USC Trojans: USC

That was it for Matt Barkley

December, 27, 2012
After all, that was it for Matt Barkley.

His college career, we now know, ended for good on a vicious sack by Anthony Barr against the UCLA Bruins last month -- in a losing effort, no less. Barkley’s first thought upon hitting the ground that day was that he had broken his collarbone for the second time.

His second thought, he recounted later, was that his day on the field was over.

And we can probably surmise that his third or fourth thought was that his season -- and college career -- might well be over, too.

So, no, this wasn’t entirely unexpected.

USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin announced Thursday that Barkley will miss Monday’s Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets because of the shoulder sprain, adding that Barkley simply ran out of time to come back.

AC joint sprains typically take four to eight weeks to heal; Barkley evidently needed more than the six weeks he was afforded after the Nov. 17 loss to UCLA.

The week following the injury, after it was official he’d miss the regular-season finale against Notre Dame, Barkley already sounded like he had come to terms with the possibility that he had played his final snap in a USC uniform.

“Nothing is always as it’s supposed to be in life,” he said at the time. “Sometimes things go as planned, but oftentimes they don’t go according to plan.

“That’s just something you have to deal with. I’ll handle it and stay positive.”

Of course, the next question involves Barkley’s decision to return this season to school for his senior year. Had he announced this time last year he was going to the NFL, he’d almost assuredly have gone higher in the draft than he’ll go now.

And his reward for staying was a seven-win season, a myriad of off-field distractions and, of course, an undesirable bowl game he won’t even get to play in. But, as he has all year, Barkley vehemently defended his decision on a risk-taking basis.

“I took a chance,” he said in November. “I don’t think enough guys really go for it these days.

“It didn’t turn out the way I planned, but over these last four years and especially this year, I’ve learned so much that’ll prepare me for the next level and later in life.”

Kiffin, who recruited Barkley early on in high school but left before his freshman season, has taken on a defensive tone regarding the quarterback in recent weeks. Asked Thursday how he thought Barkley’s career went in retrospect, Kiffin immediately turned talk to why Barkley’s career record compared negatively to other USC signal-callers.

Barkley was 34-11 in 45 career starts for the Trojans; Matt Leinart was 37-2 in his 39 starts.

“I think that Matt has had a great career here at USC,” Kiffin told reporters in El Paso on Thursday. “As a quarterback, you can’t control everything. You’re judged so often on your win-loss record, and Matt can’t play defense.

“If we were able to, over his career here, play great defense, his win-loss record would be different.”

Maybe so. But beyond the win-loss record and lack of a big bowl win, there are things Barkley will be remembered positively for, such as leading the program post-Pete Carroll, beating UCLA 50-0 and staying for that senior season.

His career didn’t go exactly according to plan, but it went pretty well.

S Malcolm Cook re-opens recruitment 

December, 5, 2012
Malcolm Cook (Fork Union, Va./Fork Union) hasn't officially decommitted from Virginia following the firing of four assistants, but the safety said he's re-opening his recruitment.

In the last 48 hours, the prospect has received 11 offers and entertained visits and phone calls from the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and USC. He planned to speak with the Trojans after basketball practice Wednesday, and he chatted in-person with Penn State assistant Charles London on Tuesday.

"It doesn't really matter to me about other schools looking at me," he said, when asked whether this new attention was a consolation. "The reason I committed to Virginia was because of the defensive coordinator, Coach [Jim] Reid. So I was really hurt by Coach Reid not being there.

Marqise Lee named Walter Camp finalist

November, 28, 2012
USC Trojans receiver Marqise Lee was named one of five Walter Camp Award finalists on Wednesday, a good indicator of his Heisman Trophy candidacy but not a guarantee he'll get an invite to New York City.

The Camp Award honors the nation's top college football player, as voted by FBS head coaches and sports information directors.

Five players were selected as Camp finalists this year: Lee, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

Of the five players named last year, four went on to become Heisman Trophy finalists. Houston quarterback Case Keenum was the only Camp finalist not invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony; Wisconsin running back Montee Ball took his place.

