USC: Andrew Luck

Links: Graham buys 'Poison' home

June, 23, 2014
It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

Lunch links: QB Mariota's return

March, 12, 2014
You take the van, I'll keep the dog.

Looking at each Pac-12 coach's best team

March, 3, 2014
Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:
  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at

Tuesday mailbag: Silly Heisman moments

October, 15, 2013
Welcome to the second half.

Greg in Salt Lake City writes: "If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better." Oh, like maybe beat No. 5 Stanford? Done. Wait, that didn't really help. Utah is a few turnovers away from being undefeated, they get better every week and just beat Stanford. Because Power Rankings take the most recent games into account more we should definitely be ahead of Oregon State and Washington -- neither of which has beat a team that is still ranked. I would think a former MWC guy would show a little more respect ;)

Kevin Gemmell: I appreciate the passion, Greg. I really do. And I particularly appreciate the emoticon wink. And as a former MWC guy, I've followed Utah's rise in that conference and transition to the Pac-12 with great interest.

For the record, it did help. You moved up from seventh to sixth in this week’s Power Rankings.

No, you shouldn’t be ahead of Oregon State or Washington. You lost to Oregon State. Any way you slice it, the Beavers have more wins and beat you at home. As for Washington, we’ll find out more about them this week when the Huskies travel to Arizona State. Washington lost to Stanford on the road by a field goal. You beat Stanford at home by two field goals. Washington’s two losses have been to top-five teams. Utah’s losses have been to a top 15 team and an unranked team. Plus Utah has had the luxury of not having to go out of state yet.

I think the Stanford win was a critical stepping stone for the Utes, but it’s how they follow it up that will be extremely telling.

This isn’t the Mountain West where the entire season boils down to one game against TCU. You beat Stanford. Great. Now can you go on the road and beat Arizona? At USC? Can you avenge the beating you took last year from ASU? Can you win at Autzen?

Recall Washington scored two wins over top-10 teams last year, but still finished with seven wins and the season was perceived as unsuccessful. If Utah fails to make it to the postseason, how much does this one win really mean? Not a whole lot. You'll be viewed as the team that just caught Stanford on a bad day on the road rather than a team that is climbing the Pac-12 pecking order.

It was a good win. What's are you going to do with it?

Ducku03 in Eugene writes: Hey Kevin I've been reading a lot about that Heisman Moment that takes a candidate over the top. It seems to me that all of these moments, the media talks about, are come-from-behind moments that give their team a miraculous win. Isn't it a little unfair to degrade a Heisman campaign just because your team is always ahead in the fourth quarter such as the case for Marcus Mariota?

Kevin Gemmell: Aside from “mandatory” and “colonoscopy,” there are no two words put together that irk me more than “Heisman” and “moment.” It’s a sham. A fluke. Just as I railed in last week’s mailbag about one play being a determining factor in a game, one moment doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t determine something as important as a Heisman.

I can think of about two dozen Heisman moments for Marcus Mariota already. And, as you noted, none of them involved a come-from-behind victory. That’s because he’s got his team so far ahead.

I’ve written a couple of times on the Heisman in recent years. It’s a completely subjective award that is open to all kinds of interpretation. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I happen to disagree with how some people go about their voting process. That’s what makes the Heisman so controversial. As I noted in 2011, Andrew Luck had plenty of Heisman moments, they just weren’t “traditional” Heisman moments.

I don’t think Mariota’s campaign will be slowed down if the Ducks don’t have a come-from-behind-fourth-quarter win. What he’s done so far has been too impressive. Obviously, the Stanford game will be of significance. It will be nationally televised and East Coast voters should stay up to watch.

The whole Heisman exercise has gotten out of hand. It’s taken on such a life of its own that it’s essentially downgraded the importance of some other awards like the Maxwell and Walter Camp, the Outland and the Rimington. I hate that the metrics aren’t there for linemen or defensive players to win it. And the spread offense has completely slanted the playing field in favor of quarterbacks. The whole process feels less like a celebration of greatness and more like, well, a mandatory colonoscopy.

Tommy Trojan in a beach chair on the beach writes: I know and the USC faithful know how important a win against ND this weekend is for the future of the program and for the rivalry. What does a USC win mean in the world of the Pac-12 down the stretch?

