Trojans lacking in star quality

Eight games into a strange, tormented USC football season, maybe this is the best way to sum it up:

There is no real MVP on this team.

There is no clear-cut choice, no player who has risen above the others to create some excitement the way Marqise Lee did a year ago in an otherwise deeply disappointing 7-6 season. There is no legitimate candidate for Pac-12 offensive or defensive player of the year.

In a town consumed by stardom, there is no true star among these Trojans who have been reduced to a patchwork lineup doing its best to overcome a siege of injuries the way it did on Saturday in a gritty but often ugly 19-3 victory over Utah.

The quarterback is a true freshman who is a work in progress. The tailback is more of a committee than an old-time feature back. When Lee, the team’s best player, isn’t standing on the sidelines nursing an injury, he is on the field uncharacteristically dropping passes.

If an actual vote were taken today, Devon Kennard and Leonard Williams, the two most prominent players on defense, probably would top most MVP ballots. But they would be winning almost by default.

It has been that kind of a year so far. A year when a 5-3 record could easily be 7-1 with another big play here or there. A defense that held Notre Dame to 14 points and Utah to 3 certainly deserves some credit. But then, how do you explain that 62-point nightmare at Arizona State? You don’t.

It is what it is, as the kids like to say these days. And this remains a team with some serious flaws.

How ironic was it to see Anthony Munoz, maybe the finest offensive lineman ever to come out of USC, lead the squad onto the field on a day when the Trojans’ offensive line collapsed like a broken beach chair?

No other unit epitomizes the dramatic drop-off in the quality of Trojans football like the current offensive line. A program that once produced the likes of Munoz, Ron Yary, Brad Budde, Tony Boselli, Marvin Powell and a stunningly long list of All Americans and All-Pros is now represented by a bunch that has been embarrassingly overmatched the past couple of weeks.

The first order of business for USC’s next head coach will be to go out and recruit the kind of dominant blockers that made this school famous. You can’t run Student Body Right when the student bodies you’re running behind are smaller, slower and less talented than the opponents they’re trying to block. You can’t keep your quarterback well protected, either.

The Trojans rushed for a net total of 30 yards against Utah. That’s right, 3-0. A week earlier, against the same Utes, Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 236 yards all by himself. Think about that for a moment. And then consider what it means for the five remaining games on the Trojans’ schedule.

USC should actually be favored in two of the five, against Cal and Colorado, even if both are on the road. But the big games are at Oregon State on Friday night, Stanford on Nov. 16 and UCLA on Nov. 30, both at the Coliseum.

For the first time in recent memory, the Trojans figure to be underdogs in all three of those games. If they lose all three and beat Cal and Colorado, they would finish with the same 7-6 record they had a year ago and end up in some lowly bowl extravaganza they don’t really want to think about.

But one victory among those three would make the record 8-5 and likely gain a berth in a halfway decent bowl game. Maybe if Ed Orgeron can keep patching things together and Lee and some of his injured buddies can find their way back onto the field, it can happen.

It’s possible, although Oregon State’s Sean Mannion figures to carve up USC’s young secondary, Stanford is still the most physical team this side of Alabama, and for a half up in Eugene the other night, UCLA proved it is creeping closer to becoming one of the conference’s elite teams.

Oh well, things could be worse. The Trojans could still have Oregon left on the schedule.