Lee, a 21-year-old sophomore, finished the 2012 regular season with 112 catches for 1,680 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, plus a kickoff return for a touchdown.

He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year on Monday and unanimously voted to the All-Pac-12 first team. He's also one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, honoring the country's top receiver.

Lee will attend that trophy presentation Dec. 6 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

This year's crop of Heisman finalists will be announced Monday.

Marqise Lee voted Pac-12 player of the year

November, 26, 2012
USC receiver Marqise Lee was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, conference representatives announced Monday.

In a vote of the conference's head coaches, Lee was chosen as the top offensive player. He also was the only sophomore in the conference unanimously selected to the Pac-12 first team this season, during which he totaled 112 catches, 1,680 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns.

One other Trojan, senior center Khaled Holmes, was selected as a first-teamer. Receiver Robert Woods, defensive end Morgan Breslin, cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald were all second-team honorees, as was Lee as a return specialist.

Thirteen USC players earned honorable mention, with quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Silas Redd, tight end Xavier Grimble and offensive linemen Max Tuerk and John Martinez leading the way on offense.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona's Matt Scott, two quarterbacks who beat Barkley this season, were named the Pac-12's first- and second-team signal-callers, respectively.

Barkley will leave USC having never been a first-team all-conference performer, which is remarkable considering the conference records he owns for all-time passing yards and touchdowns.

USC defensive linemen Leonard Williams, George Uko and Wes Horton and linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard received honorable mention.

Williams also was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, after recording a 7.5-sack, two-fumble-recovery season.

Kicker Andre Heidari, punter Kyle Negrete and reserve linebacker Tony Burnett rounded out USC's honorable-mention recipients on special teams.

Postgame notes: Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- A couple of minutes after the final whistle in No. 1 Notre Dame's 22-13 win over the unranked USC Trojans at the Coliseum on Saturday night, Irish linebacker Manti Te'o stood on the field answering questions from reporters.

One inquiry: Was he happy with his team's defensive performance?

Te'o shook his head.

"We don't like being scored on," he said. "Although it happened, we came back and made sure that it wouldn't happen again."

About an hour later, USC safety T.J. McDonald was asked the same question as he left the Coliseum for the final time.

"I felt like it was one of our better efforts," he said. "I mean, they scored one time."

Is that, perhaps, one of the main reasons why this USC team went from preseason No. 1 to postseason No. 30-something, and the Irish did the opposite?

McDonald was relatively happy with allowing one touchdown (and five field goals). So were his USC teammates and coaches. Te'o wasn't.

Settling, clearly, was an issue for the Trojans this season.

What was their best performance of the year? They beat only one respectable team by more than 13 points; that was the Arizona State Sun Devils two weeks ago. Their other wins over teams with more than three victories this season came by 13, 10 and 10 points.

For all the expectations placed on them by the outside world, maybe their own expectations should've been higher.

Will Woods be back?

USC has a few draft-eligible players who could feasibly declare early over the next two months, but the most interesting case is that of receiver Robert Woods, who has seen his stock drop significantly this season.

At this time last year, Woods was thought of as a surefire first-round pick and potentially a top-15 guy upon being draft eligible following his junior year this season. Now he seems to be vacillating between the first and second rounds.

Will Woods leave? He says he doesn't know yet, although he said he will "probably" submit a pre-draft evaluation request to the NFL draft advisory board by the mid-December deadline.

"I gotta see what will benefit me more, staying or leaving," Woods said.

Woods said his decision will not be made solely by the draft-round grade he receives from the board. Asked if he expected his teammates to try to sway him in the coming weeks, Woods laughed.

"I'm not sure how that works," Woods said. "I guess I gotta talk to T.J. and Matt [Barkley]."

He said sophomore-to-be Max Wittek coming back as the Trojans' quarterback "definitely has an impact" on his decision.

"I believe in Max," Woods said. "I know he has a strong arm and he can get me the ball."

First-year USC receivers coach Tee Martin said he's been privately lobbying for Woods to come back since he took the job in the spring.

