USC: Matt Barkley

Adding a name to USC coaching derby

October, 24, 2013
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

-- What this week’s Miami ruling proved is that the only organization in America more dysfunctional than Congress is the NCAA.

-- Losing nine scholarships compared to USC’s 30? Really? What would the penalty have been if the Hurricanes’ entire squad had admitted to accepting illegal benefits? Ten scholarships?

[+] EnlargeSteve Mariucci
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesShould Steve Mariucci's name be in the mix at USC?
-- Here’s a name no one has mentioned in the USC coaching derby: Steve Mariucci. Once one of the hot, young coaches in America, he was Brett Favre’s quarterback coach with the Packers, the head coach one year at Cal, then moved on to the NFL and had some good years in San Francisco, where he beat out Pete Carroll, among others, for the head job. Currently a broadcaster for the NFL Network, he has the style and the look and was strongly considered for the Trojans’ position before Mike Garrett opted for Lane Kiffin.

-- One of the main reasons USC’s secondary is struggling is because of the early departure of Nickell Robey, the terrific cornerback whom you might have seen returning an interception for a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

-- Maybe it’s just a freshman thing now. Certainly, Florida State’s “Famous Jameis” Winston has vaulted right up near the top of the Heisman Trophy rankings with that spectacular performance against Clemson. First Johnny Manziel and now Winston? It’s possible, although Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is still No. 1 on most lists.

-- How tough is the transition from college football to the NFL? Just ask Matt Barkley. I’m sure that ugly, three interception afternoon on Sunday wasn’t the way the former USC star dreamed his debut would go.

-- For all his unquestioned athletic ability, I thought UCLA’s Brett Hundley showed for the first time against Stanford that he’d probably be wise to stick around another year before becoming a first-round draft pick. Mechanically, there are still some things he needs to refine.

-- By the way, that jaw-dropping, one-handed catch by Stanford’s Kodi Whitfield against the Bruins wasn’t just the play of the week. It was the college football play of the year.

-- OK, I agree. It is time to start taking Baylor seriously. You keep dropping 70 points on other people and you have to be pretty good.

-- For all those who admire the late Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson, it’s difficult to believe what has happened to the program at Grambling State.

-- I’m still trying to digest the fact that Washington State’s Connor Halliday put the ball in the air 89 times against Oregon. I remember when some quarterbacks barely threw the ball 89 times in a season.

-- How quickly things change in the Pac-12. A week ago, UCLA was being mentioned as a top five BCS bowl candidate and a possible national title contender. This week, the Bruins are 22-point underdogs at Oregon.

-- Talk about contrast in styles. This week’s Stanford at Oregon State matchup is a duel between the Cardinal’s old-fashioned power game and the Beavers’ Sean Mannion, throw –it-all-over-the-yard philosophy. The surprise is that Mike Riley’s pass-crazy team is the one with the undefeated conference record.

-- Wonder what the late Bo Schembechler would have thought of Michigan’s 63-47 victory over Indiana? The two teams combined for 63 first downs and 1,323 yards of offense. Come to think of it, I know what Bo would have thought and you couldn’t repeat it on a family website.

-- Back when running backs were still considered serious Heisman candidates, Wisconsin’s young bull of a tailback, Melvin Gordon, would have been right up there in the polls.

-- It is a little early to start talking Coach of the Year, but whenever the conversation begins, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn should be included.

-- Jack Nicklaus’s grandson, Nick O’Leary, is one powerful, impressive-looking tight end for Florida State. Wonder what the kid can do with a driver in his hands?

Kiffin just never looked the part at USC

September, 29, 2013
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The problem with coaching USC is you're coaching USC. If you don't really understand what that means, then you're doomed to fail.

That's the lesson learned by Lane Kiffin, who was fired shortly after the team's charter flight landed in Los Angeles early Sunday morning after his team's 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the school announced before any reporter could claim the news story prize.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsLane Kiffin could never quite live up to USC's lofty expectations.
Kiffin went 28-15 in three-plus years while the Trojans were buried under difficult NCAA sanctions, but the key span is the past 11 games. He lost seven of those, essentially starting a downturn just after folks started to wonder if he actually might be a good coach.

