USC athletic director Pat Haden, who has a gay son, said Tuesday on Twitter that he will boycott the College Football Playoff committee meetings in Indiana this week in light of the state's newly passed "religious freedom" law that could come into effect in July.

Critics of the bill, which was signed by Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday, believe that it could be used by businesses and individuals to discriminate against members of the LGBT community based on those individuals' and those businesses' religious beliefs.

The law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Pence, however, said Tuesday that he has been meeting with lawmakers "around the clock" and wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the state's new religious-freedom law does not allow discrimination.

"It certainly wasn't my intent," Pence said.

Businesses and organizations, including the NCAA and the NFL, have voiced concern over the effect of the law, and some states have barred government-funded travel to Indiana.

This isn't the first time Haden has spoken out about his son or the importance of inclusion.

"This issue is near and dear to my heart as I have a gay son," Haden said in a blog on USC's website last March when asked about former Missouri football player Michael Sam and former NBA player Jason Collins, who are both gay. "I am so proud of him and love him to death. At USC, we are all about inclusion. We have many gay athletes here, and we welcome and appreciate them. We promote diversity not just in terms of sexual orientation and ethnicity, but different points of view. ...

"We discuss changing the culture around USC from the standpoint of what can we do better. Appreciate and respect one another. And, treat each other with dignity and fairness."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Pat Haden to boycott meeting

March, 31, 2015
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USC athletic director Pat Haden, who has a gay son, said Tuesday on Twitter that he will boycott the College Football Playoff committee meetings in Indiana this week in light of the state's newly passed religious freedom law that could take effect in July.

The selection committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday in Indianapolis, which is hosting the Final Four and is home to the NCAA's headquarters.

"I certainly understand and respect Pat's position," College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told USA Today Sports. "Everyone has the right to express their personal opinion, and Pat, to his credit, has expressed his. As a father and also a human being, I respect him for that. I will also express my personal opinion: I think they need to fix this.

"But my focus is on sports. Other people who are more knowledgeable that I am are better positioned to address this matter. Our group's focus will remain on sports."

Critics of the bill, which was signed by Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday, believe that it could be used by businesses and individuals to discriminate against members of the LGBT community based on those individuals' and those businesses' religious beliefs.

The law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of "person" includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

Pence, however, said Tuesday that he has been meeting with lawmakers "around the clock" and wants legislation on his desk by the end of the week to clarify that the state's new religious freedom law does not allow discrimination.

"It certainly wasn't my intent," Pence said.

Businesses and organizations, including the NCAA and the NFL


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NEW ORLEANS -- Many of the best players from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas were at the New Orleans Opening regional camp and several trending topics emerged from the event. But the biggest is that it looks like Alabama and LSU are set to do battle again for the top 2016 prospects in Louisiana and bordering states.

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To the notes!

TrojanDaddy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, thought I was over USC's NCAA debacle, but now this [Todd] McNair stuff is killing me. Always thought we got [cheated], now we know it. Awaiting your take.

Ted Miller: I've talked about the release of NCAA documents, including private communications among committee members and NCAA staffers related to the investigation of USC's football program and former assistant Todd McNair, here and here.

If you want to review some of my past USC-NCAA oeuvre, see here and here and here and here. There are others, such as my take before the whole disaster was set in motion by a horribly unfair NCAA ruling.

First, a couple of declarative statements.

  • Yes, these emails are as bad as they seem, betraying a compromised, unprofessional and unfair process, including aggressive involvement from folks who weren't supposed to be involved at all, according to the NCAA's own official procedures.
  • What's more mind-blowing is there are still more documents, approximately 200 pages, according to the Los Angeles Times, which the NCAA continues to hide from public view. So the evidence against the NCAA, we can only assume, will only get worse.
  • It's difficult to believe, no matter how long the NCAA tries to hide behind legal maneuvers, that McNair won't eventually get paid, likely through a substantial settlement instead of a jury trial.