"Whichever way he goes, I'll support him," Martin said. "Robert Woods is one of the best receivers in college football."

Wittek's future

If Wittek isn't the Trojans' starting quarterback next September, it'd be a sizable surprise, despite coach Lane Kiffin's efforts last week to portray the race as renewed between Wittek and Cody Kessler next spring. Throw in to that mix likely January enrollee Max Browne, who Kiffin didn't mention by name.

But Kessler's name wasn't uttered once in USC's coaches and players’ postgame interviews on Saturday night. Whenever next season was brought up, Wittek's name was mentioned along with it.

Receiver Marqise Lee said he's "going to make sure to get a lot of time together" with Wittek in the offseason.

"He's probably going to see me more than he sees his parents," Lee said.

USC center Khaled Holmes, a senior, said Wittek's performance stepping in for the injured Matt Barkley reminded him of Cyrus Hobbi replacing Holmes earlier in the year at Stanford.

"He did a great job," Holmes said of Wittek. "Much like the situation Cyrus was put in earlier this year, it was an unbelievably difficult situation."

T.J.'s speech

McDonald gathered his defensive teammates for a brief pregame speech in the locker room before Kiffin addressed the greater team.

His message: "All that matters is the guys that are in this room right now. All the outsiders might try to pick at us, but all that matters is these guys right here."

He said his teammates responded admirably.

"Guys were pumped up," McDonald said. "I can't say enough about these guys.

"You could see the extra fight for the seniors. But we came up short."

USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said he felt more energy as a result of the captain's words.

"We just dug in deep and gave it our all," Pullard said.

Message to the fans?

Several players were asked after Saturday's game what they would tell fans who were disappointed with a five-loss season, considering the preseason expectations.

Responses varied.

"Great teams lose," Lee said. "They're fans. It's harder than it looks."

Running back Curtis McNeal, who left the stadium with a sling on his left shoulder, said things just didn't go the Trojans' way. He couldn't elaborate any further when pressed.

"We had every opponent down to a T," he said. "I guess it just wasn't in the cards for us."

Kiffin was asked about the same topic in his postgame news conference.

"I'm disappointed, too,” he said. “I hear 'em. I feel 'em. Those aren't our standards here, regardless of the amount of scholarships or any of those things that we're under. We've gotta do better. And obviously that starts with me."

Final notes: Lee broke Woods' conference record for receptions in a season with 53-yard grab in the fourth quarter. He now has 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. … In the five games this season that USC turned the ball over as many or fewer times than its opponent, the Trojans were 5-0. In the seven games USC had more turnovers than the opposition? 2-5. … Notre Dame's Te'o on his pregame handshake with Barkley, who was out for the game with a sprained throwing shoulder: "I just told him to enjoy it. He's going to have a successful career in the NFL and in life itself."

In the end, Wittek is the bright spot

November, 24, 2012
Things haven't been ending well for USC quarterbacks lately.

Max Wittek's career began somewhat like Matt Leinart's ended, squeezed by the extraordinary frustration of not being able to pick up a few inches on fourth down.

That was an improvement over how things might have wrapped up for Matt Barkley, who walked down the tunnel to the field for the last time at the Coliseum -- in the most electric atmosphere this season -- without a helmet. He walked up it a few hours later in a sweat suit, struggling to keep his gear bag from slipping off his injured right shoulder.

What do the three Trojans quarterbacks have in common, aside from having attended the same Orange County high school? For much of their college careers, they relied on Lane Kiffin to call plays for them. And USC fans will be howling about the way Kiffin handled the end of Saturday's epic opportunity against top-ranked Notre Dame.

On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Kiffin tried to sneak Wittek in. He got nowhere.

Kiffin tried the same thing on second down. Wittek got nowhere.

After burning a timeout, Kiffin tried giving the ball to Curtis McNeal, who got -- yes, that’s right -- nowhere.

Finally, eschewing a field goal try that likely would have made it a one-score game, Kiffin allowed Wittek to attempt a forward pass. The redshirt freshman with the big arm got a bit flustered, throwing it a little too low, a little too firmly, to fullback Soma Vainuku. It was incomplete ... and a disappointing season got just a little more disappointing.

