USC: Robert Woods

Unproven Trojans who could make impact

January, 25, 2014
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Every season in college football there are previously unproven players who rise up to play major roles for their teams. For the Trojans in 2014, here are five players who will be looking to make their mark in a USC uniform for the first time:

1. DL Delvon Simmons: This 6-foot-6, 300-pound transfer from Texas Tech could have an immediate opportunity to step into the starting lineup to replace George Uko. Simmons started 13 games for the Red Raiders in 2012 and has 40 career tackles under his belt, along with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. At the very least, he is expected to be a key part of the interior D-line rotation next fall.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Farmer
Harry How/Getty ImagesCan highly-recruited wideout George Farmer star for the Trojans in 2014?
2. S Gerald Bowman: There was a lot of hype surrounding Bowman when he transferred in as a highly-ranked junior college prospect but academic delays and injuries have prevented him from making an impact . There isn’t a ton of depth at the safety spot so Bowman will have the chance to get immediate playing time when he returns from a shoulder injury that forced a redshirt year in 2013.

3. OL Jordan Simmons: It has been a rocky road for Simmons at USC. His freshman year started with knee surgery prior to the season but he came back in the second half of the season and was named offensive service team player of the year. Simmons was showing promise last fall as a road-grading guard until he hurt his knee trying to catch a pass before a practice and will be sidelined for spring.

4. WR George Farmer: It seems like forever since Farmer came to USC as the top-ranked receiver in the country. It has been so long that his high school teammates -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- have already wrapped up their college careers and will be playing in the NFL next year. Farmer, meanwhile, will be hoping that his knee rehab goes well enough to allow him back on the field to regain the momentum he was showing last spring before suffering the injury.

5. RB D.J. Morgan: Another player who has battled knee injuries, Morgan has two career starts under his belt with 364 yards on 83 carries and one touchdown. There is a clean slate waiting for Morgan when he returns -- Morgan had fallen in Lane Kiffin’s doghouse for fumbling -- but there is also a deep and talented stable of backs to compete with for carries. The one thing Morgan brings to the table is speed and if he is healthy enough to offer that he will have a chance to crack the rotation.

Lee leaves great memories for USC fans

January, 3, 2014
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Boy, was he good.

Marqise Lee announced tonight that he would be leaving school early to enter the NFL draft -- a move that surprised nobody -- and it gives a chance to look back and appreciate a player who arguably ranks as the most dynamic receiver in school history.

USC has had some explosive receivers through the years. Hal Bedsole is a College Football Hall of Famer, Lynn Swann an NFL Hall of Famer, and Lee’s former high school teammate, Robert Woods, sits atop the USC career receptions list.

But Lee offered something different. His combination of athletic ability and will to compete not only led him to the 2012 Biletnikoff Award -- the first in school history -- but at one point had former USC receiver and current ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson saying that he had a chance to go down as the greatest college receiver ever.

[+] EnlargeLee
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee's penchant for big plays and positive energy put smiles on the faces of USC fans for three seasons.
Ironically, Lee was known more for his prowess as a basketball defensive stopper when his athletic career first took off at Gardena (Calif.) Serra. Lee was part of a state-title winning team on the hoops court while playing a supportive role on the gridiron behind team stars such as Woods and George Farmer. But during his junior year, then-USC coach Pete Carroll paid a visit to a Serra practice. Within minutes he was pointing to Lee and asking “Who is that?”

What caught Carroll’s eye was Lee’s athleticism. He’s not an overly big guy -- he is listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds -- but he has a chiseled frame and can be aggressive and acrobatic at the same time. He is enough of an athlete that he went out for the track team on a part-time basis in his freshman year at USC while still taking part in spring ball, advancing to the NCAA Championships in the long jump.

That athleticism created a bit of a dilemma for Lee coming out of high school. Many people in the recruiting world -- this writer included -- projected Lee as a defensive back, a position that would have fit his skill set to a tee. Most schools wanted him on the defensive side of the ball, but Lee was up front with schools about his desire to play offense. The Trojans eventually agreed to put him at receiver and former coach Lane Kiffin said, “If we hadn’t done that, he would have been playing at Oregon.”

The impact Lee had as a freshman was immediate. He offered a complement to Woods on the other side, after Woods had already established himself as a true freshman. In their first year together at USC in 2011, Woods led the way with 111 catches -- a new school record -- and 15 touchdowns, but Lee wasn’t far behind with 73 catches and 11 scores. Both players also went over 1,000 receiving yards.

The roles were reversed in 2012. Woods dealt with some nagging injuries but still produced at a high-enough level that allowed him to leave USC with the career receptions mark. But, as far as big years go for a receiver, it was all about Lee.

His numbers in 2012 were simply sublime. Lee led the nation with 118 catches -- a new school and Pac-12 record -- while his 1,721 receiving yards were good for another conference mark. Perhaps the most impressive stat was the fact that his 15 touchdowns (14 receiving, 1 kickoff return) averaged over 40 yards per score (40.8). He was named an ESPN All-American in addition to winning the Biletnikoff and was expected to be one of college football’s shining stars in 2013.

