USC coach Steve Sarkisian admitted after the spring game on Saturday that he had “dropped the ball.”

Did the coach forget to call a certain play? Was there a problem with the substitution patterns?

No, nothing like that. The error to which Sarksisian copped to involved a USC tradition that goes back 25 years when linebacker Junior Seau wore the No. 55. Since that time, other star defensive players from Willie McGinest to Chris Claiborne and Keith Rivers have also worn the heralded number. It has taken on a life of itself in Trojan lore.

This spring, Sarkisian gave No. 55 to early enrollee offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn, who has worked his way into the first unit at left guard. Junior linebacker Lamar Dawson -- who sat out this spring with an injury -- also wears No. 55.

When McGinest was asked about an offensive player wearing his number, he made his thoughts clear.

“USC is all about tradition, and to put that number on means something,” McGinest said, while being interviewed during the spring game. “We’ve got to have some meetings and conversations with Sark about that.”

Sarkisian quickly gave a mea culpa in his post-spring game news conference.

“It’s a little bit of miscommunication there, and I probably dropped the ball so we’ll fix it,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a great number and a historical number, and I’ve got a lot of respect for the guys who have worn it.”

When asked if Lobendahn will be wearing No. 55 when fall camp rolls around, Sarkisian answered, “probably not.”
Here are four things that stood out from USC's spring game on Saturday at the Coliseum.

1. Defensive pressure: With a lack of live tackling in spring drills, the defense rarely had a chance to let loose. When that opportunity came in the spring game, it was impressive to see them attack from so many different angles and to keep the offense out of the end zone all day. Along the line, the stout interior that was on display all spring was productive yet again, led by Claude Pelon's two sacks. On the outside, Scott Starr led the Trojans with six tackles and Jabari Ruffin and J.R. Tavai each had five. Hayes Pullard had perhaps the defensive play of the game on an early goal-line stand with a tackle for loss. In the secondary, Leon McQuay had a big hit to break up a pass near the goal line, and Gerald Bowman and Chris Hawkins each had a pass deflection.

[+] EnlargeAndre Heidari
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesKicker Andre Heidari made four of five field goals, including a long of 44 yards, in USC's spring game.
2. Andre Heidari: After earning all-conference honors in an outstanding freshman season, the past two seasons have featured plenty of ups and downs for Heidari, with one notable high point coming against Stanford last fall. In his final spring game, however, he gave the fans a lot of reason for optimism as he made four-of-five field goals, including a long of 44-yards.

3. Good day to be Jalen: Two of the standout performances on offense came from Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Jalen Greene. Cope-Fitzpatrick has been the starter at tight end all spring with Randall Telfer out because of injury, and he has performed well, so it was good to see that effort continue in the spring game. He caught a 33-yard pass down the middle from Cody Kessler and led all USC receivers with three grabs for 56 yards. Greene is an early enrollee who has quietly taken reps behind Kessler and Max Browne while showing a strong, but erratic arm. Greene didn’t light up the stat sheet on Saturday -- he completed 4 of 11 passes for 61 yards -- but he did impress the crowd with his darting moves in and around the pocket to go along with that powerful arm.

4. Injury factor: USC coach Steve Sarkisian hopes the offense will be more efficient in the fall, which should happen when injured players are back on the field. That logic certainly applies to both sides of the ball when you consider the amount of talent that was standing on the sidelines because of injuries. Guys such as Leonard Williams, Josh Shaw, Su’a Cravens, Justin Davis, Telfer, Steven Mitchell, Soma Vainuku, Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons figure to be key contributors in 2014, and Sarkisian said that all those players are expected to be ready for fall camp in August.

Spring impressions from USC 

April, 20, 2014
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It is a new regime with a fresh start, but in the end, those hoping to get a true feel for Steve Sarkisian’s brand of USC football were no more successful than the Trojans’ inept offense in Saturday’s yawn-inspiring spring game.

All those weeks of uptempo, no-huddle practice led to that? Really?

We all know the priority was to not get anyone seriously hurt on Saturday. But you don’t come out in front of some 17,000 fans on a sun-splashed afternoon in the Coliseum and offer little, if any, excitement. You don’t finish the day without scoring even one touchdown.