Judging from the mutterings of some USC fans streaming out of the stadium Saturday night, Kiffin’s iffy decision-making will be what a lot of people take away from the 22-13 loss that allowed the undefeated Fighting Irish to try their luck in the BCS title game.

Let it sink in for a while, though, and outrage shouldn’t be the only takeaway from Saturday’s events. The Trojans showed plenty of fight, with the defense stuffing Notre Dame at key times to force field goal tries.

And Wittek looked like a guy who could keep this program from falling off the cliff everyone has been dreading, what with Barkley’s departure to the NFL. Then again, the way this season fizzled, perhaps we can expect more from USC in 2013 than we got in 2012. The Trojans will go into the season with about half the expectations, so they’ve got that going for them.

You can’t expect a 19-year-old making his first college start -- against perhaps the best defense in the country -- to play mistake-free football. You probably can’t expect him to play any better than Wittek did, either.

And although it will pain some USC fans to admit it, Kiffin deserves some of the credit for getting a team led by a first-time starter into the final minutes of a game against the No. 1 team in the country with a shot to win it. He established the run early, allowing Wittek’s receivers to find some room to work and letting Wittek get his heartbeat under control.

He let Wittek use his most formidable weapon, a strong arm, to take some deep shots at times when an interception wasn’t going to swing the game’s outcome.

Wittek and Kiffin -- presuming athletic director Pat Haden keeps his word and retains the coach -- are going to be the pivotal figures for this team again next season, so you might as well settle in and see what kind of chemistry develops.

Wittek completed 14 of his 23 passes for 186 yards. He threw for a touchdown, and he tossed two interceptions (only one of which was truly a mistake). Those certainly aren’t spectacular numbers, but, under the circumstances, this was a performance that suggested more promise than peril for this program.

When it was over, Barkley, whom Wittek has known for about six years, put his arm around his understudy and told him how proud he was.

“I don’t regret anything at all,” Wittek said. “Obviously, the circumstances of Matt not being able to play in the game is what really sucks about it.”

Barkley didn’t want to talk to reporters after the game, at first ignoring them, then muttering he wasn’t in the mood to answer any questions. That left the people around him to interpret the emotions he was dealing with. He returned for his senior season intent on a national title run and got this laughably mediocre season. He might be healthy in time for the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl, USC’s likeliest destinations, but neither of those games will have a fraction of the audience Saturday’s game had. You come back to college for big moments, and Barkley had practically none this fall.

“The week was tough, and he’d already kind of lost it earlier at one point today,” Kiffin said. “I just felt for him. My heart just felt for him, because I can take it. That’s my job. That kid didn’t deserve for it to end like that.”

Nor did USC’s fans.

But there’s always another game ... and another quarterback trying to find a happier ending.

Grades: Notre Dame 22, USC 13

November, 24, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The unranked USC Trojans played the top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish close, but not close enough. Notre Dame held on for the win, 22-13, on Saturday at the Coliseum to earn a BCS title game berth.

USC looks headed for El Paso, Texas, on New Year's Eve, for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here's a report card for the Trojans' efforts in their final regular-season game, and final game for at least a month:

Max Wittek didn't really look nervous, but he never quite appeared in command, either. Not a bad effort for a first-time collegiate starter, but the timing with Marqise Lee could've and should've been better for this stage. The two were off more than they were on in Saturday's game. If that was Robert Woods' final home game in college, it was a good one.

Silas Redd had an impressive game battling through an ankle injury, but he and Curtis McNeal still probably didn't get the chances they deserved. Lane Kiffin has consistently shown a preference for the pass over the run this season, even in situations like Saturday, when the Trojans' top two runners were comfortably gaining yards.

No good here. Where was USC's defensive line? The only time Morgan Breslin got into the pocket was when he jumped offside. Wittek had some time to throw, but he was also quick to get rid of the ball. He rarely got to the third or fourth players on his progressions -- which is why he didn't complete a single pass to a tight end.

