USC Trojans: Norm Chow

Randall TelferAP Photo/Kevin TerrellThe Trojans are ready to get their season going against Hawaii on Thursday, but an injury outbreak in camp could leave them without players such as Randall Telfer.
After taking part in their final tuneup at home in preparation for their Thursday night matchup at Hawaii, the No. 24-ranked USC football team left practice on Tuesday afternoon in a notably upbeat mood.

“I think they’re looking forward to playing a game, just like everybody around the country,” Kiffin said shortly before the players boarded buses to LAX for their flight to Honolulu. “Camp gets long ... you hit the same people. They’ve been hitting each other a lot, especially with not a lot of depth there, so I think they’re just excited to play on the same side.”

Coming off a 2012 campaign that saw the Trojans stumble to a disappointing 7-6 record, Kiffin and Co. have a lot to prove this fall, and it all starts with the impending season opener. USC is heavily favored in the contest, not a surprise considering Hawaii's 3-9 record -- which included a 49-10 loss to the Trojans -- while also fielding an offense that ranked No. 118 in yards per game (297.4).

Still, it’s a new season, and Kiffin has made a concerted effort to ensure that his team doesn’t take Hawaii -- led by former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- for granted.

“I don’t know what we’re favored by, but every game is the same,” Kiffin said. “You have to come ready to play every Saturday, Thursday, Friday or whatever day it is. We’ve seen over the years on both sides that those [point spreads] don’t mean very much. You better come ready to play in college football or you’re going to lose the game.”

One Hawaii player that appears to have caught Kiffin’s attention in particular is junior quarterback Taylor Graham. An Ohio State transfer who takes over the starting job held last season by senior Sean Schroeder, he has yet to throw a pass in a live college game, but with a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame and a strong arm, he’s created a fair amount of buzz this month during workouts.

“It sounds like their quarterback has been doing a good job, and doing well in scrimmages,” Kiffin said.

Defensively, the Rainbow Warriors are coming off a season in which they allowed just 182.8 passing yards per game -- the No. 11 mark nationally. Led by a front seven featuring defensive end Tavita Woodard, tackle Siasau Matagiese and linebacker Art Laurel, Kiffin expects them to try to come after USC’s starting quarterback -- whether that’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler -- early and often.

“I’m sure that they’ll pressure us a lot with a new quarterback, a new center and a lot of new players,” Kiffin said. “I would expect them to be very aggressive.”

And while the Trojans will be playing on an island more noted for its weather and beaches than for its football, the USC coaching staff has worked hard to hammer home the idea that the team is travelling with the sole objective of coming away with a victory.

“This is a business trip,” Kiffin said. “I think our players understand that this really isn’t a vacation.”

Kiffin knows who will start at QB

Kiffin has stated on more than one occasion that he anticipates playing both Wittek and Kessler at quarterback in the Trojans’ opener, and on Tuesday he revealed that he has now picked a starter, but he wouldn’t go so far as to name him.

“I’m not going to tell you the end of the movie before you go into the movie, right? -- You’re going to have to watch,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin also hasn’t explained how he might substitute or rotate the two quarterbacks in during the course of the game, but regardless of who is in at any point in time, he’s confident that he can go with the same gameplan.

“We’re at the point now where we feel great about both quarterbacks, that we would not have to call different plays or have a different play-chart for both guys,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to call it the same regardless of which guy is in there.”

Injuries could have impact

The topic of injuries has been a constant throughout August at USC, with over 20 players sitting out a number of recent practices, and there is a large collection whose status still appears to be questionable going into Hawaii.

“Well, I feel confident in the guys that are going to play, but at the same time it is unusual to be shuffling around so much this last week,” Kiffin said. “I feel more like we’re in week 9 or week 10 where you’ve really got to kind of figure things out because of injuries. It is what it is. I’m sure other people have problems too. All of these injuries have given other people opportunities to step up.”

Tight end Randall Telfer, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and safety Dion Bailey are three key players who have missed extensive time this month. When asked on Tuesday if the three would be travelling with the team to Hawaii, Kiffin gave the same answer in each instance -- “I hope so” -- before adding “We’ll be in a lot of trouble if we don’t have those three guys.”

Additional Notes

• Kiffin said that Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens will start at the two safety spots.

• Kiffin confirmed that tailbacks Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan would not travel due to injury.
No. 24 USC, which stumbled to a 7-6 record in 2012, will look to start the 2013 campaign off on the right foot in Honolulu on Thursday when they face a Hawaii squad that finished last season with an even bleaker mark of 3-9.

Led by second-year head coach Norm Chow -- who worked alongside USC head coach Lane Kiffin under Pete Carroll -- the Rainbow Warriors will have to show vast improvement, particularly offensively, if they’re going to put up a fight against a Trojans team that defeated them 49-10 last season. Here’s a closer look at Hawaii:

Offense (2012 season statistics)

Scoring: 21.2 points per game (No. 9 MW, No. T-100 overall)
Rushing: 108.6 yards per game (No. 10 MW, No. 111 overall)
Passing: 188.8 yards per game (No. 7 MW, No. 98 overall)
Total: 297.4 yards per game (No. 10 MW, No. 118 overall)

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
AP Photo/Rick BowmerFormer USC assistant coach Norm Chow is trying to rebuild the football program at Hawaii.
Quarterback: No. 8 Taylor Graham (6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Jr.), No. 19 Sean Schroeder (6-3, 190, Sr.)

With Schroeder at the helm in 2012 the Hawaii offense wasn’t exactly Norm Chow-esque, averaging just 188.8 passing yards per game. Enter Graham -- the son of former NFL quarterback Kent Graham -- who sat out last season after transferring in from Ohio State and now stands as the team’s No. 1 signal-caller. Possessing a live arm, he impressed onlookers this past spring, but he also has yet to throw a pass in a live college game.