Kevin Gemmell: In terms of the standings, not a whole lot. In terms of their perception, it’s huge. USC’s brand has taken a huge hit over the last 12 months. With that comes negative recruiting from other schools and a general uneasy feeling about the state of the program.

But USC is still a brand. And it will endure. Because there are always going to be elite athletes who want to come to USC.

The Trojans aren’t out of the South Division hunt yet, but they’ll need some help along the way. All they can do is hope to win out and restore the confidence of the fan base and potential future Trojan players. Winning at Notre Dame would be a huge first step toward rebuilding that.

Chris in Foresthill, Calif. writes: Sonny Dykes is on record that Cal has the prerequisites “location, facilities, weather, academics and access to state-wide and national talent” to be a national championship contender. I don’t see it due to the predominance of pro sports in the Bay Area. In three to five years, do you see Cal as a contender, pretender or also-ran?

Kevin Gemmell: I think what we have right now, this year, with Cal is the perfect storm of a young team adjusting to new schemes, a horrific string of injuries and one of the toughest schedules in the country.

The Bears have been able to move the ball, they just haven’t been able to score. I still think the skill position players are really good, they just haven’t been able to translate it on the field on Saturdays.

Losing 10 of 11 potential starters on defense doesn't help. Dykes said today that he's never seen this many season-ending injuries in one year in his career.

In three to five years I think Cal should certainly be a mainstay in the postseason. Cal has too many advantages not to, at the very least, be a six-win team. I’m cutting Dykes and Co. some slack simply because of all the dice loaded against them this season. But there are still six opportunities left for progress. And six opportunities for a lot of younger players to get some valuable experience.

Don in Newberg, Ore. writes: Kevin, Most impressive aspect of the Ducks' win @ Washington? When the season started, there was no argument that Oregon's best three offensive players were Mariota, DAT and Lyerla. They beat the Dawgs without two of those three. That says something.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d argue that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell were right up there in terms of preseason hype. And so far Oregon’s secondary has been beastly. I’d say that was the most impressive aspect.

Keith Price did what he could, but the Ducks held him to his lowest output of the season in terms of yards and touchdowns. His longest pass was 28 yards. His completion percentage was below 60 percent for just the second time this year (the Arizona rain game was his lowest).

For as much as people want to talk about what Oregon is doing on offense -- and full disclosure, I’m one of those guys talking about their offense -- the defense has quietly been one of the best in league. Just as it was quietly one of the best in the league last year, and the year before that. They are allowing a league-low 13.8 points per game and have only allowed four touchdowns in the air. Be impressed with the offense. But don’t forget what the guys on the other side of the ball are doing.

Darin in Monterey, Calif. writes: I have a couple of questions about QBR ratings. Can you explain to me how you get a high QBR rating? Mariotta has an average of 96 or something like that and Mannion only has 82. When Oregon State played Colorado Mannion only recorded a QBR of 61, while scoring 6 TDs. … I understand that Colorado isn't exactly a powerhouse, but Mariotta scored a 96 QBR against Nicholls St. while throwing less touchdowns and about the same pass completions. So, what’s the difference?

Kevin Gemmell: You basically have two different QBR ratings. One is raw QBR, the other is adjusted QBR. Adjusted takes into account the strength of opponent and various other factors.

Essentially, it boils down to how much of a contribution did the quarterback make? What was his completion percentage on first, second or third down? What were the circumstances under which a touchdown was scored?

Here’s the complete guide to the QBR that fully explains it all. It’s a lot to take in, and requires reading it a few times. But once it all settles, you’ll start to look at QB stats differently.

Like all stats, it’s not a complete representation of the player. But it’s, in my opinion, the best statistical measuring stick out there.

Scappoozer in Scappoose, Ore. writes: I won't say I told you so. I like your coverage of Pac-12 football and a little homerism to boot but you and Ted have never jumped on your potential champions bandwagon the way the SEC bloggers have never wavered over Alabama. You start your article by saying Oregon is the national title contender we thought they were, huh? Last week Ted puts Stanford back to No. 1 in the Power Rankings? Pick a team and stick with them. Win the Decade is soooo sweet. You drank the Washington Kool-aid, yes they are a good team but pupil of the spread was not ready to beat the teacher of the spread. I've said all along Stanford is too slow and it showed, Washington might be better. I just felt like nationally and through voting the rest of the nation were closer to reality than the Pac-12 bloggers I follow. Washington was overrated and you guys always had them ranked too high and they are not ready to compete for a national championship let alone a Pac-12 championship. Our local reporters can't even pronounce our QB's name correctly, it's MARIO-TA. Go Ducks!