Notre Dame is no offensive juggernaut, but the Irish have talent on offense, so holding them to 22 points is a nice little accomplishment. There were big hits, but no real big plays, and that cost the Trojans. USC actually pulled off the bend-but-don't-break philosophy fairly well. The only problem was the lack of turnovers.

John Baxter's unit is supposed to be a difference-maker. It made very few positive differences on Saturday, mostly negative ones. Allowing Notre Dame to start near midfield on that crucial fourth-quarter drive proved costly. Is Robert Woods really the best punt-return option the Trojans have, considering his lack of explosion this season?

Lane Kiffin got his team ready to play the role of spoiler and didn't do anything to totally sabotage the Trojans' chances, but this wasn't an A-grade coaching effort, by any means. Has Monte Kiffin shown the willingness to adjust his ineffective defensive schemes? It sure doesn't seem like it.

Haden: Notre Dame in class of its own

November, 21, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans athletic director Pat Haden has always had an affinity for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, dating back to his high school days in Southern California.

Even though he played quarterback for the Trojans and now serves as the athletic department boss at USC, Haden still believes Notre Dame is in a class of its own in college football.

"There's only one brand name in college football, and that's Notre Dame," Haden said in an interview on ESPN Radio on Wednesday with host Colin Cowherd. "I think it's good for all of us when Notre Dame's playing really well and people are following them."

Haden, who spent several years as a color analyst for Notre Dame television broadcasts before taking his current post at USC, also said he was a "little surprised" the Irish are undefeated this season.

"I thought they had a very daunting schedule when I looked at it," Haden said. "They've navigated their way through a difficult schedule remarkably well.

"They are deservedly the No. 1 team in the land."

Of course, Haden's unranked USC Trojans take on No. 1 Notre Dame this Saturday at the Coliseum (5 p.m. PT, ABC). And he has come under fire in recent days for supporting his embattled head coach, Lane Kiffin, despite the Trojans' 7-4 record and variety of off-the-field issues.

Haden admitted Wednesday that Kiffin's squad wasn't as good as expected this season.

"We were probably overhyped at the beginning of the year, being perfectly honest," Haden said. "But right on our doorstop we have a good opportunity this Thanksgiving weekend.

"This could be a great, great moment for us. This season of discontent for some people is not quite over, yet. Let's just see how this thing turns out Saturday."

Haden said he understands why USC fans are upset at his continued support of Kiffin. But, he said, they're not thinking about it rationally, as he is.

"That's my job, really, to make rational decisions," Haden said. "Lots of people are going to disagree with those, and I completely understand that.

"What we have to do is do the right thing, and win games and win them in the right way, such that those fans will come back on the bus. And they jump on and they jump off with great regularity in cities like Los Angeles, and I understand that."

Haden said he has a "pretty thick skin" from his days in the NFL. Still, he said, some of the hateful calls, tweets and emails from fans of late have amazed him.

"I love the people's passion," he said. "They are very passionate about USC. But sometimes the rhetoric, the tenor, the tone surprises me."

Haden said he plans to meet with Kiffin after Saturday's game to talk about potential staff changes and what the two men can do differently to better support each other.

But he won't be making any decisions on the futures of assistant coaches like Monte Kiffin.

"That's Lane's job," Haden said.

Kiffin pinpoints the downturn for USC

November, 20, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin knows exactly where everything started to go wrong this season.

It was in the third quarter of the USC Trojans' 39-36 loss to the Arizona Wildcats last month, he explained Tuesday. Up 28-13 with six minutes to go in the period, Kiffin tried to go for it all on the first play of a drive back on the USC 13-yard line.

Matt Barkley threw deep to Robert Woods, who ran a double-move steak, and the connection looked good when Barkley released the throw. But Barkley's pass landed a bit past Woods' outstretched arms. Otherwise, it would have been a sure touchdown and the Trojans would have gone up 35-13.

"From that play on, not a lot of good's happened," Kiffin said.

Not only did USC fail to score on that drive, within five minutes the Trojans had punted twice and the margin dwindled to 28-26. Five minutes after that, Arizona took the lead, 32-28, and didn't relinquish it.

