's second collegiate start will come (gulp) in the Horseshoe before 102,000-plus fans looking for blood after last year's 35--3 bludgeoning by USC.
Since Pete Carroll took over in 2001, USC is 32--1 in regular-season games played in November and December. The loss, a 13--9 setback to UCLA in 2006, kept the Trojans from making a third straight trip to the BCS championship game.
ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME/GETTY IMAGES
Corp has thrown only four passes in college, but he is a threat to run.