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USC fans showed up at the Coliseum on Saturday for the annual spring game hoping to see the new up-tempo offense on full display but were instead treated to an old-fashioned showing of bend-but-don’t-break defense.

Using a modified scoring system, the Trojans ran roughly 100 plays of live tackling within a structured practice format that allowed for multiple teaching periods. The USC defense starred, not allowing the offense into the end zone.

“First of all, it was an awesome day of football,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We got to be out here in the Coliseum with our fans on a beautiful day. It was our first spring game together, and it looked that way. On offense, there were some good plays, and some not-so-good plays. I really thought our defense played well, particularly in the red zone.”

Hayes Pullard got things started for the defense on the opening drive with a tackle for loss on third-and-goal to force a 24-yard field goal from Andre Heidari. Leon McQuay III added a physical hit near the goal line to prevent a potential touchdown reception by George Katrib and Gerald Bowman added a nice pass break-up. There were also a lot of sacks, as Claude Pelon picked up two while J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Charles Burks, Greg Townsend Jr., and Nick Schlossberg notched one each.

If you are looking for more bright spots from the Trojans, look no further than Heidari. The Trojans placekicker hit on four of five field goal attempts, with a long of 44 yards.

Things did not go as smoothly for the offense. The quarterbacks went a combined 15-for-37 for 223 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. It’s hard to say that anybody really stood out from the group -- starting QB Cody Kessler was 5-of-10 for 86 yards -- although true freshman Jalen Greene opened more than a few eyes with flashes of his athleticism. Tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was the leading receiver with three catches for 56 yards, while walk-on James Toland led all rushers with 36 yards on eight carries.

“I hope the offense is more efficient in fall camp,” Sarkisian said. “Historically we’ve been very strong in the red zone wherever I’ve coached. To be a good team we can’t have a third of our squad on the sidelines with injuries like we had today. We didn’t have any serious injuries during the practice so that was good news. We’ve just got to make sure we’re healthy when the season rolls around, because that’s when it’s really important.”
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Spring games across the country finish up but still leave many unanswered questions for Alabama, Auburn, Texas and USC.

QB Max Wittek visits Texas again

April, 19, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Former USC quarterback Max Wittek visited Texas for its spring game Saturday, multiple sources confirmed.

Wittek was on Texas' campus for the third time this spring since electing to transfer, and the second time since the Longhorns began spring practice.

Wittek, a backup for the Trojans in 2013, is completing his degree at USC this semester and would have two seasons of eligibility remaining. He's expected to make his decision in the next month.

Texas continues to seek help at quarterback, particularly after David Ash suffered a foot fracture earlier this month. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes took the first-team snaps at the spring game Saturday and was backed up by converted tight end Miles Onyegbule and walk-on Trey Holtz. Freshman Jerrod Heard joins the program in June.

Wittek, who has also taken a visit to Hawaii, threw for 600 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons at USC.


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USC coach Steve Sarkisian released an end-of-spring depth chart Friday as the Trojans prepare to wrap up spring drills Saturday at the Coliseum.

There won’t be too many surprises for those who have been following the developments of the team throughout the spring. The one big announcement that needed to take place occurred on Tuesday, when Sarkisian made it official that Cody Kessler would remain as the Trojans' starting quarterback heading into the 2014 season. The remainder of the depth chart showcases a few surprising names in starting roles, as well as several positions that will remain up in the air heading into fall camp.

[+] EnlargeTre Madden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTre Madden performed well enough this spring to be listed as a co-starter at tailback, along with Buck Allen.
" The tailback rotation for Sarkisian will be interesting to watch in the fall. The naming of co-starters in Buck Allen and Tre Madden is justified, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Justin Davis added to that mix when he returns from injury in the fall.

" Nelson Agholor was arguably the best player on the field this spring. Darreus Rogers did enough to earn his spot, but George Farmer posed a nice challenge, which was one of the more positive stories of camp, as Farmer returned from injury in a strong fashion. Kudos to George Katrib, a walk-on who consistently made plays throughout spring. Will he be in that starting spot once the season rolls around? Probably not, but it’s a nice recognition for what he showed on the field.

" Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick got all the starting reps at tight end and had a very good spring. Chris Willson is a walk-on former quarterback who is a good athlete.