What does this mean for USC? Will it sue the NCAA? Will there be an unprecedented "mea culpa" from the organization? (You can find its initial response here.) Can USC get some sort of retroactive relief, even a special dispensation that allows it to add scholarship players to get to the maximum of 85 as quickly as possible?

I honestly have no idea how that next chapter might turn out, but the scuttlebutt is USC is exploring its options, which might eventually placate in some way Trojans fans who believed the school has been too passive in accepting the NCAA's harsh treatment.

As for where things stand from a legal perspective with McNair's case, this is the best thing I've read, as it was written by someone with an actual law degree.

Now, three important names have been noted in news reports: Rodney Uphoff, Roscoe Howard and Shep Cooper. What you need to know about them is they were not voting members of the committee of infractions chaired by Paul Dee charged with ruling on USC's case. They were not supposed to participate in the deliberations.

First, understand this process. The committee on infractions (COI) is supposed to operate independently of NCAA administrators. The COI is, according to the NCAA's own language, "... comprised of individuals serving as volunteers from NCAA member institutions and conferences and individuals from the general public who have legal training."

So, by definition, Uphoff and Cooper are not part of the COI process of deliberation and voting.

Start with Uphoff. He was the NCAA coordinator of appeals. He was in the room in an official capacity so he could be knowledgeable about the investigation and ruling in the event of an appeal. Not only did he have no voting rights, his job by definition was to suspend judgment -- as much as humanly possible -- so the institution in question could get a fair appeal of its ruling.

So, yeah, it's a massive ethical breach that he wrote to COI members that "USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wakeup call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences. In light of all of the problems at USC, a failure to send a serious message in this case undercuts efforts to help clean up NCAA sports."

Cooper's official title is "Director NCAA Infractions Committees," but that doesn't accurately describe his job. He's a liaison for the committee. His role is designed to be administrative, to assist the committee. His job pretty specifically doesn't include volunteering to the COI that McNair is "a lying morally bankrupt criminal, in my view, and a hypocrite of the highest order."

Then there's Howard. He was the author of a four-page -- single-spaced! -- tirade against USC and McNair, which is interesting because he officially was attending the meetings only as an observer so he could serve on a future COI. He was supposed to be learning, not teaching. He was not supposed to volunteer that “McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him."

Howard also wrote: "I don't think this committee should be chained to a (enforcement) staff that has seemed to have fallen short with this investigation or an Institution that has no intention of having us find out what actually happened here."

Think about that assertion. Howard is essentially saying the COI shouldn't be troubled by the lack of substantial evidence. Seriously, read it again.

Just think, we are headed into the 10th anniversary of Reggie Bush's final season and we are still talking about this raging trash fire -- Bush and his family, by the way, were certainly culpable -- of a case. Blows my mind.


Sam from Phoenix writes: Do you have any insight into ASU's defensive plan for the year? I get so frustrated watching them send seven guys after the quarterback only to give up a big play. Sure, it's nice to get more turnovers and sacks, but I don't think my blood pressure is low enough to deal with another season of Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" overaggressive defense.

Ted Miller: Ah, a football question! Sweet!

And yet isn't it funny that you typically hear rants about "read-and-react" defenses or vituperations against the three-man rush, yet now we have Sam being unhappy with Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" aggressiveness. Go figure.

The goal for every defense is to be able to get pressure with four guys, and Graham's is no exception. In 2013, with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, that was possible. In 2014, the Sun Devils didn't have a dominant pass-rusher or any defensive lineman, for that matter, who demanded a double-team. I'm not sold that they have one for 2015, either, particularly after the suspension of junior-college transfer Davon Durant, who was supposed to fill that Bradford-like role at the "Devil" linebacker spot.