Things didn’t exactly work out that way for Lee and the Trojans, as a pair of injuries prevented a big season. First it was a shoulder injury suffered in spring ball that he recovered from in time to play in the season opener. He wasn’t 100 percent, but Trojans fans hoped that he’d be healthy enough to play at a high level. Then a knee injury hit, and that was an issue that stuck with him the rest of the season.

There also was the coaching change. Lee had a good relationship with Kiffin, a coach who believed in him and got him the ball. Lee handled the transition well, carrying himself as a team leader both on and off the field. Through all the turmoil, Lee was always out front with a smile and positive attitude.

By the time the showdown with Stanford rolled around in mid-November, it was clear that this was not going to be Lee’s season due to the injuries. He was giving the team what he had physically, and at no point was that more evident than late in the game, when he came through with a catch on a fourth-and-2 which led to the game-winning field goal for the Trojans. Lee had left the field just two plays earlier after getting hit in the shin, but the grit he showed to come back and make the play was something he will long be remembered for.

Fittingly, Lee was able to go out with a bang in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. He led the Trojans with seven catches for 118 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. It was the kind of game that USC fans had come to expect from Lee in 2012, and it was good to see him end his career in that fashion.

There is no sadness within the Trojans family tonight with Lee’s decision to leave, only appreciation and gratitude for what he accomplished. The recent injuries might not have allowed him to shatter the marks that were expected, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Lee is as ready for the next level as anybody in the country. Whoever drafts him is going to be getting one dynamic player, that’s for sure.

Farmer healthy, looking to make impact

July, 25, 2013
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George FarmerJoe Andras/WeAreSC.comWIth Robert Woods off to the NFL, George Farmer is hoping to become a big-time contributor for the Trojans this fall.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say George Farmer has learned a thing or two about adversity in his time at USC. Forced to deal with a number of injuries -- including nagging hamstring and ankle setbacks -- not to mention a brief experiment at tailback during his freshman season, the junior wide receiver never found his groove in his first two seasons on campus, collecting a grand total of five receptions for 49 yards.

But in a spring marked by change, a new-and-improved Farmer has emerged, performing at a higher and more consistent level than ever, and it couldn’t be happening at a better time. After all, Robert Woods is off to the NFL, and USC coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans’ offense need capable receivers opposite 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee.

With so much at stake, Farmer is fully aware of the opportunity that lies in front of him.

“This is a big spring for me -- very big,” Farmer said following Saturday’s scrimmage, where his 47-yard reception was one of the day’s highlights.

But Farmer isn’t showing any signs of cracking under the pressure. On the contrary, he seems to be thriving under it.

“George is making plays,” Kiffin said. “We need him to make the hard plays -- down the field, to go up and get the ball and take it away and be physical. We know how fast he is, we know he can run by people, but you have to make those plays, and he’s doing that.”

Of course, it’s not as if Farmer’s play is coming as a complete surprise. Hailing from Gardena (Calif.) Serra, where he played alongside Woods and Lee, he had 65 receptions for 1,514 yards and 21 total touchdowns in his senior year. He arrived at USC in 2011 with arguably more fanfare than either of his high school teammates.

The reason for the sudden turnaround in his level of play is anything but a mystery -- he's the healthiest he's been in what seems like forever.

“I feel great,” said Farmer, a former standout prep sprinter who will compete for the USC track and field team later this spring. “I feel a lot more fluid, my legs are back up under me and I feel like I’m just back to my normal speed. I’m playing fast again. It feels really good to be out here competing with my brothers on the field.”

A thickly built athlete with a 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, Farmer has come to understand that unlike some players who can just roll out of bed ready to play, he needs to take extra precautions. As such, in addition to working hard this offseason to push his body to the limits, he also made sure that he spent plenty of time in the training room.

“I’m a very heavy-set type of person, and I realized that I have to stay and get rehab -- not just for the sake of rehabbing, but for injury prevention, and staying in there and preventing my injuries before they happen,” Farmer said.

Now finally close to where he wants to be physically, Farmer has been able to more fully develop the other aspects of his game, including the mental side, something USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin has noticed.

“We put him on the board, ask him questions, and he’s on it,” Martin said. “He’s very smart, he understands what to do -- it’s just getting him a lot of reps. You still have to remember that last year was really his first year of college football playing at wide receiver. And now, in his second year … the spring time, this is where guys grow.”

And growing is something Farmer has done plenty of this March, providing at least some evidence suggesting he might be ready to step into the rotation at receiver next fall and make an impact.

But before then, there's still a lot more work to be done, and a lot more to prove on the field.

“Right now I’m just focused on getting out to practice, executing my assignments and doing what the coaches tell me,” Farmer said. "This is going to get me right for fall camp so I can just come out on fire, and we can just move forward from there. Right now, though, the only thing that I’m focused on is spring ball.”

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.

USC spring practice report: March 12

March, 13, 2013
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As the Trojans begin the second week of spring ball sessions, they held a full pads practice on Tuesday without quarterback Max Wittek and wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Both players suffered knee injuries last Saturday prior to the Coliseum scrimmage that USC coach Lane Kiffin described as “not serious.”