" There were several questions answered in a good way, with a couple left to go in fall. Max Tuerk getting settled at center was a big priority. Chad Wheeler seems set at left tackle heading into his second season as a starter, and that’s not to be taken for granted. The resurgence of Zach Banner after hip surgeries was the most surprising development along the line and he is the clear starter heading into fall. Khaliel Rodgers and Toa Lobendahn performed admirably as newcomers to the lineup, but veterans Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons should be healthy in time for fall camp to challenge for those spots.

" A lot of guys stepped up on the defensive line this spring. Sarkisian consistently praised Antwaun Woods as one of the top performers. Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons were counted on as veteran newcomers to contribute right away, and both look ready to go. When the Trojans get Leonard Williams back -- along with depth from guys such as Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend -- it should be a pretty nice rotation along the interior.

" The competition between Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin was the most competitive of the spring. Scott Starr is ready for a bigger role, and the versatile J.R. Tavai can play inside and outside on the line if needed.

" Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens will step back into their starting spots when healthy, but their absence allowed guys such as Chris Hawkins, Leon McQuay and Gerald Bowman to show what they can do. All should be part of the secondary rotation in the fall.

The two-deep roster:

Offense

WR: Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell, Christian Guzman
WR: George Katrib, Christian Tober, David Mellstrom
TE: Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Chris Willson, Connor Spears, Teddy Baker
LT: Chad Wheeler, Jordan Austin
LG: Toa Lobendahn
C: Max Tuerk, Giovanni Di Poalo
RG: Khaliel Rodgers, Erick Jepsen
RT: Zach Banner, Nathan Guertler
WR: Darreus Rogers, George Farmer, Aaron Minor
QB: Cody Kessler, Max Browne, Jalen Greene, Conner Sullivan, Anthony Neyer, Alex Bridgford
FB: Jahleel Pinner, Pat Hart
TB: Javorius Allen or Tre Madden, Ty Isaac, James Toland IV

Defense

DT: Claude Pelon, Greg Townsend Jr.
NT: Antwaun Woods, Kenny Bigelow
DE: Delvon Simmons, Charles Burks
SOLB: Jabari Ruffin or Quinton Powell
MILB: Hayes Pullard, Joel Foy
WILB: Anthony Sarao, Nick Schlossberg
RUSH: J.R. Tavai or Scott Starr, Charles Burks
CB: Kevon Seymour, Kevin Carrasco, Adrian Johnson
FS: Leon McQuay III, Elijah Steen
SS: Gerald Bowman, Matt Lopes
CB: Chris Hawkins, Ryan Dillard

Special Teams

P: Kris Albarado, Jack Basalari, Joey Krassenstein
PK: Andre Heidari, Alex Wood
SNP: Peter McBride, Zach Smith


Injured: Joey Augello, Anthony Brown, Su'a Cravens, Justin Davis, Lamar Dawson, Rob Dooley, Nico Falah, Ryan Henderson, Don Hill, Michael Hutchings, Robby Kolanz, Jeff Miller, Steven Mitchell, D.J. Morgan, Josh Shaw, Devian Shelton, Jordan Simmons, Shane Sullivan, Randall Telfer, Cody Temple, Soma Vainuku, Aundrey Walker, Leonard Williams

Incoming freshmen: Chris Brown, Bryce Dixon, Malik Dorton, Ajene Harris, Adoree; Jackson, Rahshead Johnson, Jonathan Lockett, Damien Mama, Uchenna Nwosu, John Plattenburg, Lamont Simmons, Juju Smith, Viane Talamaivao, Olajuwon Tucker
Four more spring games are set for Saturday, at which point more than half the Pac-12 will be done with spring ball. You know what that means ... the countdown to fall camp begins!

Here is quick peek at the four games being played this weekend:

Arizona State

Where: Sun Devil Stadium
Kickoff: 11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Arizona (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: When there are steaks on the line, like there will be in this one, you can pretty much guarantee a competitive atmosphere. Instead of an offense vs. defense scoring system, coach Todd Graham broke up the team with a good amount of starters on each side. Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly will lead the maroon team and Mike Bercovici will quarterback the gold team, but the with nine starters departed off last season's defense, it's that side of the ball that will be worth paying attention to. Running back D.J. Foster, who has battled a minor toe sprain throughout the spring, will see limited action despite a clean bill of health. Former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer will serve as the analyst on the Pac-12 Arizona broadcast.

