USC Trojans: Reggie Bush

USC officially will be done with NCAA sanctions on Tuesday, so the Los Angeles Times published a package this weekend looking back and projecting forward, talking to -- or getting turned down for interviews by -- some of the key players in the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the history of NCAA enforcement.

It's not inaccurate to say the NCAA's indefensible and farcical ruling against USC football is a notable part of the organization's humiliating and entirely justified downward momentum over the past four or so years, both in terms of public perception and in the courtroom, as well as the movement for autonomy among the Big Five conferences.

The NCAA is incapable of fairly and consistently policing its member organizations. That's as good a reason as any to diminish its power.

From the Times:
As many of you know, I've ranted and raved about the USC case numerous times through the years -- such as this and this and this. While some have implied that the source of my strong feelings on the matter emerges from some sort of USC/Pac-12 bias, that's simply inaccurate. It's always been about facts and fairness. Truth is, it's been a pretty easy argument to win -- over and over again.

That said: This feels like a great week for the Pac-12 blog. I am weary of the whole mess. Too often it disturbed my typical Zen-like equilibrium.

USC has spent the last four years getting justifiably mad. The Trojans best course going forward is to get even.

Should Jackson and 5 go together?

February, 10, 2014
LOS ANGELES – One could make a strong case that the most feared jersey number in all of high school football in 2013 was No. 21, worn by consensus All-American Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), the superstar wide receiver/corner, who signed his letter of intent with the USC Trojans last Wednesday.

And there was no more feared number the past generation in college football than jersey No. 5, worn by the electrifying but polarizing former Trojans Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC signee Adoree' Jackson would like to wear No. 5, but it's hardly a given.
It’s possible Jackson and Bush, two incredibly dynamite performers, might be linked together through jersey No. 5, the one once worn by Mr. Reggie during his Trojans playing days in the Coliseum.

You see, Adoree’ says one of the major reasons he fell in love with Trojans football is because of Bush, which is a common theme with a number of USC recruits. Such is Jackson’s adulation of the current Detroit Lions running back that he has made it known he would like to wear No. 5 in honor of his idol.

Naturally, Jackson’s Trojans jersey number desire has heated up message boards considerably -- pro and con -- largely because of Bush’s and/or his family’s alleged indiscretions and the ensuing NCAA draconian sanctions.

There is no question the NCAA was mean, cruel, heartless and vindictive in its sanctions directive against USC, but one can’t escape the conclusion that Bush probably wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander either.

Bush, the disgraced Heisman Trophy winner, never really apologized to his alma mater. It’s entirely possible, however, that the former No. 5 can’t because of potential jurisprudence issues. What is true is that the former Trojans All-American tailback won’t be seen walking through the celebrated John McKay Center or recently renovated Heritage Hall anytime soon.

You can argue until the Coliseum torch is lit a thousand times the merits -- just or unjust -- as it regards to Bush. You can find enough Bush fans believing he has been wrongly branded and his full rights should be restored. Many are awaiting the final verdict in the Todd McNair case against the NCAA to see if Bush will be given some sort of “pass” over the whole sordid affair.

So the question becomes: Should Adoree’ Jackson be allowed to wear No. 5 and by doing so honoring Reggie Bush?

You can bet at some point that Trojans athletic director Pat Haden and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will be huddled either before or with Jackson regarding No. 5.

It’s a fact Bush’s jersey number is no longer retired; however USC has given every indication that No. 5 is not a jersey number that is being encouraged to wear. Maybe with NCAA sanctions officially over in June, the No. 5 stigma can be overlooked.

It’s a fact the Trojans have done everything in their power to remove anything visually Bush on campus other than the football media guide records.

It’s also a fact you no longer see a giant, cardinal No. 5 jersey hanging next to the other Trojans Heisman Trophy winners on the peristyle end of the Coliseum on game days.

Haden acknowledged early in his administrative tenure the greatness of Bush as a player, and he added that he hoped “someday” Bush would again return to the cardinal and gold fold.

That being said, the question still in hand is if he requests it, should Jackson be allowed to wear No. 5?

It’s our belief that despite the abyss brought on by the Bush fiasco and the ensuing NCAA sanctions, if his uniform number is available, Jackson should be allowed to wear it.

Jackson has graciously said for public record that if he can’t wear No. 5, he would be agreeable to wearing some other number. Currently, his high school number, No. 21, is being worn by freshman All-America safety Su’a Cravens.

With No. 21 already taken, maybe there is a better option. Young kids growing up watching Jackson wearing a new cardinal number like 2 or 7 could, in essence, allow him to create his own identity and legacy and not carry on somebody else’s.

Obviously, Jackson knows that by wearing No. 5 it places him directly in the media spotlight. Maybe the kid is media savvy and emotionally strong enough to handle the scrutiny. No doubt if allowed to wear No. 5 Jackson would be in the national conversation before he has even touched a ball.