If you can recall USC in December 2011, the Trojans were coming off an impressive 10-2 season that included a win at Oregon. Quarterback Matt Barkley shocked many when he announced in front of a strategically placed Christmas tree during a Heritage Hall news conference that he would return for his senior season to take care of "unfinished business."

That, of course, meant a Pac-12 and national title.

The Trojans headed into the 2012 offseason overbrimming with talent and expectations. They were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll. Yet, little thereafter went well. And that falls, not unfairly, on Kiffin.

He just never seemed capable of getting out of his own way and just coaching his collection of athletes, which in just about every case were more physically talented than the guys on the other side of the field.

Did USC have depth issues due to scholarship reductions? Sure. But that didn't change the fact that the area where USC consistently seemed to be most lacking was coaching, in terms of preparation, motivation and execution. And the offensive play calling, which Kiffin refused to give up despite pointed criticism, was fundamentally flawed in one simple way: The plays Kiffin called more often than not didn't work.

He too often tried to be clever or tricky. He also seemed to react poorly when things weren't going well. An early sack or turnover would seemingly spook him into an overly conservative plan. His complicated schemes seemed simplistic and predictable in execution compared to simpler schemes from other Pac-12 programs that seemed more imaginative and effective.

Further, USC had been eclipsed not only in the Pac-12 by Oregon and Stanford, it also had lost ground to its previously struggling rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Trojans fans are demanding as a whole, but losing to the Bruins and Fighting Irish is a deal-breaker.

Kiffin was most consistent as a recruiter, even with scholarship limitations. But the downturn even caught up with that. The Trojans presently have only seven commitments, and they are not ranked among the nation's top 40 classes.

USC remains one of the nation's best college coaching jobs. The high school talent in the surrounding area is among the best in the country. The school also has the resources to make the next coach among the nation's highest paid.

Athletic director Pat Haden likely decided to make a decisive move now so he could get a head start on his search. No sense in allowing the ship to continue to sink. He'll immediately start getting back-door feelers from NFL and college head coaches and top assistants -- many probably already have made inquiries. Lots of names will circulate, from Boise State's Chris Petersen, to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, to Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Kiffin was unquestionably burdened with tougher circumstances than many coaches who take over college football superpowers. Yet such an explanation only goes so far in this win-now age.

While he flickered potential during the 2011 season, his ultimate downfall was this: His teams never consistently looked like USC should. And he never consistently looked like a guy who should be fronting USC.
Former USC quarterback Matt Barkley turned some heads last week with his pro day performance -- and teams are already showing significant interest.

A source tells ESPN.com that the Buffalo Bills will host a private workout with Barkley and former USC teammate and receiver Robert Woods on Monday. The Bills, who hold the No. 8 overall pick, have needs at both positions.

Barkley is coming off a solid pro day at which he completed 55 of 60 passes in front of NFL scouts, executives and media. Barkley was a four-year starter at USC and answered many questions about the right shoulder injury he suffered last November.

Buffalo cut starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on March 12, which left the team thin at quarterback. The Bills’ current depth chart includes veteran journeyman Tarvaris Jackson and the inexperienced Aaron Corp.

Barkley will be the fifth quarterback to have worked out for Buffalo in the past two weeks. The Bills also had workouts with West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray.

Barkley, Woods look to make NFL mark

March, 27, 2013
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The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

After not being able to take part in the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine due to an injured shoulder, this will be the opportunity for Barkley to prove to coaches and scouts that he is healthy and deserving of a first-round selection.

Because Barkley hasn't thrown since getting injured against UCLA, there are many questions about his draft status. Will he be a first-day pick or will he fall into the second round? So much will depend upon the health of the shoulder and how he performs in the roughly 60 throws he will make to Robert Woods. There are no questions about his leadership and character but, in the end, an NFL quarterback needs to be able to make the throws, and that is what Barkley will need to show.