Kevin Gemmell: First off, the “I told you so” doesn't fly with me. I went back through my entire mailbag for the last six months and this is the first note I got from you. But I’m happy to answer it.

Second, I challenge you go to back through the blog and find a single instance where either Ted or I wrote that Washington was ready to compete for a national championship. I’ll save you the time. It’s not there. Neither of us ever wrote that.

Did Ted and I like Washington coming into the season? Yep. Still do. Did we expect them to be where they are right now? Yep. No shame in losing on the road to Stanford and at home to Oregon.

The Stanford is too slow argument doesn’t work, either. Does anyone really think Ty Montgomery looked slow the last couple of weeks?

Yes, Ted did put Stanford on top of the Power Rankings last week. As he noted, he and I squabbled over that decision. But since he gets the final byline, he pulled rank. Just as he had Paul Richardson at No. 10 in his midseason top 10 player re-ranking. But since I had the final byline, I swapped Richardson out for Montgomery and I pulled rank.

I get it. You’re excited about your team. We’re excited about them too. Coming into the season, we both felt it was 50-50 with Stanford and Oregon, and our only reservations where the coaching change. It’s clear now that Mark Helfrich has done a phenomenal job and the Ducks haven’t missed a beat. In fact, they’ve gotten better.

We've said all season long we thought the Pac-12 had two teams that could challenge for a national championship. Oregon was always one of those teams.

So go ahead and keep being excited for your team and their possible date with the BCS championship game. But don’t forget what happened last year when everyone said Stanford was down. All they did was run off 12 straight, beat Oregon in Eugene and win the Rose Bowl.

Be confident. Be excited. Be proud. But don’t get cocky until you’re holding a crystal ball.

That, my new friend from whom I expect to hear more, you can quote me on.

Five things to watch: USC-Stanford

September, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- The No. 2-ranked USC Trojans begin Pac-12 conference play Saturday against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium (4:30 p.m. PT). Here are five things to watch:

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley and Robert Woods
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillMatt Barkley and the Trojans hope to turn around a trend that has seen them stumble early out of the blocks in conference play ... as well as lose three consecutive contests to Stanford.
1. No Luck. How much of a problem? By now, just about everybody knows the Cardinal are without former all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck, who graduated to the NFL after last season and now starts for the Indianapolis Colts. What not everybody knows is the name of his replacement: Josh Nunes, a fourth-year player from Upland, Calif. He's been good so far, making few of mistakes that often plague first-time starters. But many of the Trojans weren't afraid to say this week that Nunes is not yet comparable to Luck. For the Cardinal, the obvious narrative after they barely snuck by the San Jose State Spartans to win their opener was growing pains with a first-year signal-caller. But Nunes demonstrated improvement against Duke in Week 2. If they were to upset the Trojans, that would obviously be a sign his growth process has accelerated quite a bit.

2. The unkind road and the unkind team. In each of the past five seasons, USC has lost either its first or second conference road game, including its first in three of the past four seasons. That's kind of an alarming statistic, and it might help explain why the Trojans are favored by single digits in most locations for this game. Of course, it's an even more unsettling stat that this season’s crop of USC seniors -- Matt Barkley included -- hasn't beaten Stanford in their college careers. That hasn't happened to a USC class with a regular opponent in more than a decade. Stanford Stadium isn't the loudest, craziest opposing atmosphere in the conference. But many of the Trojans' older players may have memories of a 37-35 loss on a game-ending field goal two years ago at Stanford enter their heads at various times Saturday.

3. A real running back. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor hasn't played like a particularly elite running back thus far this season, but he's thought of as one around the country. He may be the best back the Trojans face all year, so it could be a telling test for the USC front seven. Linemen Morgan Breslin and Antwaun Woods have played better than expected through two games. But can they keep it up when a capable, varied running game is thrown into the mix? If this is the first game this season USC sees the originally planned linebacking crew of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard on the field together shortly after kickoff, can they handle the Cardinal's run game as a group? Will the Trojans' secondary be unified enough to prevent long runs?

