USC: LaMichael James

Pac-12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
We're looking back at the BCS era, which lasted from 1998 to 2013, so it made sense to make an all-Pac-12 BCS-era team.

Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.

With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.


[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
Jeff Lewis/USA TODAY SportsFormer USC QB Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, threw 99 career TD passes.
QB Matt Leinart, USC: Nearly won three national titles. Won 2004 Heisman Trophy and placed third in 2005. Threw 99 career TD passes.

RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)

RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.

WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.

WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.

TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.

OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.

OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).

K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.


LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.

DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.

DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.

CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.

S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.

P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
Getty ImagesA win this weekend for Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota over USC and QB Matt Barkley could represent a power shift in the Pac-12.

Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?

The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.

USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.

But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.

Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.

Au contraire.

Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.

USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.

Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.

And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.

So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?

USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.

Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."

While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.

But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.

So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.

Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.

Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.

It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.

Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.

And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.

Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"

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.

5 things to watch: UCLA-USC

November, 25, 2011

1. Uniforms? It's been the talk of the town this week, what kind of jerseys the two schools are going to wear for the annual crosstown rivalry game. For its part, USC has said it will be wearing its normal home cardinal-and-gold uniforms, but UCLA is hinting at an all-white alternate combination, which would certainly attract some eyes and get some attention. It's worth noting that teams wearing non-normal jerseys -- Colorado and Notre Dame -- have not fared well against the Trojans this season, and it's also worth noting that USC coach Lane Kiffin wasn't terribly pleased with UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel when he heard the news about the Bruins' uniforms. The schools have both worn their home uniforms each of the last three seasons after Neuheisel and Pete Carroll petitioned the NCAA to allow it.

UCLAUSC2. Barkley4Heisman? With all the talk about USC quarterback Matt Barkley for the Heisman Trophy this week after USC's upset win over Oregon, one thing still remains before the all-out hype machine begins: The Trojans need to beat the Bruins. If they don't -- or even if they just sneak by -- Barkley's candidacy will be ruined. He needs to have a big game and USC needs to win in excessive fashion, otherwise voters are really going to forget about him by the time most vote in two weeks. Barkley has often talked about ending his Trojans' career with a bang, and beating UCLA handily would certainly qualify.

3. The pistol. Kiffin said it this week when asked about Rich Rodriguez' hiring over at Arizona: The Pac-12 is becoming the league of unusual offensive schemes. UCLA is no different, and the Trojans haven't necessarily had success defending the pistol in the past. (Remember the 2010 season opener against Hawaii?) The Bruins appear to have gotten it down really well in recent weeks, and quarterback Kevin Prince is the biggest threat to run USC has faced in a quarterback all season. The Trojans did face a team with multiple talented tailbacks a week ago in Oregon's LaMichael James, De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, so UCLA's tandem of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman won't be an unheard-of threat.

4. Milestones. A number of USC players are on the cusp of some season- and career-long milestones, including receiver Marqise Lee and running back Curtis McNeal. Lee, a freshman, is just 81 receiving yards away from 1,000 on the season. McNeal, a junior, is just 119 rushing yards away from 1,000 on the season. And sophomore receiver Robert Woods needs only one catch to reach 100 on the year and four catches to break Keyshawn Johnson's single-season record. For what it's worth, Kiffin said that the Trojans will not be specifically trying to get those guys the ball early, but, if it's a blowout, they'll make sure as much as they can that the three of them get as many chances as possible to break the individual records.

5. Keeping it up defensively. As freshman linebacker Dion Bailey said this week, USC's defensive surge this season from disappointing to respectable would all be for naught if the Trojans relented against UCLA this week and gave up 30-plus points to the Bruins. A 9-3 record would essentially negate the progress Monte Kiffin's unit has made all season, and the Bruins do have the talent to make that possible. The goal, then, is to create multiple turnovers, something USC has not done with regularity this season. When the Trojans do that, though, they win. The problem is this: Prince hasn't thrown a pick in four of his last five starts.

Barkley's best in biggest situation

November, 19, 2011
EUGENE, Ore. -- Matt Barkley said this wasn't the best game of his college career, but it most certainly was his biggest win.

At Autzen Stadium against the No. 4 Oregon Ducks, he completed 26-of-34 attempts, threw for 323 yards and had four touchdowns and just one interception -- on a pass Robert Woods should have caught. He made one bad throw the entire night and several elite ones. And, most importantly, he led the now-surging USC Trojans to a season-defining 38-35 victory.

In arguably the biggest situation he's faced yet in the college sphere, the third-year Trojans quarterback produced one of his best games to date and -- perhaps in vain -- made a case that he should be considered among the rest of the bowl-eligible candidates for the Heisman Trophy come the end of this season.

