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Monday, December 16, 2013
Vegas brings a happy vibe to Trojans

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES -- Can a storied major college football team on its third head coach in the same season manage to pull it together for one last hurrah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl against No. 20 Fresno State on Saturday afternoon?

By now, most college football fans are familiar with the abrupt firing of former USC head coach Lane Kiffin, the unexpected resignation by first interim head coach Ed Orgeron, the naming of offensive coordinator Clay Helton as the Trojans second interim coach for the bowl game, and the announcement of former Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian as the new Trojans football coach for 2014.

Whew! Somebody call Dr. Phil and let the team therapy begin.

Now if you’re a USC football fan and worried about the mental state of your beloved team heading into this weekend’s bow, you might want to put a hold on the straitjacket, toss away the Zoloft, and listen to the Trojans players.

What a difference a season makes when it comes to USC’s bowl mindset. Last season, the Men of Troy were anything but euphoric about traveling down to El Paso, Texas, for a bowl game on New Year’s Eve. Listening to opera would have brought more excitement.

Aside from some embarrassing pregame episodes that included ill-advised social media messages regarding the city of El Paso and confusion regarding the teams’ banquet schedule, there was the disastrous 21-7 upset loss to Georgia Tech and ensuing postgame temper tantrum in the locker room.

“This season is a little bit different,” said junior wide receiver Marqise Lee, who figures to be playing his last game as a Trojan before departing for the NFL.

Xavier Grimble
The Las Vegas Bowl serves as a homecoming for junior tight end Xavier Grimble, who played at Bishop Gorman High School.
“This season everybody is looking forward to going to Las Vegas. Last season everybody said we should be No. 1 and when it didn’t happen, we really weren’t together. Even if we went to El Paso this year, we’d be happy because nobody expected us to even be in a bowl game.”

This season, the Trojans team is looking forward to experiencing the land of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and, of course, Elvis.

“Las Vegas is cool,” Lee gushed. “I’ve never stayed on The Strip before, and we were told that we get to go and see Jabbawockeez!”

If you’re not familiar with Jabbawockeez, it’s an eight-member, all male hip-hop dance crew known for being the winners of the first season of America’s Best Dance Crew.

And to add a little extra adrenaline to Lee’s excitement, he and a few other teammates were able to pose with two striking Las Vegas showgirls for a photo-op after Sunday’s practice, which Lee called “amazing.”

For junior tight end Xavier Grimble, who will decide after Saturday’s bowl game whether he will turn pro or not, the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl is an opportunity to return home, as he played for prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman High School.

“This is like a dream come true being able to return not only to the city I grew up but to the high school stadium that I used to run around in,” Grimble said.

“I’ll be able to see my family and friends, see my old stomping grounds on campus, and also to see some of my teachers. I’ll probably be a tour guide and chaperone for my teammates, but we have a bunch of good guys and we’ll be alright.”

The Trojans are out to erase last season’s bowl nightmare and turn this season’s bowl experience into a gridiron love fest.

“This is a totally different year, a new focus, a new mindset,” sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I am sure it will be different because last year didn’t go the way we wanted it to. It’s no excuse.

“You could feel last time people weren’t into the game (Sun Bowl) and the season. There was a lot of mixed emotions going on.”

Thanks to the great job of Orgeron, the Trojans played made a complete U-turn along with its fanbase and finished the regular season with a respectable 9-4 record and a chance to end the season with double-digit victories.

“This year we have an opportunity to do something great,” Kessler said. “Guys have put so much into the season. It means a lot more to this team the way we’ve come together. We have an opportunity to get 10 wins.”

They say you can’t win in Las Vegas and that everything is a gamble. However, listen to these Trojans and you get the idea they have positioned themselves to beat the house and cash in.