FBO: USC's trendy defense

Trojans own a dominating defense, but late-game weakness creates danger

Updated: October 28, 2009, 5:19 PM ET
By Brian Fremeau | Football Outsiders

For almost all of Pete Carroll's tenure at USC, the Trojans' defense has been the team's most fearsome unit. Yes, plenty of offensive stars -- including Heisman trophy winners Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush -- have led USC to becoming one of the nation's elite college football programs. But it's USC's defense that has set the tone and swagger for much of its on-field success, especially of late. Bigger, faster, stronger, more aggressive -- the Trojans have prided themselves on physically manhandling opponents, even the nation's best teams.

At, we use an evaluation metric called Program FEI, which measures a team's success over five-year spans, to project future year results and compare powerhouse program histories. Against the Program FEI's top 20 teams since 2001 -- the very best teams from the BCS power conferences -- Carroll's USC Trojans have a 35-6 record with an average margin of victory of nearly 20 points per game. Against ranked opponents in 2007 and 2008, USC surrendered fewer than 17 points per game.

Brian Fremeau

ESPN Insider
• Has been a contributor to ESPN Insider and ESPN The Magazine since 2009
• Creator of the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a measure of college football team efficiency
• Contributor to Football Outsiders and his own site,