"I thought Matt was outstanding," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said, adding that he thought Barkley was better than Andrew Luck and better than any of the quarterbacks his Ducks have faced this season. "He always seemed like he had the answer.

"Every time we came back and scored he came right back with an answer."

He did. Oregon got big plays from a number of sources throughout the game -- quarterback Darron Thomas, running backs Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas. USC only had Barkley, receiver Marqise Lee and a less-than-full-strength Woods.

Barkley's first half was outstanding, as he staked USC out to a 14-point lead by completing all but three of his 18 passes, including a 59-yard touchdown throw to Lee. And, in a crucial fourth quarter -- a time where Barkley struggled so significantly his first two seasons -- he completed 4-of-5 passes for 57 yards, with his only incompletion the tipped pass off the hands of Woods.

This was a signal-caller at his best. This was a quarterback quarterback-ing his team to a win on the biggest of stages in the toughest of environments.

Yet he said he didn't think he "played that well." He said the feeling he had after the game didn't feel like he had just played the best game among his 32 career starts at the college level.

But he did. And, in the same place where a USC quarterback won himself the Heisman Trophy nine years ago this month, Barkley proved himself to be a viable candidate for the award.

He won't win it -- no way, not with the Trojans ineligible for the postseason and some of the other top candidates likely to play in a conference championship and bowl game. But he deserves to be in the top 5, and it now seems like a legitimate possibility he could do so.

"Look at what Matt's done with a bunch of young people," USC coach Lane Kiffin said following Saturday's game. "I can't imagine those other guys out there putting up numbers with a bunch of young guys around them."

There's some validity in that argument. But then there's also the fact that -- despite their age -- Woods and Lee are much better than Luck's receivers over at Stanford and better than Landry Jones' receivers at Oklahoma now that Ryan Broyles is out for the year.

But forget the Heisman politicking and arguments. Those will have their time in the sun soon. And forget that Barkley might have just played his penultimate game in a USC cardinal-and-gold uniform.

For right now, realize this: Matt Barkley just led his USC Trojans to an upset win over the Oregon Ducks.

And he did it better than he's ever done before.

Grades: USC-Oregon

November, 19, 2011
It doesn't get much better than this. Matt Barkley had an absolutely splendid day -- his fourth-quarter interception notwithstanding, because it was Robert Woods' mistake that led to it. True freshman Marqise Lee proved to be a dominant presence on a big stage.

They weren't asked to do much until later in the game, but Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler were once again an effective duo for the Trojans. But while McNeal didn't do anything to hurt USC's cause, Tyler's fumble late was a crucial mistake that almost cost the Trojans.

USC's defensive line built on last week's terrific performance against Washington and again produced pressure on Thomas and the Oregon offense. And while the Trojans' O-line did have a few false starts, the big guys kept Barkley off the ground and gave him time to operate.

Considering Oregon's track record -- pun intended -- this was a solid performance by the Trojans' defenders, demonstrating clear improvement from the beginning of this season. Darron Thomas did fine at quarterback, but LaMichael James wasn't allowed to run wildly, as he often is.

For the umpteenth time this year, coordinator John Baxter's unit produced a big play with the third-quarter punt block that netted USC some points, but it also allowed a couple big kick returns by De'Anthony Thomas, including the 96-yard touchdown later in the third.

Lane and Monte Kiffin out-coached Chip Kelly and his crew, plain and simple. The Trojans' offensive gameplan was solid, and USC also knew what to do to stop Oregon's top offensive options. Kiffin is going to gain a lot of national respect for this.

5 things to watch: USC-Oregon

November, 18, 2011

1. The implications: As is the case with most late-season contests between top-25 teams, Saturday's USC-Oregon will have quite a few long-lasting after-effects. If the Ducks do win, as they are expected to, they'll put themselves in a serious conversation for the national championship game with only a game against lowly Oregon State. If they lose, it'll be a role reversal of epic proportions as the Trojans turn the tables on the Ducks and do what teams tried to do to them for so many years: ruin their BCS bowl aspirations. And, for USC, a win over Oregon coupled with a season-ending win over UCLA just about ensures that the Trojans will finish the season in the national top 10 -- really a remarkable accomplishment considering all the circumstances surrounding USC's 2011 season.