Woods will be looking to prove something himself, as well. This is a deep receiver draft and most mock drafts have him going in the second round, but a recent mock draft from Charley Casserly at NFL.com had Woods as a first-round pick. The main goal for Woods in this workout is to get a 40 time below 4.5. He ran 4.51 at the combine and getting into the 4.4 range would mean a lot in the constant jockeying for draft position.

This will also be the first opportunity to conduct a workout for center Khaled Holmes, who withdrew from the Senior Bowl and then got hurt during the weightlifting portion of the combine.

Others working out will include a trio of defensive backs in T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling along with defensive end Wes Horton and running back Curtis McNeal.

The USC Pro Day will be shown live on ESPN3 at 11:15 a.m. PT.

Sun Bowl: Postgame notebook

December, 31, 2012
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EL PASO, Texas -- The USC Trojans ended 2012 with the opposite of a bang -- a 21-7 upset loss to under-.500 Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

The same Trojans offense that started off the season as hyped as any team in the country failed to produce even double-digit points against a squad that had been giving up 30 a game beforehand.

Here are notes and quotes from USC's loss on New Year's Eve, not including the news that receiver Robert Woods is foregoing his senior season and declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.

Initial responses

USC coach Lane Kiffin began his postgame press conference by taking "all" the blame for the loss and stating, shortly, that he knew the Trojans' 2012 performance was unacceptable.

"We can't be 7-6," Kiffin said. "Not at 'SC."

Kiffin also called it a "very surprising game." Based on what his team had shown him over five previous days in El Paso and recent weeks in L.A., he expected a different outcome.

"I thought we would play much better on offense today," he said. "I thought we had two good weeks of practice."

But as he did after every game this season, he praised the Trojans' overall effort.

His players also said they thought the bowl practices would translate into a better bowl performance. A few also offered their own theories for what went wrong -- both Monday and over the last four months.

"We failed to execute, be disciplined, at times, when it was critical," senior safety Jawanza Starling said. "That's pretty much it -- we failed to execute at critical times."

Junior running back Silas Redd said it came down to physicality.

"I think we just gotta be meaner, more physical, more nasty up front in every way," he said. "Even running backs running harder."

All Wittek, no Kessler

[+] EnlargeMatt Kartozian
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterback Max Wittek completed just 14 of 37 attempts for 107 yards and had three interceptions against the Sun Bowl's harsh winds.
Max Wittek, making his second career start in place of the injured Matt Barkley, struggled mightily to make headway on the Georgia Tech defense.

He said afterward he never lost confidence but admitted to feeling out of rhythm for most of the game.

In all, Wittek attempted 37 throws and completed only 14 of them for 107 yards, adding three interceptions and one touchdown. Yet Cody Kessler, Wittek's backup, a fellow redshirt freshman and a competitor for next year's open quarterback job, did not replace him at any point.

Asked after the game why he kept Wittek on the field throughout, Kiffin said the weather discouraged him from making a switch.

"I just didn't think that, the way the temperature was and the way the wind was going, the way we were running the ball, I don't think that was really the right move at the time," Kiffin said.

Kessler noted that he had played in cold-weather conditions before. He did warm up on the sideline briefly in the second half but said that was just to maintain warmth, not due to any coaching instructions.

"I just kept staying prepared," Kessler said. "I had no idea what was gonna happen. No matter what, I'm still gonna support Max, I'm still gonna support our coaches."

The wind's impact

Winds gusted up to 35 miles per hour at the Sun Bowl, as expected, and they appeared to play a role in a few of Wittek's overthrows, especially early on.

But the freshman signal caller declined to use it as an excuse for his performance.

"It did carry a few balls, but we knew that (it would) coming in," Wittek said in the postgame press conference. "I knew that I needed to drive the ball a little bit more, but the wind was there for both teams.

"Obviously they run the ball a little bit more than they throw, but we both had the wind factor."

Star receiver Marqise Lee said the wind was "shaky" -- stronger than he expected coming in.