Graham is as aware as anybody that a jailbreak pass rush is high-risk, high-reward. He took note of his defense giving up big plays last year during his pre-spring sit-down with reporters. He doesn't like it any more than you, though he really likes sacks and tackles for a loss, a staple of his aggressive scheme.

My guess is having nine starters returning instead of three, as he did in 2014, will solve some issues, as experience is always better than inexperience. Guys will be smarter and more physically prepared. I feel certain that the Sun Devils will be better on defense this fall.


Alex from Sweet 16 vs. Duke in Houston writes: Give me a buy/sell on Travis Wilson being the starting QB at Utah this fall.

Ted Miller: Buy.

I'm a happy-endings guy. I love Wilson's resilience and I think he'll have his best year as a fourth-year starter leading a team that has a shot to win the rugged South Division.

With nine spring practices in the books and six left to go, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what is being accomplished this spring.

On the positive side, the development of the secondary has been notable in terms of how many players have shown growth in their game. The results have been revealed with increased depth.

Adoree' Jackson and Kevon Seymour are a very good set of starting cornerbacks with Jackson making a strong claim to being the best player on the field during spring drills and Seymour being an established veteran. John Plattenburg has really opened some eyes as one starting safety with his maturity and physical presence. One of the more interesting scenarios has involved the way the coaches have used Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett, who came to USC as cornerbacks but have alternated between safety and cornerback this spring. Hawkins in particular is looking more and more comfortable in the role as the coaches have made it clear the abundance of passing attacks the Trojans face demands that the safeties are often involved in pass coverage, which requires corner-like skills. And don’t forget Leon McQuay, who needs to be more consistent but offers such a lanky physical presence that he definitely figures to be in the rotation. That is a solid six-deep group that only figures to get better in the fall when guys like Iman Marshall are added to the mix.

On the offensive side of the ball, the depth along the line is very promising. Not only do all five starters return from the lineup that ended the season, but there is a sixth starter, Chad Wheeler, who is expected to return in the fall. The group is led by senior awards candidate Max Tuerk at center, and he is surrounded by a lot of talent, including a reserve group that is much better than anything the Trojans have seen in recent years. The line must prove its progress on the field, especially with the presence of a new position coach, but if you are basing things on what we’re seeing this spring, there is genuine reason to be optimistic about where things are headed.

As always, there are areas of concern, though many can be attributed to the lack of available spring bodies, a situation that will ideally be rectified at fall camp.

Nowhere is that more apparent than the front seven. The Trojans are missing a pair of senior starters in Antwaun Woods (chest) and Anthony Sarao (foot), so getting them back in fall will make a big difference. But they are not the only players missing right now as Greg Townsend, Kenny Bigelow and Jabari Ruffin have all been limited. There are also several incoming freshman who could get in the mix. The good news for now is that Su'a Cravens is back and looking stronger than ever, and there have been encouraging performances from guys like Lamar Dawson and Scott Felix.

The situation at tight end has been well-documented, with the absence and uncertain status of Bryce Dixon. Without knowing the details of why he is not with the team, it’s hard to judge his potential to rejoin in the fall, but his talent as a pass-catcher is undeniable. The Trojans have been forced to work with only one scholarship tight end, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, and he has been up and down as he returns from a year off following an academic suspension. Connor Spears is a capable walk-on, and there is more help on the way this fall with incoming freshman Tyler Petite and transfer Taylor McNamara.

The depth worries are also present at tailback, with only one scholarship player (Justin Davis) available for full-time duty. The good news is Davis looks recovered from an ankle injury, and he’s shown a lot of progress as a receiving option. Tre Madden has been very limited because of rehab from his turf toe, but all signs point to him being ready in the fall. That has meant a lot of tailback work this spring for Soma Vainuku, and Jahleel Pinner to a lesser extent, and that could pose an interesting option as both fullbacks know what to do with the ball in their hands. Vainuku offers a 270-pound presence, and you get the sense the coaches are getting more comfortable with the thought of him playing a bigger role. There is also a good walk-on in James Toland, and a trio of incoming freshmen who will arrive in the fall.

LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.

[+] EnlargeAdorre Jackson
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsA multisport athlete, Adoree' Jackson has made a name for himself at USC in only one year's time.

That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.

"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."

Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.

"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.

With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.

The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.

"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."

His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.

"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."

In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.

"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.

"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."

Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.

When Freshman All-American Adoree' Jackson is not playing football, he is flying for @usc_track_field. #FightOn

A photo posted by USC Trojans (@usc_athletics) on

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Ohio State AthleticsCardale Jones led the Buckeyes to a national championship, but he'll have to fight to keep the starting QB job.

Many FBS programs around the country have reached the midpoint of spring practice, including defending national champion Ohio State, where coach Urban Meyer still hasn't picked from among three really good quarterbacks.

Michigan and Syracuse will play their spring games Saturday (we haven't confirmed whether the winning team in Ann Arbor will have to run extra stadium steps), and then glorified scrimmages will begin en masse in the coming weeks.

What have we learned so far? Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State have really interesting quarterback competitions. Texas is going to play faster (and hopefully better) on offense, and "Coach Boom" is already laying the boom on the Plains. New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is really popular at his alma mater (but not popular enough to be elected student body president), and USC might have identified another star receiver.

Here's a look at some of the biggest developments in spring practice so far:

1. Meyer is losing sleep

Meyer has a dilemma that a lot of coaches would love to have: He has to choose from among three quarterbacks who have won big in college.


(Read full post)


LOS ANGELES – One of the great mysteries of 2015 spring practice for the USC Trojans is where sophomore offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn will line up. That's the case not only following the conclusion of the spring game on April 11, but for the season opener against Arkansas State in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 5.

Ask Lobendahn where he’ll line up this fall and he becomes pragmatic and philosophical.


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Here are the top spring developments in the Pac-12 (Kyle Bonagura and David Lombardi contributed as noted below):

1. Starting quarterbacks out for the spring

The conference lost many of its best quarterbacks after last season to early entry or graduation, but this spring it lost a couple more. Washington’s Cyler Miles decided to take a voluntary leave of absence from Huskies football this spring for personal reasons, according to the university. It was stressed that Miles, who missed last spring due to a disciplinary suspension, chose to take this leave on his own and that it had nothing to do with school or team rules. He remains enrolled at Washington, but his absence on the football field is opening up reps for a handful of untested quarterbacks.

Utah’s Kendal Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Utes’ loss to Oregon, hasn’t been cleared for contact this spring, so the main focus for him is timing with receivers, footwork and technique. He’s still technically competing for the starting job, but with Travis Wilson finishing out last season and being the top guy this spring, it seems Wilson is inching closer to cementing the spot. At this point, every inch matters, and any player who can take even a small step forward would be welcomed as a starter just for the sake of consistency for the offense.

2. Oregon gets boost at QB

Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon got a major boost this spring when Vernon Adams Jr. announced his transfer from Eastern Washington. The dual-threat quarterback has thrived at the FCS level for the Eagles, and with the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, there are certainly FBS shoes that need to be filled in Eugene. Adams won’t be able to enroll at the school until this summer due to Eastern Washington’s academic schedule and because the Ducks open next season with EWU, so Adams has been forced to work out on his own this spring until he arrives at Oregon. He’s certainly the most experienced (from a game perspective) quarterback the Ducks have on their roster, and his abilities with his arm and his feet make him an intriguing prospect as Oregon maneuvers through life after Mariota.