4. Media distraction? It's easy to overstate the impact here -- and let's first clarify that few of USC's players may have even heard about what happened this week with the status of injuries and the local media – but it's quite unlikely thee events will affect play. But if Lane Kiffin were to somehow lose this week, he'd get absolutely roasted in subsequent days by the national media for worrying about the practice suspension of a local reporter in the middle of an important game week. He'll of course say it wasn't a distraction, but the results will stand alone. It's kind of a ready-made critique of a college football coach: If they don't win, what's the point of being so secretive about your players' injuries, anyway?

5. The tandem. Most in-game signs are pointing to Silas Redd 's eventual takeover of the Trojans' No. 1 running back role and Curtis McNeal's quiet demotion to the second spot. If it's going to happen, this will be the week it does, with USC needing to establish a consistent run game early against Stanford's solid defense. Then again, there's always the possibility that Kiffin has been keeping McNeal extra fresh, what with 16 carries in two games, so he can succeed in a game like this one. If Redd again gets 60 to 70 percent of the total carries and performs well, it's safe to assume he's USC's top back -- regardless of whether he's officially defined as such by Kiffin and Co.

Prediction: USC 41-30.

Stanford loss: That was then, this is now

September, 12, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- In what turned out to be its most disappointing loss last season, USC lost a triple-overtime thriller to Stanford at the Coliseum after Andrew Luck rebounded from a pick-six to lead his Cardinal to four consecutive touchdowns and a 56-48 win.

But to take the words of the Trojans, the events of Oct. 29, 2011, will have no bearing on the events come Saturday at Stanford.

"That was last year," said USC cornerback Nickell Robey, who intercepted Luck and returned it the other way for a touchdown. "This year is going to be totally different.

"They're a new team this year; we're a new team. We're only focused on the present."

Robey's play came with a little more than three minutes left in the game last October and the score tied at 27. The expectation was that Luck and Stanford would drive down the field, eat up clock, and score the game winner as time expired, but Robey quickly reversed that.

However, the Cardinal scored with ease on the ensuing drive, and, after USC failed to get a field goal off in the final seconds of regulation, the teams went into overtime.

Everything was even until USC running back Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone in the third overtime and Stanford recovered to win the game.

Now, USC captains, including T.J. McDonald, are stressing the importance of winning this week's tilt for self-serving purposes and not any sort of revenge against Stanford after three straight losses to the Cardinal.

The Trojans are finding that proposition a tough line to toe, though.

"It's definitely in the back of your head," McDonald said Wednesday of not tasting victory against Stanford. "You never want to end your career knowing you never beat a team."

(Read full post)

Film study: Stanford

August, 17, 2012
Here’s the eighth post in our "film study" series.

Every other day from now until Aug. 25, we’re watching one of the games USC played last season and putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year’s opener.

We’ve already done USC’s 19-17 win over Minnesota, 23-14 win over Utah, 38-17 win over Syracuse, 44-23 loss to Arizona State, 48-41 win over Arizona, 30-9 win over Cal and 31-17 win over Notre Dame. Here, now, are our five notes -- four big things and a bunch of little ones -- from USC’s 56-48 triple-overtime loss to Stanford on Oct. 29, 2011.

Luck's attacks

The game was billed as a battle between Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley, and it largely lived up to that billing.

Stats sometimes lie, and they can almost always be manipulated to support a variety of arguments. But Luck and Barkley's numbers tell the exact story from this contest -- both were superb, and both had one key mistake, an interception. Luck was slightly more accurate than Barkley, as the numbers show, and significantly more effective running the ball, which really helped in the overtime periods.

The best single drive by either quarterback had to be Luck's rebound after his near-death pick-six to Nickell Robey late in the fourth. Not that Barkley's last-ditch effort beginning with 38 seconds to go wasn't valiant -- it was, and more on that soon -- but it wasn't effective.

But Luck led his team right down the field in just over two minutes and forced overtime. He was, however, helped significantly by T.J. McDonald's unlucky personal-foul penalty on Chris Owusu.

(Read full post)

Robey: Lee more challenging than Woods

August, 16, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC cornerback Nickell Robey is one of the Trojans' most insightful players.