Since then the Trojans have imploded, losing two more games to fall to 7-4 on the season. Only a win against No. 1 Notre Dame on Saturday would prevent this year's team from recording the most losses in a single season since 2001.

As Kiffin looks at it, USC really hasn't had a disappointing season. It has been more of disappointing last month, he said.

"It's been a disaster month," he said. "It's not like it's been a bad two, three years. It's been a bad one month."

There have been other turning points for the Trojans this season, such as the failed stop on third-and-13 against UCLA and the terrible three-and-out against Stanford right after the Cardinal tied the game at 14-14.

But Barkley's overthrow against Arizona has always stuck out … at least to Kiffin.

Marqise Lee named Biletnikoff finalist

November, 19, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Marqise Lee is going to Disney World.

Lee, the USC Trojans' talented sophomore receiver, is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, a trophy honoring college football's top pass-catcher each season, it was announced Monday.

He'll attend the trophy presentation at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 6. The other two finalists are West Virginia's Stedman Bailey and Baylor's Terrance Williams.

Lee, a sophomore, leads the nation in catches (107) and receiving yards (1,605). He is third with 14 receiving touchdowns. He also has scored on a kickoff return this season.

He was memorably left off the initial 48-man watch list released for the award, then added one day later. He's now considered by many the favorite to win the award.

Lee's teammate, USC quarterback Matt Barkley, was not named a finalist Monday for the Davey O'Brien Award, honoring the top signal-caller in the country.

Here's how to get to the Rose Bowl Jan. 1

November, 12, 2012
If the USC Trojans beat the UCLA Bruins this week, then get past the Oregon Ducks or Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12 championship game on Nov. 30, the Trojans will play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

It won't even matter how they do against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the week in between or what any other teams do. That spot would be secure.

But what if Lane Kiffin's squad doesn't win those two games? What if the Trojans beat UCLA and Notre Dame, but lose the conference championship, or lose to UCLA and beat Notre Dame? Where will they be headed then?

It's a good question that we're getting closer to answering.

Yes, in what would certainly qualify as a weird twist, it's conceivable that 9-4 USC could play for the Rose Bowl even with a Pac-12 title-game loss, so long as the Trojans remained in the top 14 of the BCS standings following that game. Here's what would probably have to happen for that scenario to occur: (1) The Trojans would have to win the next two games against UCLA and Notre Dame, obviously, then play a closely contested conference title game; (2) Notre Dame would have to win this week against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons -- not a tall task -- to stay undefeated for the matchup with USC; (3) Oregon would need to win out, beating Stanford this week and the Oregon State Beavers the week after, because then the Ducks would likely go to the BCS Championship Game as the No. 1 team and leave the Rose Bowl open for another Pac-12 bid.

All those outcomes are far from assured, obviously, and then, after all that, there could still be the matter of Notre Dame or someone else sneaking into Pasadena over the Trojans. In summary, it's unlikely the Trojans will play on New Year's Day unless they win the conference title game.

You know what would have made them a lot more likely to get to Pasadena on Jan. 1? A win against the Arizona Wildcats last month. It may well turn out that the loss in Tucson was USC's killer this season. As of now, it appears the Trojans would have been a prime Rose Bowl candidate even with a title-game loss … had they outlasted the Wildcats.

So, the top bowl possibilities look something like this right now for the Trojans: (1) win against UCLA and Oregon/Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, and play in the Rose Bowl at 10-3 or 9-4, depending on the outcome against Notre Dame; (2) win against UCLA and Notre Dame and lose to Oregon/Stanford, and play in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl at 9-4 -- with an unlikely chance of playing in Pasadena.

It gets a lot trickier after that, with the Holiday, Sun and Las Vegas Bowls all still in play based on what the Trojans do in their final two or three games. If they lose out, another appearance at the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco (formerly known as the Emerald Bowl) is very much a possibility, too.

It's a lot to follow. But, as Lane Kiffin has said over and over the past week to his team and the press, the Trojans still control their own destiny.