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comTrue freshman Su'a Cravens is already impressing during spring practice.
“It wasn’t one of our better practices,” Kiffin said. “This can happen in the second week, everyone is fired up to get going so they start well the first week but they came out today in full pads and it was hot so they need to learn to get through that. It had nothing to do with Wittek and Lee not being out there.”

Lee was fully dressed but did not participate in drills while Wittek was not in pads and he wore a sleeve brace around his right knee.

“I’ve got a sprained MCL,” Wittek said. “Nothing is torn, so that’s a positive, and it can’t get any worse so it’s just a matter of pain tolerance to when I can return. I’m rehabbing 2-3 times a day and if I can’t get back by the end of the week, I should be fine to go when we get back from spring break. You never want an injury but if it’s going to happen it’s good to happen now.

“The injury happened while I was holding for a placekick, kind of a silly way to happen. If there’s a bad snap again on a kick, if it’s not in a game I will probably get out of the way next time. But if the team needs me to be there, I’ll be there.”

MVP of the day: True freshman Su’a Cravens put together his best practice of spring with two interceptions and a key pass break-up, all against Max Browne. The first interception was an overthrown attempt by Browne to hit Xavier Grimble and Cravens simply played center field to get the pick. The second pick was an aggressive break on the ball by Cravens while the pass break-up came over the middle on a pass attempt for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

“Su’a is a very special player,” Kiffin said. “He prepares so well, always soaking things up, watching film. He’s similar to Robert Woods and Nickell Robey in that way and both of those guys started from day one.”

Kiffin said Cravens is already at 220 pounds.

(Read full post)

WeAreSC recruiting mailbag 

February, 23, 2013
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WeAreSC recruiting reporter Blair Angulo answers reader questions in his mailbag every Friday. Have a USC recruiting question of your own? Submit it via Twitter @WeAreSCstaff or @bangulo.

@kingrmo: With 20 scholarships available, how aggressive do you think SC will be on their junior day with offering players?

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.

Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
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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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Marqise Lee voted Pac-12 player of the year

November, 26, 2012
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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
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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."

Grades: Notre Dame 22, USC 13

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
8:35
PM PT
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:

GradePASSING ATTACK
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.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
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.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
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.

GradeDEFENSE
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.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
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?

GradeCOACHING
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.

Hogue Report: Anxious times for USC 

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:45
AM PT
LOS ANGELES – Trojan Nation is in shock. No National Title. No Pac-12 crown. Not even champs of the Pac-12 South Division. Some uncharacteristic losses, and then the capper -- a resounding loss to rival UCLA, which USC has owned over the past decade. This is not expectations. This is not how you sleep well at night.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Cashore/US PresswireAnother performance like the one the Trojans put forth at Notre Dame last year would be timely for Lane Kiffin and USC.
Since the announcement of sanctions in early 2010, the gloom and despair was quickly turned to hope and excitement. Pat Haden was in Heritage Hall. While there were questions about him, Lane Kiffin was luring top recruits to USC. The new McKay Center was coming. And there were great Trojans emerging like Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Marqise Lee.

Now, as of Thanksgiving 2012, the momentum has clearly gone the other way. There is no denying that the program isn’t on the right track. The team is underperforming. They take the field seemingly unprepared, both from an execution standpoint and emotionally. The joy and passion of the game is hard to locate in these Trojans, and the passion of the fans is being directed in calls for change.

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Kiffin pinpoints the downturn for USC

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
11:23
PM PT
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.

Woods and Lee on QB differences

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
4:34
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The biggest difference between USC's old quarterback, Matt Barkley, and new quarterback, Max Wittek, according to Trojans receiver Marqise Lee?

"Max throws much harder," Lee said Tuesday. "That crap hurts."

Indeed, the redshirt freshman Wittek has a significantly stronger arm than Barkley. He routinely tosses the ball 70 yards after practice, and has received rave reviews from fellow quarterbacks and other receivers.

He won't necessarily need to throw it as far as he possibly can on Saturday against No. 1 Notre Dame, but his arm strength is an overall positive. If he and Lee can coordinate their timing before then, deep balls could a serious threat.

USC receiver Robert Woods said Wittek's throws come in a "little faster" than Barkley's. But there is a downside to Wittek, he said.

"He's young out there," Woods said. "You see some of his throws are a little off and different reads.

"He just needs some experience, other than that he's pretty good."

It's the receivers' job to help him get some experience, Woods said.

"We just gotta keep his confidence high, make some plays when the ball's not perfect," Woods said. "We make those plays, he builds up his confidence, and he's feeling comfortable and getting used to it."

USC coach Lane Kiffin said Woods was diving for balls in practice on Tuesday. He was pleased with the effort of the Trojans' top receivers as they attempt to quickly build up their rapport with Wittek.

"They've been great," Kiffin said. "Robert and Marqise practiced as hard as they've ever practiced.

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler373260313330
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen23112445.49
J. Davis1064694.43
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor85110313.010
J. Smith4661013.35
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Offense153.9287.5441.5
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