USC

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
Kickoff: 3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It would have been a lot more fun if coach Steve Sarkisian waited until after the spring game to announce Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback. That way everyone could have overanalyzed the competition based on one meaningless game. But really, who are we kidding? The overanalyzation will go on regardless -- and Sarkisian did leave the door open for Max Browne to work his way back into the mix. It'll be interesting to watch both Kessler and Browne operate the up-tempo offense Sarkisian brought with him from Washington and how a rebuilt offensive line stacks up against a talented defensive front. The guys from WeAreSC kick around much more to pay attention to in this roundtable discussion.

Utah

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MT
TV: Pac-12 Mountain (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: It'll be good to see quarterback Travis Wilson back under center in a game-like situation again, and even more intriguing because he'll be running new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense against the Utes' base defense. While the setting won't showcase the depths of the playbook, the Cliffs Notes version should provide enough to develop a better understanding of how things will be different next season. The clock will operate as it would in a regular game during a pair of 10-minute quarters in the first half and will use a running clock in the second half after an eight-minute halftime. If you're planning on attending, a food competition and MUSS football game will be held at 11 a.m. MT, with an alumni football game to follow at noon.

Washington

Where: Husky Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Washington (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Is Shaq Thompson the new Myles Jack? It has been a major storyline in Seattle throughout the spring how the talented linebacker -- and former minor-league baseball player -- is working with the offense. And after watching his some of his high school highlights, it's understandable why new coach Chris Petersen is intrigued by letting him go both ways. Any time there's a brand new coaching staff, the spring game carries a little extra sizzle, but it should also be noted those games aren't necessarily always as telling due to the lack of time the players have spent with the staff. It's a lot of fundamentals, a lot of evaluation, and the scope of what is accomplished is different when compared with schools with established staffs that are familiar with their rosters. Petersen has installed about 50 percent of the playbook. With Cyler Miles still suspended, quarterbacks Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams top the depth chart and will make their cases to replace the departed Keith Price.
Happy Friday!

Video: USC running back Buck Allen

April, 18, 2014
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Kevin Gemmell talks with USC running back Buck Allen about the new coaching staff and uptempo offense.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

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Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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Discuss (Total votes: 999)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?
A week ago, the official trailer for When the Game Stands Tall, a movie inspired by Bay Area football powerhouse De La Salle High was released.

It stars Jim Caviezel as legendary coach Bob Ladouceur, who guided the Concord, Calif., school to a famed 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004. The movie is based on the book of the same name written by Neil Hayes, who had unrestricted access to the team in 2002 -- the senior year of future UCLA and NFL star Maurice Jones-Drew.

[+] EnlargeBob Ladouceur
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports Bob Ladouceur coached De La Salle High to a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004.
I grew up 20 minutes from De La Salle and have followed the program since elementary school, so it was an especially intriguing trailer for me, but the storyline should have mass appeal for Pac-12 fans, especially those at Oregon.

What jumped out quickly from the trailer was that the movie does not depict the year in which Hayes, then a Contra Costa Times sports columnist, spent with the team. Instead, it will focus heavily on the circumstances around the 2004 death of linebacker/running back Terrance Kelly, who was shot two days before he was set to leave to begin his college career -- along with De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper -- at Oregon.

"It starts with the championship game in 2003 with T.K. and those guys as seniors," said Hayes, who served as an official consultant on the movie. "Then it goes into the offseason, [Ladouceur's] heart attack, T.K.'s death -- it was crushing for the community -- and then goes into the 2004 season."

For more worthwhile reading about Kelly's lasting impact, go here, here and here. His final game was the last of De La Salle's streak.

The Spartans opened the next season with a 39-20 loss to Washington state power Bellevue at CenturyLink Field. I was a sophomore at Washington State at the time, had read Hayes' book, and so had several of my friends. For them -- some from Hawaii, some from the Seattle area -- De La Salle was some sort of mythical creature, and at their urging we made the Pullman-to-Seattle road trip to see the game.

Nearly 300 miles to see a high school football game. As college students. That's the kind of allure De La Salle had.