He has a nuanced perspective on most every topic he's asked about, and he rarely shies away from expressing his true opinion on controversial subjects. (Exhibit A: He said he liked Matt Barkley more, as a player, than Andrew Luck leading up to last year's USC-Stanford game.)

Combined with his years of experience defending USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee on the Trojans' practice field, there might not be a better person around to ask to differentiate between the two.

And Robey, the junior third-year starter for the Trojans, believes that Woods and Lee's separate, unique qualities add up to make them similar-caliber receivers. But he did come to an eventual conclusion when asked on Thursday which of the pass-catchers was harder to cover.

"Both of them are great receivers," Robey began. "They make great catches. They're great players. They hustle. They do a lot of great things. Marqise has a lot of upside. He's got a lot of athletic ability to go up and get the ball and get a lot of amazing catches. Robert is a technician. He's going to make sure that you're on top of your technique and you're doing the right thing with your feet.

(Read full post)

Three Trojans on Walter Camp watch list

July, 20, 2012
USC quarterback Matt Barkley, receiver Robert Woods and safety T.J. McDonald were named to the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list on Friday, capping off a two-week stretch of announcements that saw several Trojans got nominated.

Three schools had three players on the list -- USC, Kansas State and Oklahoma. The watch list will be narrowed to 10 semifinalists in mid-November. The eventual award is voted on by NCAA head coaches and sports information directors and announced on SportsCenter on December 6.

Barkley, Woods and McDonald have all earned other watch-list honors this preseason. USC has had a player win the award six times, with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush last taking it home in back-to-back years in 2004 and 2005.

Stanford's Andrew Luck won the award in 2011.

One-on-one with Dion Bailey

July, 18, 2012
USC linebacker Dion Bailey isn't afraid to admit it. Playing at 202 pounds last season, he says he often got overpowered when he tried to break through the offensive line and get to the quarterback.

But now, the redshirt sophomore has bulked up to a more sturdy 215 pounds -- and he plans to gain another five before the start of fall camp in August.

The added weight should allow him to play the role of a real linebacker, not the sort of safety-moonlighting-at-strongside thing he was doing last year. And that's important to Bailey, who's always been keenly aware of the public perception of him and his game.

We caught up with him after a Trojans' throwing session last week, talking over that, his expectations for the USC defensive unit this season and several other topics.

Q: You're on two (now four) preseason watch lists already and could be on more. What does that sort of recognition mean to you at this stage in your college career?

A: I don't really pay any mind to it. Preseason stuff doesn't really matter -- all that matters is where you are at the end of the season. It's nice to know I'm on people's radar or whatever, but I don't really pay too much mind to it.

Q: What have you changed since last year? In what ways are you a different player than you were as a freshman?

A: I'm bigger and I'm much stronger from last year. My numbers in the weight room have increased dramatically from previous years, so I think I'll be able to be more of a physical presence in the run attack.

Q: Was that a conscious effort you made, knowing what your weaknesses were last year?

A: Yeah, I'm tired of being overpowered by linemen and stuff like that. I want to be able to hold my ground more steadily throughout the year, on a consistent basis, so I wanted to improve on my strength.

Q: What, specifically, is that strength going to provide to you, do you think?

A: I'm still going to try to react to the ball fast and run through the holes and try to beat the linemen to certain positions and certain places. But if I have to take on linemen, I'll have more of a strong foundation.

(Read full post)

Five questions for the New Year, No. 5

December, 26, 2011
We've looked at the USC Trojans' top 10 moments from 2011 and the top 10 performers as well. Now, with the final days of the year approaching, we take a look at the five most pressing questions surrounding Lane Kiffin's Trojans in 2012. We'll unveil one each day this week, counting down from No. 5 today to No. 1 on Friday.

It's also worth looking back at our five questions for 2011 from this time last year. Most of them were answered definitively in one direction or the other. Here are No. 5, No. 4, No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1.

Here, then, is No. 5: Where will USC rank in the 2012 Associated Press preseason top 25?

The Trojans finished their 2011 regular season ranked fifth in the country by the AP -- in a definite surprise to those not following the team. It was a quick rise, to be sure, as USC had been ranked 18th just three weeks earlier and unranked a month before that.

But the 10-2 Trojans were deserving. Only two teams with fewer losses were below them in the top 25, and one of those was a Houston team that had just been markedly upset.