Monte's goodbye

The 72-year-old Monte Kiffin was in relatively good spirits after his final game at USC on Monday, expressing love for Trojan traditions and the school's marching band.

Kiffin, the school's de facto defensive coordinator for the last three seasons, resigned last month, citing a desire to take an NFL job.

"You don't like to end up like this," he said. "But I'll tell you what: I've only been here three years, but I'll be a Trojan for life."

The elder Kiffin retained his sense of humor. Asked Monday if he would miss coaching alongside his son, he laughed.

"Not really," Monte Kiffin said.

He said he expected to hear from NFL teams about job opportunities in the coming days, with his season and the league's regular season now both over.

Robey's decision

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey will fly home to Florida on Tuesday and should have a decision made on whether to declare for the NFL draft by Thursday, he said.

Robey said he received a fourth-round-or-later grade on the draft evaluation he requested, meaning the NFL officials who evaluated his college tape did not find him worthy of a pick in the top three rounds.

He said he found that "pretty surprising." He had previously said he would only declare for the draft if he received a first- or second-round grade from the NFL on his pre-draft evaluation.

Final notes: Lee said he hurt his knee during Saturday's practice and received extensive treatment on it over the next 48 hours. He played the entire game Monday and said he wasn't really bothered by the injury. He finished with six catches for 41 yards. ... USC was missing two normal contributors due to academic ineligibility. Offensive lineman Abe Markowitz and cornerback Torin Harris were not with the team because of grade issues, Kiffin said. ... Robey said Georgia's Tech fourth-quarter touchdown -- a 17-yard catch from Orwin Smith, who broke Robey's tackle attempt -- came on a "busted coverage." The Trojans had not seen "those looks or that certain play" in their preparation for Georgia Tech, Robey said. ... Redd said he will return to USC for his senior season. He requested and received a draft evaluation from the NFL but declined to reveal its result. ... Monte Kiffin, on Lane's impending search for a new defensive coordinator: "I don't think he's done much on it yet, but he shouldn't have, because he's been trying to win a bowl game."

USC adds a laugh track to bowl season

December, 31, 2012
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Every time the CBS cameras showed Lane Kiffin during Monday’s 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, he had a big, black hood over his head and he wore sunglasses that obscured much of his face.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsCoach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans take on Utah State on Saturday on ABC.
Kiffin’s aim, presumably, was to counter the blustery, oddly sunny conditions in El Paso, but it looked as if he was trying not to be noticed. Who can blame him?

Monday’s two-touchdown loss -- to a team that got blown out by Middle Tennessee, finished below .500 and had to petition to play in a bowl game -- seemed like a fitting finale to USC’s season, in which expectations and reality meshed as well as garlic and peppermint ice cream.

To me, it seemed like the No. 1 ranking was a bit much back in September, but I never would have predicted such a mess of a season from a team with good senior leadership and so many playmakers.

It all seems to suggest changes need to come for 2013, from the way Kiffin approaches the offense to the way the defense approaches spread offenses. This USC season went from bad to worse to embarrassing in incremental steps and Monday the Trojans finally reached the ground floor.

The damage had already been done way before the Trojans got to the far west corner of Texas. Tough losses to Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame stung. Bad losses to UCLA and Arizona infuriated. When a team disappoints as thoroughly as this USC team did, how it fares in some far-off bowl in between holidays doesn’t linger much in most fans’ memories.

But there has to be accountability for the way this season unraveled at the end. ESPN’s Pac-12 blogger, Ted Miller, wrote that USC is “three touchdowns better than the Yellow Jackets,” but it didn’t look like Georgia Tech’s only edge Monday was motivation. The Yellow Jackets looked better-coached. They looked more confident. They looked like they were playing with more joy and more togetherness.

USC’s defensive guru, Monte Kiffin, coached his last game for the Trojans on Monday. The 72-year-old NFL legend decided to step down after a series of defensive breakdowns in the Trojans’ biggest games. It's nice that his defense sent him off with a solid effort, better than the score reflects. Georgia Tech scored one of its touchdowns on a punt return.