Maybe by Jackson wearing No. 5, it’s actually a good thing. Maybe all Trojans can move on from what No. 5 has represented in the past.

Maybe Jackson will be such a prolific performer on and off the field that by wearing No. 5, he is the one who will be identified for wearing that number in the future.

And maybe by wearing No. 5, Jackson will be everything that Bush was without the sorry collegiate ending, excommunication from Troy, and the return of the Heisman Trophy.

As always, football remains a game of numbers. Just ask Adoree’ Jackson.

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.


[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.


LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.

Penn State gets a break; USC didn't 

September, 24, 2013
So much for cooperation.

From the time the NCAA sanctions were handed down to USC in 2010, the Trojans athletic department has made every effort to be compliant and cooperative with the NCAA.

USC athletic director Pat Haden has been out front in his dealings with what he called the “fair-minded folks” at the NCAA. Practices for the football team were closed down, the sidelines of games at the Coliseum were no longer filled to capacity and any media member who wanted to cover the team had to sign a four-page waiver that outlined restrictions on dealings with boosters or recruits.

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.

Marqise Lee vaults into Heisman race

November, 10, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin loves talking about storylines.

After every game, he will grab a final stats sheet, flip through it a couple of times before addressing the media and invariably at some point will say, “The storyline today would have to be …”

Some days it will be the offense. Others it will be the defense. But more often than not this season, it has been Marqise Lee.

Kiffin was momentarily speechless as he tried to describe Lee’s performance on Saturday after the USC Trojans’ 38-17 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils. Lee finished with 161 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. It was actually a fairly pedestrian total when you look at the absurd totals Lee had put up the previous two weeks. But as Kiffin leaned back in his chair, he shook his head at the game Lee had. It wasn’t so much Lee’s performance that impressed the coach as much as it was the fact Lee was even able to play.

“I was to the point of thinking there was just some really bad karma going on this week,” Kiffin said. “About 45 minutes before the game, Marqise comes into my locker room and he’s freaking out because his face is all swollen. He had an allergic reaction to something. I’m thinking this really can’t be happening right now.”

Lee’s face was swollen after he ate something that apparently didn't agree with him the night before, and it was getting worse as kickoff approached. “It was like I was in a boxing match and I lost,” Lee said. “My eyes were almost closed.”

USC’s medical staff gave Lee some medication and iced his eyes, which improved the swelling and allowed him to see better. But he still required an intravenous injection at the half.

“I feel like I wasn’t running as fast as I could,” Lee said with a smile after the game. “They actually caught me a couple of times.”

Lee’s smile came after he was asked about a double-reverse in the fourth quarter that will likely be his “Heisman Moment” if he ends up being the first USC receiver to go to New York for the Heisman award ceremony.

With about seven minutes left in the game, Matt Barkley faked a handoff to Curtis McNeal and tossed the ball to Lee, who reversed field when he saw a group of Sun Devils defenders waiting for him. Lee swerved through the defense to gain 38 yards using “Matrix”-like moves the Coliseum perhaps hasn’t seen since Reggie Bush. After the game, Lee was still upset he didn’t score on the play.

“You kind of expect greatness from him and whenever he touches the ball,” Barkley said. “That reverse, when he reversed the reverse, was pretty special. He’s the catalyst to moving that ball.”

While most of the preseason hype for the Heisman Trophy was centered on Barkley after he returned for his senior year, it has been his favorite target this season who has gained the most traction recently. Even USC’s athletics department, which had pushed Barkley for the award before the season, has switched gears and has started to back Lee.

This week the school released a YouTube video that began with the question, “Who is the best player in college football?” The query was followed by Lee’s highlights and stats played to “Revolution 9” and “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles. The video ended with the Twitter hashtag #BELEEVE, which USC hopes will be trending the last three weeks of the season as the Trojans prepare for the UCLA Bruins, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a potential rematch with the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game.

If Lee’s next three games are anywhere close to the quality of his past three games, it would be hard to imagine him not getting an invite to New York, which is something Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett never got. In fact, no USC receiver has ever finished higher than seventh in the Heisman voting. That should change this season.

Lee’s 161 receiving yards on Saturday, combined with 345 against Arizona and 157 against Oregon last week, gave him 663 receiving yards in a three-game stretch -- the most ever over three games in USC history. He actually broke his own three-game receiving yards school record of 608 he set in USC’s last two games in 2011 and the first in 2012.

His performances against Arizona and Oregon didn't receive as much attention as they should have, because USC lost both games. But he was the only reason the Trojans were in position to win both contests in the fourth quarter. Against Arizona, Lee finished with 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns, and ended up with 469 all-purpose yards. His 345 receiving yards easily broke the Pac-12 record and was the fifth most in FBS history. Lee then had 408 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against Oregon the following week.