So, with this season now out of the way, where is USC going to start next year? It's important to note that the previous season's end-of-year rankings consistently play a large role in each preseason edition. Each of the top-five teams this year, for example, finished last year in the top 10.

Let's pencil in the winner of the upcoming national championship game, then, as the likely No. 1 -- especially if it's LSU, who returns a large portion of its lineup. Even if Alabama pulls off the win, the Tigers will be hard to overtake, actually.

But the other top teams all lose a lot, including No. 3 Oklahoma State (likely Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon) and No. 4 Stanford (Andrew Luck). No. 6 Oregon returns plenty, but LaMichael James may not be returning, and it's somewhat unlikely voters would place the Ducks over the Trojans to start the year -- even if Chip Kelly's squad does beat Wisconsin in next week's Rose Bowl.

The Badgers also lose their quarterback -- and potentially their running back, as Montee Ball has said he'll determine whether to declare for the draft based on the draft grade he receives from the NFL.

There just aren't too many more teams to compete with. Ohio State was a possibility under Urban Meyer, but they'll see a drop-off because of NCAA sanctions. Georgia has a lot of 2012 potential, but not enough to jump a 10-2 team returning its best player in Matt Barkley.

The short answer, then, is this: Expect USC to be ranked either second or third in the country next August, behind LSU and maybe Alabama, depending on what happens in next month's national championship game between LSU and Alabama, who returns at Alabama and Oregon and spring practices at USC and those schools.

Check back Tuesday for question No. 4, which deals with NCAA-sanctioned scholarship limits and how they'll affect USC next year.

Top 10 performers, No. 1: Barkley

December, 23, 2011
Matt BarkleyRic Tapia/Icon SMIMatt Barkely had one of the strongest finishes to a season in USC's storied history.
We’ve been doing a series on the Trojans’ top 10 performers in 2011 since last week, ranking the team’s best players based on their overall value to the team last season.

The first nine players, listed here in descending order and revealed day-by-day over the last two weeks on the USC Report, were T.J. McDonald, Christian Tupou, Curtis McNeal, Nick Perry, Dion Bailey, Marqise Lee, Nickell Robey, Robert Woods and Matt Kalil.

Our No. 1 performer, then, is quarterback Matt Barkley.

It's fitting that this post was scheduled all along for this day and it ended up being just 24 hours after Barkley announced he'd be returning for his senior season in 2012.

It was a special day at Heritage Hall on Thursday, one many will point to as the official kick-starter of the next 12-plus months if USC goes on to seriously chase a national championship next season.

But the Trojans' quarterback has had a truly remarkable last two months regardless, considering how he closed out USC's 2011 season with wins over Oregon and UCLA in exactly the "big-bang" style he wanted. You can make a convincing argument Barkley performed better last season than any other USC quarterback has ever performed.

And that's probably the biggest reason why he was so firmly entrenched atop this list in our minds. Kalil, Woods and the coaching staff helped make him who he was, but the truth is that a ton of the credit has to go to Barkley himself.

So, yes, he'll be back next season. And he'll be the odds-on favorite to win this honor and probably some others as well, like the Heisman Trophy.

Next season's USC team seems to have every element to be a huge part of the sports world. The charismatic Barkley will be dealing with as much buzz -- on and off campus -- as any college student-athlete in many, many years.

If anyone can handle it, he can.

And with that, we conclude our top-10 performer series and take a look at five players who just missed being ranked in the top 10.

(Read full post)

What Barkley and USC could do in 2012

December, 22, 2011
Over the last two weeks, Matt Barkley and his father, Les Barkley, talked over every possible issue they could think of to help decide whether Matt would return for his senior season at USC.

"Do you feel there's any risk that you'll get complacent?" Les, taking on the devil's advocate role, asked his son more than once. "Do you feel there's any risk that you may not be able to progress?"

The 21-year-old Barkley's answers were enough to convince both men that the decision to stay was the right one. But the truth is that there is a chance of both of those things happening. And, perhaps moreso, there's a chance that the teammates around him won't put up the same effort next season with the spotlight on.

But that's a risk Barkley was willing to take. And, understandably so, considering the flip side. If USC continues to work that underdog angle -- somehow, someway -- the Trojans could be just about unstoppable in 2012. They just don't lose very much talent. Including special teams, 19 of 24 starters will be back.