Running back: No. 34 Aofaga Wily (5-11, 215, Fr.), No. 4 Steven Lakalaka (5-10, 240, Fr.), No. 38 Marcus Langkilde (5-11, 225, Sr.), No. 7 Joey Iosefa (6-0, 245, Jr.)

While the ground game certainly isn’t the focus of the offense, the Rainbow Warriors will be looking for more production from a running back corps that was one of the nation’s least productive in 2012. Iosefa, who is the leading returning rusher, has been dinged up with a foot injury, so Wily, Lakalaka and Langkilde will carry the load.

Wide receiver: No. 9 Chris Gant (6-0, 185, Sr.), No. 29 Scott Harding (5-11, 200, Jr.), No. 81 Vasquez Haynes ( 6-2, 215, So.), No. 89 Keith Kirkwood (6-3, 210, Fr.), No. 14 Marcus Kemp (6-4, 185, Fr.), No. 5 Billy Ray Stutzmann (6-0, 185, Sr.)

Graham will have a talented group of receivers to throw to, and they should provide a solid test for the USC secondary. Stutzmann -- the team’s leading pass-catcher (35) a year ago -- was involved in an offseason car accident and is doubtful to participate. Hawaii still possesses a nice mix of veteran and freshman performers, led by Gant.

Tight end: No. 87 Harold Moleni (6-2, 255, So.), No. 84 Clark Evans (6-4, 220, Sr.)

A unit filled with experience, Evans is a very capable receiving threat. Moleni -- known for his aggressive brand of play -- is more of an all-around option.

Offensive line: LT No. 68 Sean Shigematsu (6-5, 290, Jr.), LG No. 54 Kody Afusia (6-2, 310, Jr.), C No. 71 Ben Clarke (6-3, 285, So.), RG No. 76 Dave Lefotu (6-3, 305, Jr.) RT No. 77 Mike Milovale (6-3, 310, Sr.)

Graham and Co. will need better protection from an offensive line that gave up 40 sacks last season, particularly against a strong USC front seven. Clarke -- a starter in all 12 games in 2012 -- anchors the unit.

Defense (2012 Season statistics)
Scoring: 35.7 points per game (No. 10 MW, No. T-104 overall)
Rushing: 190.2 yards per game (No. 5 MW, No. 86 overall)
Passing: 182.8 yards per game (No. 3 MW, No. 11 overall)
Total: 372.9 yards per game (No. 4 MW, No. 41 overall)

Defensive line: DE No. 11 Tavita Woodard (6-4, 260, Sr.), DE No. 92 Beau Yap (6-2, 260, Jr.), DT No. 59 Siasau Matagiese (6-2, 300, Sr.), DT No. 91 Moses Samia (6-1, 300, Jr.)

A physical group that lines up out of a 4-3 look, the defensive line was dealt a big blow when tackle Kennedy Tulimasealii -- the jewel of Hawaii’s most recent recruiting class -- went down with a knee injury in fall camp that will sideline him for this game. Still, Hawaii’s line appears to be much deeper and healthier than in 2012, with Woodard and Matagiese serving as the foundation.

Linebacker: No. 41 Art Laurel (6-0, 245, Sr.), No. 40 Jerrol Garcia-Williams (6-2, 215, So.), No. 56 Brenden Daley (6-3, 250, Sr.)

A sturdy unit marked by athleticism and toughness, the linebackers are the heart and soul of the Hawaii defense. They’re headlined by Daley, a team leader, and Laurel, a senior with 21 starts and 122 career tackles to his credit.

Cornerback: No. 1 Ne’Quan Phillips (5-9, 185, So.), No. 23 Dee Maggitt (5-10, 170, Jr.)

The Warriors were No. 11 in the nation against the pass in 2012, but gone is Mike Edwards, the team’s prolific cover corner. Phillips, who started five games last season, took Edwards’ No. 1 jersey in the offseason, and he’ll try to replicate his production this fall.

Safety: No. 33 John Hardy-Tuliau (5-11, 180, Sr.), No. 10 Marrell Jackson (6-0, 185, So.)

Hawaii has two tried-and-tested safeties in Hardy-Tuliau -- who has started 32 games in his career -- and Jackson, the team’s leading returning tackler (56).

Special teams

Kicker: No. 27 Tyler Hadden (5-11, 180, Jr.)

Hadden converted on 29 of 29 PAT attempts last season and 13 of 21 field goal tries.

Punter: No. 44 Ruben Guzman (5-8, 190, Jr.)

A lefty, Guzman averaged 42.7 yards per punt in 2012 at Riverside (Calif.) City College.

Kickoff/punt returner: No. 9 Chris Gant (6-0, 185, Sr), No. 29 Scott Harding (5-11, 200, Jr.)

Gant will get the first crack at returning kickoffs after compiling 56 yards on two returns last season. Harding is back to handle punts after averaging 12.8 yards per return in 2012 -- the No. 13 mark nationally.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012

The Friday Four Downs segment looks at four main points of interest for the Pac-12's weekend games.

Barkley's return means USC is back

December, 22, 2011
USC, which finished this season 10-2 and ranked No. 5, will have 19 starters returning in 2012 including both specialists and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireMatt Barkley's decision to return to USC next season makes the Trojans a contender for the national championship.
Also back in 2012: The Trojans' top four tacklers. And five of their top six. And a first-team All-Pac-12 kicker. And a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.

Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"

Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.

Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?

Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.

The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.

Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.

Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.

Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.

And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.

Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.

Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.

Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.

By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.

Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.

The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.

But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."

Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."