That’s fine, but -- how’s this for a depressing thought for 2013 -- USC looked awful in every phase other than defense against Georgia Tech. Quarterback Max Wittek, the presumptive starter next season, looked lost at sea, flinging balls over receivers’ heads, into opponents’ arms, off defensive ends’ hands and skipping off the turf. He completed only the easiest of throws, but for some reason Kiffin kept giving him difficult ones.

Playing in blustery conditions, punter Kyle Negrete drove a third-quarter punt low and short, a mistake that turned into Georgia Tech’s second touchdown -- the easiest special-teams score you’re going to find. You would think Negrete would have gotten in rhythm, considering he had to punt eight times.

It took USC more than 21 minutes of the second half to pick up a first down. Wittek threw three interceptions and his average completion was for 2.9 yards.

Maybe by next spring, nobody will be thinking about this game any longer. Hopefully, Wittek won’t let it consume him for the next few months because he still could have a bright future at USC.

Maybe it will be just a lousy game, one of those that some day will raise a giggle or two from USC fans remembering a sad season.

But Kiffin has to learn from it, or nobody’s going to be laughing any longer.

Hyundai Sun Bowl preview 

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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HYUNDAI SUN BOWL

USC (7-5, 5-4) versus Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3)

Where: El Paso, Texas

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

That was it for Matt Barkley

December, 27, 2012
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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.

Watch: Barkley won't play in Sun Bowl

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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Mark May and Lou Holtz discuss Matt Barkley's disappointing season at USC.

Preparing for the dive, the quarterback and the pitch

December, 24, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Saturday was Monte Kiffin’s final practice on the USC campus in charge of the USC Trojans defense.

But he didn’t want to talk about it as he walked off the Trojans’ practice field for the final time. He did, however, want to talk about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offense, the unusual animal USC is facing in a week for the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

In fact, he can’t stop talking about the wishbone triple-option Georgia Tech runs -- an offense he hasn’t attempted to scheme against in more than three decades.

“The dive, the quarterback and the pitch,” said Kiffin, who resigned from his post as USC’s de facto defensive coordinator last month. “You don’t know which one it is.”

He’s been repeating those words over and over to his players for the last week. And they’re starting to stick, according to senior safety T.J. McDonald.

“Everybody has a responsibility, and that’s it,” McDonald said. “You read your key and you go.”

McDonald said he “didn’t understand” the defenses that some of Georgia Tech’s opponents have used this season.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense sometimes,” he said.

But the defense Kiffin wants the Trojans to play makes sense to McDonald. It requires every player on the defense to work together to stop all three options -- the dive, the quarterback and the pitch.

Passing is a secondary worry. Tech quarterback Tevin Washington completed just 72 passes this season -- fewer than USC’s Matt Barkley threw in his final three games.

“I want to make this quarterback show me he can throw the ball,” McDonald said. “They’re a running offense, and they know that and we know that.”

As for Kiffin, he said he’ll be more ready to say goodbye after the New Year’s Eve bowl game, but he’s already envisioning the occasional return visits.

“I’d like to come back here at some point and watch,” Kiffin said. “See the head coach and see how these freshmen became sophomores and juniors and seniors.”

Wittek rearing to go

Barkley made an appearance at two USC practices over the weekend, but only to watch.

The injured quarterback is staying off the field at least until Wednesday, when he’ll attempt to suit up for the Trojans during their first bowl practice in El Paso.

Meanwhile, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler continue to split first-team reps in his stead, with Wittek still the planned starter if Barkley can’t recover from his sprained shoulder in time to start.

Wittek dismissed any concern about a lack of readiness for a bowl-game start.

“I’ve been preparing for things like these opportunities all year,” he said. “It’s not too much different than Notre Dame, other than the time that we have to prepare for Georgia Tech.”

Head coach Lane Kiffin said Barkley’s injury has allowed him to get both potential quarterbacks adequate practice reps of late, which would otherwise be impossible.