If they win all their games, they're in -- not the national title tilt, but the Rose Bowl, which is still a worthy goal.

Postgame notes: Arizona State

November, 10, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- USC (No. 19 BCS, No. 21 AP) played a strong second half to comfortably beat Arizona State 38-17 on Saturday at the Coliseum. Here are notes and quotes from the game that won't make it into our other coverage off the day:

McNeal's big game

Curtis McNeal hadn't ran the ball more than 11 times all season as he settled into a clear-cut backup role behind Penn State transfer Silas Redd.

But with Redd hurt on Saturday, the Trojans used McNeal more than he's ever been used before, running him 31 times. He gained 163 yards on those carries, including two touchdowns, and added a 22-yard scoring grab.

USC coach Lane Kiffin praised McNeal after the game. Kiffin said he was especially proud that only one of McNeal's carries went for negative yardage throughout the contest.

"It felt good," McNeal said. "But the only thing I'm worried about is getting the W. No matter if I get the ball or not, I'm just going out there to compete with my team."

Kiffin said Redd was not available for Saturday's game. He did not specify why.

Redd was in uniform and on the USC sideline throughout the game.

Much better on defense

USC played horrible defense against Oregon last week -- that much is indisputable. But the Trojans looked a lot better this week, and that's what players were focusing on by the time they left the stadium on Saturday night.

Defensive tackle George Uko said it feels like USC has been going against nothing but no-huddle offenses all year long. The key to its success, he said, was stopping one part of Arizona State's offense and letting everything flow from there.

"The biggest thing was we stopped the run," Uko said. "And that allowed us to have a pass rush and know they were passing on certain downs."

The Sun Devils ran the ball 35 times but gained just 71 yards. As a whole, they gained 250 yards, which tied the least amount USC has allowed this season.

ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly also was credited with minus-9 yards rushing, his worst total of the year.

Phasing Woods out?

Marqise Lee had 16 offensive touches; Robert Woods had two.

What gives?

"That's a good question," Kiffin said. "I don't really have the answer."

Kiffin said USC made a concerted effort to get Woods the ball in the second half, but he didn't even touch the ball once on offense in that 30-minute stretch.

Woods said he wasn't upset about it after the game, but he certainly didn't exude happiness.

"There was a couple plays where they tried to get me the ball," Woods said. "It just happens -- one of those games where the defense was playing well."

Woods said one of the times Matt Barkley tried to throw to him was the tipped interception by Carl Bradford. Another one was the overthrow from Barkley.

Kiffin said he felt like Woods was a "little down" after the game.

"He's human," Kiffin said. "You're going to want the ball. It was nothing negative; just from our relationship I could feel it."

Lee said he didn't think Woods was bothered by the lack of involvement in the offense at all.

"He gives up himself for me, basically," Lee said.

A rested -- and improved -- offensive line

Since Max Tuerk stepped in for Aundrey Walker against Colorado, USC's offensive line has looked better.

That continued on Saturday, with Tuerk playing most of the game and Marcus Martin and Abe Markowitz switching in every other series at left guard. Barkley was largely kept off the ground all game.

"I definitely think we're steadily progressing," right guard John Martinez said. "We still have little mistakes here and there, but I definitely think we're progressing on an upper slope.

"We're just creating competition and wanting to find the best from the group."

Walker played every third series at left tackle. He did similar things last week subbing in for Tuerk.

No distractions

The ball-deflating incident that dominated Trojans-related conversion on Thursday and Friday was largely hushed on Saturday, to Kiffin's obvious relief.

But the coach brought up the situation -- a student manager was fired for admitting he deflated five balls before last week's game -- on his own during his postgame news conference.

"That was an unfortunate situation, what happened with the ball deal," Kiffin said. "And it was such a story, unfortunately."

Barkley said he had been hearing very little about it from his teammates.

"Players weren't really talking about it in the locker room," Barkley said. "There's attention on it in social media and the media, but we weren't talking about it on the practice field."

He also repeated the story provided by USC in its initial announcement regarding the situation: He had no knowledge of the student manager's actions.

