USC trio leads freshman watch list

Here's a look at the five freshmen who will make an impact in the Pac-10 this season.

1. S Antwine Perez, USC
Considering Josh Pinkard is the only returning starter in the secondary, and he's coming off an injury (sports hernia), the door is wide open for New Jersey's Antwine Perez to step in and fill the void left by Darnell Bing.

Perez, a top 10 overall prospect in 2006, is a human highlight reel when it comes to big hits, and he has a knack for always being around the ball. His instincts and range combined with ideal size make him an elite playmaker in both run support and pass coverage.

Fellow incoming frosh cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Taylor Mays also could see significant playing time alongside Perez this season.

2. RB Stafon Johnson, USC
Running back Chauncey Washington might be the incumbent, but it won't be long before local product Stafon Johnson, the nation's No. 2-ranked running back, sees the field. This Dorsey High alum possesses outstanding size, speed and elusiveness. He has the physical makeup to handle an inside run load, but when he bounces plays to the edge, he is a home run threat with a second gear and a nose for the end zone.

Expect a possible carousel of running backs in the Trojans' backfield this fall. If Pete Carroll has proven anything, it is that he's not afraid to play freshmen, and rotating backs has not been a problem in the past.

Johnson is the biggest threat to break out as a freshman, but he'll have to ward off fellow freshman backs C.J. Gable and Emmanuel Moody.

3. WR Vidal Hazelton, USC
The No. 2-ranked receiver in the Class of '06, Hazelton could be the next great one at USC. He certainly fits the mold of what Trojans fans have become accustomed to seeing flanked out wide. Early in the summer, it looked like Taft-Woodland Hills product Jamere Holland would make the bigger splash, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and will be redshirted.

Hazelton is big, strong and fearless when it comes to catching the ball over the middle.

Yes, the Trojans are loaded at wide receiver, but they were a year ago as well, and Patrick Turner was able to get on the field and show flashes of greatness. Expect the same from Hazelton this year, and in 2007 Turner and Hazelton could be the most dangerous wide receiver tandem in the Pac-10.

4. WR Terrence Austin, UCLA
Yes, the Bruins return wideouts Joe Cowan, Junior Taylor and Marcus Everett, but none has proven to be a game breaker. This is where Austin comes in because not only can he be a game breaker as a sub-package slot receiver, but his biggest presence might be felt in the kicking game.

Austin, a Long Beach Poly product and the No. 7-ranked '06 receiver, has huge upside to be a great punt returner. He is an outstanding player in space and his ability to make people miss in the open field makes him a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.

Austin is undersized, so don't expect a full load at wide receiver early. But as a presence on special teams, Austin should provide a spark that is capable of changing field position.

5. CB/S Alterraun Verner, UCLA
The Bruins lost two of their four starters in the secondary from a year ago and both of their safety positions seem to be in good shape with Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes. However, UCLA lacks quality depth and experience at cornerback and this is where the Mayfair (Carson, Calif.) product may find his place. Like fellow incoming frosh Terrence Austin, Verner is an electrifying returner in the kicking game.

What gives Verner value is his ability to play both corner and nickel. He plays with the mentality of a safety and can really lay a lick on opposing ball carriers. With the defense still a major question mark for the Bruins, Verner could be an upgrade, adding a jolt of youth and enthusiasm.