“The one positive about Matthew not being here is those guys get more reps,” Kiffin said.

Robey has a plan

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey is expecting to receive his pre-draft evaluation back from the NFL any day now, and he’s also planning on placing a lot of value in it regarding his decision whether to return for his senior season at USC.

“It’s pretty important to me, because NFL scouts took the time out to watch my film and really concentrate on what I need to get done,” Robey said. “The more information I get as far as my ability at the next level, it’s going to better my decision.”

He even has an exact round grade and corresponding decision in mind. If the NFL Draft Advisory Board tells Robey they expect him to be a third-round selection, he’ll come back to school, he said.

So only a first- or second-round grade will lead him to the NFL.

“Nothing less than that,” Robey said.

Rogers impresses his coach

Incoming receiver Darreus Rogers has practiced three times with the Trojans, and has already earned the respect of his position coach, Tee Martin.

Martin said Rogers has the athletic ability of a college receiver and a mind that is learning how to handle the demands of the next level.

“He asks the right questions,” Martin said of Rogers on Friday. “And, yeah, it’s only the second day, but his retention has been good. I just throw questions at him in the middle of anything and his attention span has been good.”

Rogers will not travel with the Trojans to El Paso due to NCAA rules. He will enroll at USC in January and can resume working out with the team then.

Final notes: Running back Silas Redd submitted an evaluation request to the NFL but is “definitely leaning toward staying” at USC for his senior season, he said. Redd transferred from the Penn State Nittany Lions in August. ... The Trojans are in the middle of a four-day holiday break before reconvening in El Paso on Wednesday. Many players flew home and are meeting the team in Texas. … Martin, on trying to recruit Rogers while an assistant at Kentucky in 2011: “I knew I didn’t have a shot, but I knew who he was. He wasn’t coming to Kentucky.”

Plays will be called by Lane Kiffin again next season

December, 17, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin will continue to call plays for the offense in 2013, he said Sunday.

Kiffin, criticized for what some found to be uninventive play calling, had previously said he planned to re-evaluate the USC program after the Trojans’ Sun Bowl appearance against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Dec. 31.

That does not include his own work as the de facto offensive coordinator, we now know. Kiffin confirmed Sunday he won’t be hiring a new playcaller this offseason. Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu will keep his job title and continue to work as the team’s running backs coach.

Kiffin also said he still does not plan on interviewing defensive coordinator candidates until after the Sun Bowl. USC’s head defensive slot is open after Kiffin’s father, Monte, resigned last month.

Here are other notes and quotes from the Trojans’ two weekend practices. USC will practice four more times in Los Angeles this week -- Wednesday through Saturday -- before breaking for the holidays. They will meet up again in El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 26 to prepare for the New Year’s Eve bowl game.

No Barkley for a while

Quarterback Matt Barkley, out for a month with a sprained throwing shoulder he suffered against the UCLA Bruins, did not attend either of USC’s weekend practices.

Kiffin told reporters Saturday that Barkley will sit out of practices until at least Dec. 26.

Max Wittek, Barkley’s redshirt freshman backup, said he is preparing as if he’ll start -- just as he did for every other game the Trojans played this season. He has split reps with third-stringer Cody Kessler.

Barkley and Wittek are officially listed as co-starters on the Sun Bowl depth chart.

Farmer the surprise star

Sophomore receiver George Farmer has earned his head coach’s praise after each practice since the regular season ended.

“He’s really had four good practices in a row,” Kiffin said Sunday. “It’s great to see.”

He says it’s a product of his increased focus of late, which he credits in part to the stress of school soon to be over. Farmer is done with final exams as of Monday, with the rest of his teammates finishing up by Wednesday afternoon.

“Strictly focused on football; that’s your job, that’s your craft,” Farmer said. “With the pressure of finals off of you, I think that’s a plus.”