That Lee “only” had 227 all-purpose yards against Arizona State on Saturday speaks to the difference Lee has made in the way teams play USC. The Sun Devils consistently pooch kicked the ball when Lee lined up as the returner. While Lee finished with no kick or punt returns, USC’s average starting field position was its 42-yard line. (Lee had 66 yards rushing to complete his total for the afternoon.)

Not only has Lee made a difference on offense and special teams, he has started to take practice snaps on defense as well. Lee was put into the game as a safety in the first quarter when Arizona State lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1. His presence on the field may have caused the Sun Devils to call an audible, which resulted in a delay of game, and ASU eventually punted.

Lee would actually like to get more snaps on defense over the next two weeks. He was primarily recruited as a safety out of Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., where he was a receiver for only one season of high school football.

“I’ll never forget how to play defense,” Lee said. “They kept me close and kept me ready to go in, but the defense played so great that I didn’t have to go in.”

As much as Barkley would have liked to be in the Heisman conversation at the end of the season, he smiles when Lee’s name is mentioned as a candidate and is more than happy to throw his support behind his teammate.

“He’s every bit deserving,” Barkley said. “He’s the best player at his position. He’s done some tremendous things this year with the ball, as a receiver and as a kick returner. We’ll see how this pans out over the next couple of weeks, but he deserves to be in the conversation.”

WeAreSC Roundtable 

August, 16, 2012
“Matt Barkley is following Matt Leinart in returning for a senior season at USC and a shot at a unique place in Trojan lore. What can Barkley learn from what Leinart went through? What are the key similarities and/or differences in what lies ahead for Barkley?”

Garry Paskwietz
Both Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley had the opportunity after their respective junior years at USC to turn pro and become first-round draft choices. Both had accomplished enough at the college level to justify a move to the NFL, but what I respect about the choices of both to return is that they did it to take a shot at something special.

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WeAreSC roundtable 

May, 24, 2012
Robert Woods and Marqise LeeUS PresswireRobert Woods and Marqise Lee might be young, but they are well on their way to becoming one of USC's great duos.
What are the top three duos in Trojans history?

Garry Paskwietz

QB Doyle Nave/WR ”Antelope”Al Krueger

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Breathe, USC fans, breathe.

In fact, I'd suggest you ignore what happened Tuesday with Ohio State and its slap on the wrist from the NCAA for a massive systemic breakdown and a coverup by head coach, Jim Tressel.

Yes, when you hold up the Ohio State case and the USC case, it's impossible not to conclude the Ohio State case was far more severe. It was, of course, without question. No informed, objective person believes differently.

[+] EnlargeUSC Trojans
Kirby Lee/US PresswireTrojans fans spell out the word playoffs, but there won't be any postseason play for USC this season.
But here's the thing: Being outraged will accomplish nothing. You will be unhappy and your team will still be docked 30 scholarships over the next three years for what one player secretly did while Ohio State will be down just nine scholarships over the same time period for the rule-breaking of five with full knowledge of their head coach. And your unhappiness will provide great joy to folks who don't like your team.

Adopting a placid pose — at least as best as you can — will be good practice for handling potentially more infuriation ahead. The NCAA also likely will give even worst upcoming cases — North Carolina and the University of Miami at Paul Dee — less severe penalties than it gave USC.

Why? Because the NCAA treated USC unfairly — everybody in college sports knows this — and it likely won't revisit such irrational harshness. In the end, the justification for such severe penalties, meted out in contrast to past precedent, was little more than "just because."

But the NCAA, an organization not endowed with a sense of self-awareness, failed to foresee when it curb-stomped USC that among the lawbreakers in college football, the Trojans were jaywalkers amid a mob of bank robbers. Ohio State's sanctions, in fact, represent a return to NCAA normalcy: Mostly toothless penalties that will have little effect on the program's prospects, other than a single-season bowl ban.

There we go again: Fretting the particulars and the injustice of it all.

The point is USC fans have been quite reasonably been shaking their fists at the heavens or, more accurately, the NCAA home office in Indianapolis for two years. That anger has accomplished nothing, other than emboldening taunts from opposing fans.

You know: Fans whose teams didn't finish 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

And therein lies the ultimate revenge: Winning.

It's hard to imagine the next five years won't see a USC downturn. Losing 30 scholarships is a tough burden. Things could be particularly difficult in 2014 and 2015, when the true cumulative impact arrives. And it could be even more galling if Ohio State is back in the national title hunt those years. Maybe playing Miami in a Fiesta Bowl rematch!

But if the Trojans can somehow remain in the picture, perhaps playing in a Rose Bowl -- or two -- along the way that would be a heck of a panacea, wouldn't it?

It's a longshot, sure. But other than that, we've got nothing for you USC. Sorry.

Easy, now. Breathe, breathe. Happy place. Happy place.

Oh, no. That's exactly what we were trying to avoid.