3. USC’s first spring sans sanctions

As USC becomes whole again, the Trojans will be infused with an impressive collection of talented players -- arguably the most in the country. Of their recent signing class, ranked No. 3 in the country by ESPN.com, five players enrolled in time for spring practice; receiver Isaac Whitney, a junior college transfer, and linebacker Cameron Smith are the most likely candidates to make an impact in 2015. The others -- QB Ricky Town, OT Chuma Edoga and OL Roy Hemsley -- have the talent to play right away, but have a longer climb up the depth chart. With RB Buck Allen off to the NFL, USC has a good starting place with Justin Davis, but also expect Tre Madden back to go along with a diverse trio of freshmen added in the signing class. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton said all three -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware -- likely will factor into the Trojans’ plans in 2015. Jones was the top-ranked back in the Class of 2015 and is the most complete of the group, but Davis’ speed and Ware’s power should give USC the ability to vary its looks. -- Kyle Bonagura

4. Cal’s loss is Stanford’s gain

For the past three seasons, sturdy line play has anchored Stanford’s conference-best defense. But graduation -- the Cardinal lost all three 2014 starters up front -- and a rash of injuries made the once-mighty unit look awfully fragile early in spring. At one point, only three defensive linemen dressed for practice, leaving the team literally devoid of depth at the position. The trio was forced to huff and puff throughout the entire session without any relief, and the defense leaked big runs as a result.

Two weeks ago, former Cal defensive end Brennan Scarlett announced his intentions to cross the Bay Bridge and enroll at Stanford as a graduate transfer. Assuming Scarlett is able to stay healthy (he's coming off an ACL tear that derailed his 2014 season), this transfer gives the Cardinal's starved defensive line a significant boost. With Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas also expected back from injury soon, the unit's prospects suddenly look manageable. This is still expected to be a major rebuilding year for the Stanford defense -- eight starters have departed -- but Scarlett's addition gives coordinator Lance Anderson a much-needed veteran presence at a critical position. A transfer between the archrivals also provides a potentially juicy 2015 storyline. -- David Lombardi

5. Cameron Smith undergoes surgery, is out for 2015 season

After Cameron Smith sat out the latter part of last season with knee pain, the Arizona State staff hoped rest would be the answer to his recovery. But early in spring practices, coach Todd Graham announced that Smith had undergone surgery and would be lost not only for the spring but also for the 2015 season. It was a huge blow to the Sun Devils, who were already trying to replace the Pac-12’s fourth-leading receiver, Jaelen Strong. D.J. Foster’s move to wide receiver figures to help alleviate some of that, but for Arizona State to lose its No. 3 receiver from a year ago and its best downfield threat for next season certainly is a major development for the Sun Devils and for the South Division/conference as a whole.

6. Rich Rodriguez loves him some Arizona basketball

Did any Pac-12 football coach have as much hoops fun as Rodriguez this year? The Pac-12 Blog thinks not.

If he wasn’t tossing chicken sandwiches to students attending Wildcats basketball games, he was sitting courtside at the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.


7. Oregon State makes offensive moves

When Gary Andersen was hired at Oregon State, it was obvious that the Beavers would look pretty different as they moved on from the Mike Riley era. But how different? And how quickly? And who would step into QB Sean Mannion’s shoes?

Andersen told the Pac-12 Blog in February that he wanted the Oregon State offense to be “wide open” and that “there will be carryover, but I would say it will be limited.”

In early March, he took one big step in that direction as he cut Oregon State’s quarterback competition from the seven QBs on the spring roster to just three. No surprises here: It’s the three signal-callers who are also the most talented with their feet -- Luke Del Rio, Nick Mitchell and Seth Collins. The latter two are the better runners of the trio, though all three are considerably more mobile than Mannion. The move is an early indicator of how different the Beavs will look come fall with a new offense, new staff and new quarterback.

It's probably not surprising the hullabaloo last week over the NCAA's dubious conduct during its judging of USC's football program didn't escape current Trojans.

USC players told the LA Times that they were aware of the reaction that was ignited last week when inflammatory emails and memos written by members of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions were unsealed in the Todd McNair defamation lawsuit against the NCAA. But, hey, what can they do other than try to get better at football?