Farmer caught only one pass this season, and has just 10 offensive touches to show for two years of college football. He said Sunday he wasn’t worried about that.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable; keeping up on the minor details,” Farmer said. “Now it’s just playing faster; that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He said he’s also paying more attention to keeping himself healthy and adopting some preventative measures to avoid the hamstring injuries that have plagued him at USC.

“I do a lot more stretching,” he said.

Final notes: USC’s Saturday practice was distracted by an on-campus police investigation for a suspect alleged to be in possession of narcotics, with a helicopter hovering over the practice field while the Trojans worked out. USC announced the investigation was called off -- without the suspect being caught -- later that day. … Redshirt freshman receiver Victor Blackwell was named another practice standout by Kiffin. … USC did one-on-one linemen drills during Sunday’s practice, which players credited for bringing out excitement and passion. “It’s really about toughness and going back to camp mode a little bit, not having a game this week,” Kiffin said.

Wrapping up USC's first week of bowl practices

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
6:32
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Here's a look at everything else that happened with the USC Trojans this week, including their first two bowl practices, an early trip to El Paso and more:

Defensive coordinator plans

USC coach Lane Kiffin won't begin the formal process of searching for a new defensive coordinator until after the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

Kiffin's father, Monte, resigned as assistant head coach and de facto defensive coordinator following a disappointing 7-5 season. Kiffin says he plans to hire a true defensive coordinator to replace him, despite defensive line coach Ed Orgeron holding that title this season.

"We'll take our time and make sure that we get the right fit," Lane Kiffin said on Wednesday after the Trojans' first bowl practice.

Kiffin did indicate he will begin the process of sorting out candidates before the bowl game.

"I think you can kind of start it in your head," Kiffin said.

Kiffin is not afraid of a mid-January hire hurting his program in recruiting, even with signing day on Feb. 6. He pointed out that he was hired on Jan. 12 in 2010 and still signed a top recruiting class.

"It's not as quick as you think," Kiffin said of the time between the end of the bowl game and signing day. "One assistant coach isn't gonna be a big deal, and we still have over a month after the game until signing day."

Barkley back

Quarterback Matt Barkley missed Wednesday's practice while in New York for an awards banquet and walked into the Trojans' Friday session midway through, wearing sweats but no shoulder sling.

He has not practiced since suffering a sprained throwing shoulder Nov. 17, but he's still on track to start on Dec. 31.

Kiffin told reporters in El Paso on Thursday that Barkley "obviously wouldn't have been able to play if it had been an earlier [bowl] game."

USC's other bowl-game date possibilities were Dec. 22 and Dec. 27.

(Read full post)

Kiffin: On Barkley, Ga. Tech, Monte Kiffin

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
10:41
AM PT
Some selected quotes from Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the announcement that USC will be playing in the 2012 Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas against Georgia Tech.

Open:
“On behalf of all of USC, we’re very excited about this matchup, and coming down there for a New Year’s Eve game. And, obviously, we have a very quality opponent who has finished their season very strong down the stretch. They’ve had a long run of great bowl games and they’re extremely well coached. We’re excited to get to work and start our preparations this week for the game.”

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin and Matt Barkley
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin expects to have Matt Barkley back for the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve.
On what has gone wrong for the Trojans in 2012:
“I think that it’s been well documented. We turned the ball over too much on offense, and we didn’t play very good defense a lot of times. So when you give up the numbers that we did on defense, and then the turnover margin -- the way we turned the ball over the last half of the season -- that’s where we’re at today. We started the season -- I think we’re 6-1, getting ready to go 7-1 -- up 15 at Arizona, and then it went downhill from ther,e and we had five really bad weeks where we went 1-4 in those games.”

On playing in a bowl for the first time since 2009:
“It’s very exciting, especially for two years of sitting at home and not being able to go to a bowl game. We’re excited about a very good bowl and a great matchup.”

On whether Matt Barkley is expected to play:
“We anticipate that Matt will play.”

On whether Monte Kiffin will coach the bowl game:
“He will, yes.”