Seven players currently on Pac-12 rosters attended De La Salle: Cal's Michael Barton and Austin Harper (freshman year only); Oregon State's Tyler Anderson, Terron Ward and Dylan Wynn; Stanford's Austin Hooper; and USC's Michael Hutchings. Three more will join the conference for fall camp: Sumner Houston (Oregon State), Kevin Griffin (Washington State) and Dasmond Tautalatasi (Arizona State).

As with any inspired-by-real-life movie, there are some creative liberties that don't follow reality.

For example, the movie will feature a game between De La Salle and Southern California's Long Beach Poly, the supposed No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, which actually took place in 2001. Jones-Drew, then sans the Jones, had a game people still talk about, and, of course, re-live on YouTube.

"It's done for dramatic purposes and there are some new characters ... not every character comes from De La Salles," Hayes said. "But those liberties that were taken were done so with pure motives."

The football scenes were orchestrated by stunt coordinator Allan Graf, a starter on the offensive line for the 1972 USC national championship team that finished 12-0. Graf is a fixture in the industry and has been a stunt coordinator on several other football films including Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, Gridiron Gang, The Replacements, The Waterboy, Jerry Maguire and The Program.

"This was some of his best work," said Hayes, in terms of how realistic the football scenes are.

At one point during filming, Ladouceur and longtime defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, portrayed by Michael Chiklis, traveled to Louisiana, where the movie was shot.

"You have all these movie stars there, but when those guys got there, they were the celebs," Hayes said.

Ladouceur retired following the 2012 season after 34 seasons with a career record of 399-25-3, but remains on staff as an assistant to Justin Alumbaugh, a UCLA graduate. Before deciding to remain on staff as an assistant, Ladouceur drew interest from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to serve in a consulting role.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian and LSU coach Les Miles have cameos in the movie, which includes some shots at Isidore Newman School, which produced Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

Sarkisian brings life back to USC

April, 18, 2014
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LOS ANGELES -- By the time USC head coach Steve Sarkisian hit the big Four-Oh, he had earned two national championship rings as a Trojans assistant and pulled Washington football out of the ditch. Five years ago, the guy everyone calls Sark took over an 0-12 program in Seattle. The Huskies went 8-4 last season before USC called Sarkisian to come back.

Sarkisian won 34 games in Seattle. That's 15 more victories than John McKay won before he turned 40, not to mention 34 more than John Robinson and Pete Carroll won before they did.

McKay, Robinson and Carroll are the last three head coaches to lead USC to a national championship, and yes, that is the ultimate measuring stick for Trojan football. All of which is to say that if ever Sark was a boy wonder, he is no more.

If you ask Sark how he handled turning 40, which he did on March 8, he laughs long and loudly and says, "Not very good."

And then, standing in the middle of Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field after practice one day last week, Sarkisian said what everyone in USC wants to hear: "I didn't change. I haven't changed. I'm having a blast out here."

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LOS ANGELES -- By the time USC head coach Steve Sarkisian hit the big Four-Oh, he had earned two national championship rings as a Trojans assistant and pulled Washington football out of the ditch. Five years ago, the guy everyone calls Sark took over an 0-12 program in Seattle. The Huskies went 8-4 last season before USC called Sarkisian to come back.

Sarkisian won 34 games in Seattle. That's 15 more victories than John McKay won before he turned 40, not to mention 34 more than John Robinson and Pete Carroll won before they did.

McKay, Robinson and Carroll are the last three head coaches to lead USC to a national championship, and yes, that is the ultimate measuring stick for Trojan football. All of which is to say that if ever Sark was a boy wonder, he is no more.

If you ask Sark how he handled turning 40, which he did March 8, he laughs long and loudly and says, "Not very good."

And then, standing in the middle of Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field after practice one day last week, Sarkisian said what everyone at USC wants to hear: "I didn't change. I haven't changed. I'm having a blast out here."

He is older and the stakes are higher. USC hired Sarkisian not only because he brings the desired connection to the Carroll Era, but because he is every bit the people person that his predecessor and close friend, Lane Kiffin, is not.

The day before, Sarkisian wowed 1,200 Trojan boosters in Orange County. He likes people, and people like him, and if Sark hasn't changed, he represents a big change in Trojan football.

"Those people matter," he said of the boosters. "... You go into a room to speak, you go shake all their hands, because this university wouldn't be what it is without everybody. We're a private institution. We're essentially funded by donations."


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