That includes Barkley's two top receivers, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who could chase 3,000 combined yards in 2012. And his top running back, Curtis McNeal, and four of five starting offensive linemen. There isn't much more Barkley could want back to chase a national title.

"It's just kind of an exceptional set of circumstances that's really rare," Les said Thursday, minutes after Matt's announcement. "Things will never line up again like they are lined up for this team next year, and he wants to be part of it."

Sure. But what about actually doing it? What will it take to win the BCS title next year at Sun Life Stadium in Miami?

USC figures to start the season ranked in the Associated Press Top 5. Win out, and the Trojans are in the championship game. But it's not that easy. Not when players were already tweeting Thursday that a national championship is on the docket. Not when expectations are going to be sky-high from Day 1 of spring practice.

"I think it'll be very important for our team this year to have the same mentality going into this year, being the underdogs," Matt Barkley said Thursday, in a private moment just after the news conference finished. "It'll be hard, but we're still gonna have that mentality.

"We can't let anybody get big-headed, myself included."

(Read full post)

Woods, Kalil named 1st-team All-Americans

December, 14, 2011
USC receiver Robert Woods and left tackle Matt Kalil were voted Associated Press 1st-team All-Americans, it was announced Wednesday.

Woods was voted of the nation's top two receivers alongside Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Kalil joined Alabama's Barrett Jones as a top tackle.

Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was voted a 3rd-team All-American, behind Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Stanford's Andrew Luck.

Woods, a sophomore, set a new school and Pac-12 conference record in 2011 with 111 catches for 1292 yards and 15 touchdowns. He started the year on a torrid streak that had him on a pace to challenge all-time national records. Kalil, a redshirt junior, didn't allow a sack throughout the season and led a USC offensive line that broke in three new starters.

Barkley, a junior, challenged for season-ending performance awards after finishing the season with impressive performances against Oregon and UCLA. His final 2011 numbers included 39 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 3,528 yards.

Both Kalil and Barkley are facing decisions whether or not to declare for next April's NFL draft.

Top 10 performers, No. 10: McDonald

December, 12, 2011
After concluding our series on the top 10 moments of USC's 2011 football season, we begin this week with a new series on the Trojans' top 10 performers this season. With one player per day Monday-Friday, the list will last until Friday, Dec. 23.

We'll rank the players based on a number of factors, heavily valuing production but also considering preseason expectations, off-the-field contributions and alternative options at each player's respective positions. Look at it as not so much of a 10 best players list, but a finalists list for a team-MVP trophy. Overall value is considered.

First on the list at No. 10 is safety T.J. McDonald.

A junior in his second season starting for the Trojans in 2011, McDonald was expected to be a leader and performed as such, leading the team with three interceptions and adding a secondary-high 67 tackles. He started 11 of USC's 12 games and entered the game he didn't start in the second half, forced to sit out the first 30 minutes by the Pac-12.

He didn't have an absolutely standout year -- the numbers show that. But McDonald fairly quietly put up a solid season and put himself into position to be one of the top safeties selected in April's NFL draft if he chooses to make himself eligible. He stands to go around the second round right now, although there's believed to be a good chance he chooses to return to school.

McDonald did have one long-lasting off-field controversy that probably pushed him back a spot or two on this list when he picked up three personal-foul penalties in the September loss to Arizona State, costing the Trojans 45 yards, and then got called for another in a crucial moment in the fourth quarter against Stanford. The foul against the Cardinal was killer, giving Andrew Luck the second chance he needed to send the game into overtime.

Sure, the calls can be debated -- the Stanford one has to at least be called questionable -- but, in the end, McDonald was whistled and has to be judged as such.

As for his on-field performance, he showed some signs in the middle of the season of morphing into a Taylor Mays-type safety, meaning he'd go for the big hit above all else and frequently whiff on regular tackles and potential turnovers. But his final three games after the Colorado suspension were some of his best.

He and cornerback Nickell Robey, who will make a later appearance on this list, made up a defensive backs corps that needed work at the start of the year and got progressively better.

For that, McDonald earns a spot on this list of the Trojans' most valuable players -- even if just by a hair.

Check back Tuesday for the Trojans' ninth most valuable player, who happens to also play defense.



C. Kessler452315382639
B. Allen27614895.411
J. Davis1295954.64
N. Agholor104131312.612
J. Smith5472413.45