On whether Georgia Tech has an edge playing in the same bowl in 2011:
“Well, I think that having gone through that as coaches and players, that there is some advantage, but I don’t think that it’s that big. Every year people go to bowl games, and most of the time they have not been to that bowl game with that current team over the last couple of years. So I don’t think that it’s that big of an advantage.”

On facing Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense:
“Yes, it’s obviously going to be very different, and they’re unbelievable at it. They’ve done a great job and they understand the adjustments so well. So our video guy got everything cut up today of their whole season, and we’ll go to work in the morning.”

On how going to the Sun Bowl will help the program:
“Well, it’s great first off just because you get more practices for our young players who are our future. You know, to have these practices that we’ve not had over the last two years.”

On whether or not Kiffin has ever faced Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson:
“No, I have not. I just have a lot of respect for the way that his teams have played. I think it’s well documented that [they] haven’t recruited a bunch of five-star players over the years -- he’s done an unbelievable job of making the most out of their players. They’ve been playing extremely competitive for years.”

On the significance of the game for Matt Barkley:
“He hasn’t gone to a bowl game over the last couple of years, so it’s a chance to go to one and finish off strong – for him and for the senior class. It’s a great opportunity for him.”

On if Kiffin knows when he plans to hire a new defensive coordinator:
“I do not.”

On how many practices USC will use in preparation for the Sun Bowl:
“There will probably be somewhere between 13-15.”

On the team’s mood after landing in the Sun Bowl:
“I think they’re excited because they haven’t had a bowl game the last two years. You know, the chance to do that as opposed to sitting at home. I think they’re very excited for it.”

The team’s reaction to Monte Kiffin's resignation:
“Well, I think they’re a little bit sad because they’ve had a lot of experience with him -- some recruits came here partially because of him -- but I know that they respect him for his work ethic and what he’s done, and how much energy he put in to try to make them better.”

More on USC's Sun Bowl appearance

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
8:44
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley is expected to play, Monte Kiffin will still coach and USC will practice 13-15 times before its New Year's Eve appearance at the Hyundai Sun Bowl against ACC runner-up Georgia Tech.

That's all the Trojans know for now -- and the game's in El Paso, Texas at 11 a.m. PT. USC coach Lane Kiffin said he'll begin to review tape on the Yellow Jackets and their famed triple-option offense on Monday morning.

But, he said Sunday night, earning a bowl bid this season was "very exciting, especially after two years of sitting at home of not being able to play."

Kiffin went on to say he and the Trojans were "excited" or the bowl announcement was "exciting" at least five more times in a conference call lasting less than 10 minutes.

He also said that he anticipates Barkley will play one last collegiate game. The senior signal-caller missed last month's regular-season finale against Notre Dame because of a sprained shoulder suffered against UCLA.

Kiffin said USC's players were a "little bit sad" when they heard Thursday's news that assistant coach Monte Kiffin would resign after the bowl game.

"Some recruits came here partially because of him," Lane Kiffin said. "But I know that they respect him for his work ethic and what he's done."

Georgia Tech (6-7) is the only team with a losing record that will play in a bowl this postseason. The Yellow Jackets' offense, averaging 34.5 points, is fourth in the country in rushing yards per game, at over 300.

Quarterback Tevin Washington has 19 rushing touchdowns this season, an ACC single-season record. He's one of three Yellow Jackets to rush for at least 300 yards this season.

The Tech defense allows nearly 30 points per game but held No. 13 Florida State to just 21 points in a six-point loss in the ACC championship on Saturday.

USC will begin bowl-game practices on Wednesday and practice between 13 and 15 times before the Sun Bowl, Kiffin said.

The bowl's late date -- the other options would've been on Dec. 22 or Dec. 27 -- gives USC more practice time, and also allows Barkley more time to heal his shoulder.

Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
1:26
PM PT
Marqise LeeMatt Kartozian/US PresswireMarqise Lee's 345-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arizona was universally lauded by the WeAreSC roundtable as one of the Trojans' best performances.
There were many ups and downs during the 2012 season. Give your responses on the following items (good or bad) that helped shape the season.

Biggest individual plays

Garry Paskwietz

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