"I didn't know anything was going on," Barkley said. "I can't tell the difference [in football weights]."

Final notes: Lee filed his ticket requests for Saturday's game too late, he said, so his biological father, Elton, and aunt Valencia couldn't come to the Coliseum like they had planned. But they now plan to attend the UCLA game next week, Lee said. ... Lee now has 11 100-yard receiving games in 22 career games. He's also had seven games with double-digit catches this season. ... Barkley became the all-time conference leader in passing yards during the first half, surpassing Carson Palmer's mark of 11,818 yards and setting a new record of 12,026 yards by game’s end. ... The Sun Devils entered the game outscoring their opponents 102-24 in the fourth quarters of games this season, but the Trojans topped them 10-0 in the last stanza on Saturday.

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.”

USC-Arizona State grades

November, 10, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC struggled early but topped Arizona State on Saturday at the Coliseum, 38-17, to move into position to make the Pac-12 championship game with one more win.

Here's a report card for the Trojans' performance against the Sun Devils:

Can we change the name of this section to Barkley-to-Lee attack? It seemed like Marqise Lee was Matt Barkley's first option on three-quarters of the Trojans' pass plays on Saturday. Where was Robert Woods? Sure, Lee's a better bet, but Woods still deserves to be a consistent part of the offense. Three interceptions tossed by Barkley is, obviously, no good. But the balance was his three touchdown passes.

Curtis McNeal is a very good college running back. It's too bad he didn't get more opportunities to be successful in his senior season, because he has done well every time he has had the chance, including his 100-yard day on Saturday. With Silas Redd out, McNeal shouldered the load and did great until the last-minute fumble.

This was good. USC's defensive line looked rejuvenated compared to last week and produced four sacks, with the linebackers getting a few more, too. ASU's run game was nonexistent. On offense, the line wasn't great in the passing game, but McNeal had some nicely cleared spaces to run through.

The turnovers weren't there until late, but the stout run D definitely was there all along. T.J. McDonald's interception helped early and Leonard Williams' and Lamar Dawson's late picks sealed the deal. But USC might need more than that the next two weeks against UCLA and Notre Dame. It still seemed like Arizona State threw too easily early.

John Baxter's unit has had two consecutive strong weeks, and Tony Burnett's forced fumble on an Arizona State kick return was the type of big play the Trojans were lacking last week. (Of course, Barkley squandered the turnover on the ensuing play with a turnover of his own.) Burnett's force was still big. USC didn't do anything wrong here.

USC started terribly, and some of that has to go on the head coach. Lane Kiffin's play calling was very questionable, at times, as well -- such as the second consecutive bubble screen he called that led directly to one of Barkley's picks. But, ultimately, his team straightened things out in the third quarter.

Lee named Pac-12 player of the week

October, 29, 2012
USC Trojans receiver Marqise Lee was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week Monday, following his conference-record 345-yard effort in the Trojans' 39-36 loss to the Arizona Wildcats over the weekend.

Lee recorded 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns, with 255 yards in the first half alone. He shattered the school's 260-yard all-time receiving record and came within one grab of tying Robert Woods' single-game mark of 17 catches.

The receiving yards were fifth-most in NCAA history, and Lee's 469 all-purpose yards -- including kick returns -- represented the second-best ever. Through eight games this season, Lee has 76 receptions for 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Counting a potential conference championship game and bowl appearance, Lee is on pace to finish the season with 133 catches, 1,976 yards and 18 touchdowns, which would smash the current Pac-12 marks: Robert Woods' 111 catches (USC, 2011); Mike Hass' 1,532 yards (Oregon State, 2005); and Dwayne Jarrett's 16 TDs (USC, 2005).

The honor was his second such award this season. He was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week after he returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the season opener.

The other conference honorees for the week were Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers and Utah kick returner Reggie Dunn. (Flowers forced three turnovers to lead the Wildcats to their upset of USC on Saturday.)

Two other Trojans were nominated for Pac-12 recognition this week: safety T.J. McDonald and punter Kyle Negrete.