"Turns out maybe we didn't deserve as much punishment as we got," linebacker Su'a Cravens told the Times.

As for the football part of football, USC's do-everything athlete, Adorre Jackson, is trying to keep on track because, of course, he's running track as well as going both ways.

And here are some observations from Week 3 of spring practices.

NEW ORLEANS -- When you have some of the best defensive linemen in the nation in attendance at an event like the New Orleans Opening regional, you expect a lot of great one-on-one battles.

And nothing makes for better footage than watching a dominating defensive lineman go to work. Fortunately, high profile prospects like Alabama commitment Raekwon Davis and Edward Oliver did not disappoint at Saturday’s camp.


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Spring ball is often a time of teaching, for coaches to work with players on installing the playbook or mastering fundamentals, but what happens when a player is an experienced veteran such as Cody Kessler who has 27 career starts under his belt?

USC offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton has been through the situation before in 2012 when Matt Barkley was entering his senior year, and now he gets to go through it with Kessler, the Bakersfield, California, native who has already set numerous USC records and will -- like Barkley -- enter his final season as a strong Heisman Trophy contender.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCan USC quarterback Cody Kessler top his record-setting season from 2014?

"Sometimes it's an even bigger challenge when you're a vet going into your fifth year because you have to be really mentally focused to take each opportunity to get better and not just go through the motions," Helton said. "That's what I really appreciate about Cody. He goes out and competes in every practice like it's a game."

It helps that Kessler is one of the hardest workers on the team, a trait that Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian has referenced many times as setting a strong example for the team's younger players. Kessler talked earlier in the spring about how he got a chance to watch guys like Barkley and others in terms of how they handled their senior years, and it showed him how to handle it the right way.

"His approach to getting better shows the young guys how you do it," Helton said. "And we've got a couple young bucks out here watching him every day, guys like Jalen Greene and Ricky Town, and they learn from him just like he learned from Matt [Barkley].

"We always talk about being the older brother and looking out for the younger brother, Cody is in that older brother role now, and he's doing a great job of setting the example. He and Max (Tuerk) are our rocks on offense and the other guys lean on them so much because of what they've been through."

It certainly makes for a nice situation for a coach like Helton, who gets the opportunity to coach a position, the USC quarterback, which has produced one of the best lineages of any position in college sports over the last 15 years and which is set up well for years to come.

"It's always a fun experience as a coach when you get a chance to 'raise' the kids and see them develop," Helton said. "We were fortunate to have Matt [Barkley] for three years and now we have Cody, who got to learn from Matt for two years before getting his opportunity. Now we've got some more guys who are learning and waiting for their chance, guys like Max Browne who is having a very good spring. It's a great situation for us, we've got a lot of talent at the position."

Of course, just because Kessler is a veteran who has been through a lot doesn't mean that there isn't anything to work on. There are definite advances in his game that will be looking to take place this spring which can build off his performance from last season when he completed 315-of-452 passes (69.7 percent) for 3,826 yards with 39 TDs and just 5 interceptions. It was the most efficient year ever for a quarterback at USC and one in which he set or tied six school-season records, and for good measure he also set a Notre Dame opponent record with six passing touchdowns in the victory over the Irish.

"Our goal last year was to have Cody compete to be the best quarterback in the league and I feel that by the end of the year he was as good as anyone, performance-wise," Helton said. "He progressed so much with his ability to move in the pocket, to re-establish his base and make an accurate throw. To be at a 70 percent completion rate means you're doing some really good things.

"Now there is the opportunity to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football and to lead your team to a championship. That's a big jump but it's one he is ready for and our approach as we prepare to propel his game for next year is to be a good athlete in the pocket and to anticipate plays even more. We grade on three things; decision-making, timing and accuracy and he's doing all those things pretty well right now."

Notes

  • One of the most improved position groups through the first half of spring has been the secondary. Adoree' Jackson, Kevon Seymour and John Plattenburg have stood out the most so far, but there is also more depth than we've seen in the past, led by Chris Hawkins and Jonathan Lockett who have been splitting time between safety and cornerback.
  • Sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith has all but wrapped up the No. 1 receiver spot that was open after the early NFL departure of Nelson Agholor. Smith, who turned 18 last November, has noticeably bulked up in the offseason and appears more than ready for his new role. "Becoming the go-to guy can be a challenge for some players but I don't think it will be for JuJu," Sarkisian said. "He's so accustomed to it, I think quite honestly he wanted to be that guy last year."
  • At 6-foot-9, 350 pounds, Trojans right tackle Zach Banner poses a formidable frame on the offensive line, but his size was also put to good use on Thursday during the Trojans' practice session when he blocked a pair of field goal attempts by walk-on kicker Wyatt Schmidt.

USC continued spring practice in scorching 91-degree weather Thursday, and optimism continued to emanate from the Trojan camp. For weeks, the national media has focused primarily on USC's stockpile of skill position talent, but Damien Mama -- who has shed nearly 40 pounds -- spoke about the offensive line's chance to be special in 2015.

USC is also excited about incoming tight end Taylor McNamara, who is transferring from Oklahoma to fortify a thin position group. One current member is walk-on Connor Spears, whose interesting story is documented here.

Much USC press has been focused on off-field issues this week. This Bruce Feldman podcast contends that the NCAA completely botched the Todd McNair case, leaving the Trojans holding the short end of the stick. Former coach Pete Carroll reacted to the recently released documents in the case, while athletic director Pat Haden penned some strong words in response to the unsealing.

In other news, former USC wide receiver Mike Williams has been named the new football coach at Los Angeles' Locke High School. Carroll vouched for him during the hiring process.

When it comes to quarterback recruiting for the Pac-12, things have changed dramatically from last year.

In the 2015 class, ESPN 300 quarterbacks littered the California landscape and few Pac-12 programs even thought about venturing outside of the West region for their quarterback targets.

This year, the region hasn’t been especially kind to the conference at the quarterback position in the early going, despite No. 40 overall prospect K.J. Costello announcing his commitment to Stanford on Thursday afternoon.

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K.J. Costello picks Stanford

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26
3:47
PM PT

The quarterback dominoes in the 2016 class continued to fall Thursday, as No. 4 pocket passer K.J. Costello announced his commitment to Stanford.

Costello, the nation's No. 40 overall prospect, had narrowed his choices to Michigan, Stanford and USC in recent weeks, and had been close to making a commitment since the beginning of the month, finally feeling comfortable enough with his final choice to do it Thursday.

This is a significant recruiting win for Stanford, as the Cardinal elected not to take a scholarship quarterback in the 2015 class after missing on top targets Ricky Town and Brandon Wimbush. In the 2016 class, the Cardinal focused all their attention at the position on Costello and did not make an offer to any other signal-caller.

Costello broke onto the scene as a sophomore, throwing for 1,478 yards and 13 touchdowns for Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Coto de Caza, California. His first offer came the following April as Florida State came calling. Costello then raised his game as a junior, passing for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Grabbing a commitment from Costello means David Shaw and staff don't have to regroup and begin recruiting other quarterbacks in earnest, and it should give the Cardinal an in-state recruiting bump. Costello is the biggest name at the position in state, and is good friends with ESPN Junior 300 wide receiver and teammate Dylan Crawford, who also holds a Stanford offer.

Cardinal coaches also earn some recruiting bragging rights with the commitment, as Costello's mother attended USC and the 6-foot-4, 216-pound quarterback has said he grew up very familiar with the Trojans' program. Stanford also beat out Michigan, where coach Jim Harbaugh undoubtedly used his success with the Cardinal as a recruiting pitch for the Wolverines.

Costello is commitment No. 2 in the 2016 class for Stanford, joining defensive tackle Bo Peek


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