OregonUSC2. USC's No. 1 receiver: USC pass-catcher Robert Woods isn't fully healthy -- that much we know for sure. But what we'll see on the field Saturday is exactly how healthy he really is, and whether he can actually help the Trojans upset Oregon at Autzen Stadium. Lane Kiffin says he's 70 percent recovered from ankle and shoulder injuries that have bothered him, in one form or another, all season long, but Woods insists he's further along. Last week's game against Washington, when he had just two catches for five yards, indicated he wasn't feeling too great. Also, a corollary to this item: If Woods can't go or can't be at full strength, is there any possible way USC can still compete? Brice Butler would be the next in line to line up across from Marqise Lee, and he has had some success of late.

3. The conditions and the crowd: The snow some projected for this weekend in Eugene has been pushed back to Sunday, but, even now, projects a 50 percent chance of rain on Saturday and a high of 45 degrees. USC's had to play in some tough places this year -- windy Tempe, loud and cold South Bend and new Boulder -- but Autzen is likely to take the cake. In the Trojans' final road game of the year, expect 60,000 Duck fans to create by far the loudest experience yet of the 2011 season. Autzen only fits 54 thousand in seats, but Oregon filled it up well past its capacity last month against Arizona State, and it's likely the Ducks will do the same Saturday.

4. De'Anthony, Darron, Kenjon and LaMichael: Oregon has so many weapons. Any one of those four guys -- plus receiver Lavasier Tunei, really -- could be many teams' No. 1 offensive options. The Ducks have all of them, and Chip Kelly is sure to make good use of all his available players on the offensive end. LaMichael James, of course, is probably the biggest cause for concern from USC's perspective, but, as Kiffin said this week, the Trojans have to approach all of the Oregon runners in the same manner. They can't key in on James, because then De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner will go off. They can't key in on Thomas, because it's impossible to predict how he'll be used each week. And Thomas continues to quietly post solid numbers -- he has thrown fewer interceptions than both Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck this season.

5. The fourth quarter: All season, USC has talked up its supposed improvements in the final 15 minutes of games. We have seen signs of small improvements over the course of the year, but we've yet to see real, tangible evidence that the Trojans have fixed all that has ailed them in the past. As the fourth quarter began last season during the USC-Oregon game at the Coliseum, the Trojans were driving past midfield and on the verge of scoring a touchdown to put themselves within a field goal of the Ducks. Then they turned it over on downs and gave Oregon an easy field goal, and then, within another touchdown of making it a one-score game, Barkley was picked off by John Boyett in the red zone. Three minutes later, it was game and the final score (53-32) made it looked like Oregon had dominated the entire game. In reality, the Trojans weren't far away from making it very, very competitive.

First look: Oregon

November, 15, 2011
All year, USC coach Lane Kiffin has done a masterful job of hyping up each week's opponent for the Trojans, giving the best possible evaluation of the team the Trojans face on a weekly basis.

OregonUSCIt's an old coaching strategy, one many of the younger college football coaches in the country now employ exhaustively. The goal is to raise the potential reward for beating the team in questionand lower the risk for losing.

Kiffin, the Trojans' second-year coach, didn't have to do that so much against Oregon this week.

But he still tried.

"It's hard to argue that they're not the hottest team in the country right now," Kiffin said Sunday of the fourth-ranked Ducks.

His evidence? They've beaten every team they've faced this season -- save for LSU, of course -- by at least two touchdowns. They just beat then-No. 4 Stanford by 23 in Palo Alto. And their 13-point loss to LSU to start off the season was a tough scenario, taking place in a supposed neutral site that favored the Tigers and playing without the services of top special-teamer and cornerback Cliff Harris.

To date, that game is the only time Oregon running back LaMichael James hasn't gotten at least four yards per carry. Freshman running back DeAnthony Thomas, a longtime USC commit, fumbled on back-to-back touches in the third quarter, which changed the score of the game from 16-13 LSU to 30-13 LSU in a matter of minutes. The eventual final score was 40-27 LSU.

That was a weird day for the Ducks, Kiffin maintains -- and a bit of a fluke, looking back on it.

“They’re a very different team than they were on that day,” Kiffin said.

(Read full post)

Former USC commit Polk a star at UW

November, 9, 2011
It's funny how things work out sometimes.

When now-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian was an assistant at USC last decade, he recruited now-Washington running back Chris Polk heavily out of local Redlands East Valley High. Back then, Polk was a top-100 prospect, and he committed to USC to compete with Joe McKnight and Co. for carries in the Trojans' backfield, but he ended up going against the grain and choosing coach Tyrone Willingham and the down-on-their-luck Washington Huskies.

Then Willingham was fired after Polk's freshman season when the Huskies went 0-12, Sarkisian was hired after grooming Mark Sanchez into an NFL first-round selection, and soon Sarkisian was Polk's college coach.

And now the 5-11, 222-pound Polk, a fourth-year junior, is Sarkisian's biggest weapon as the third-year Washington coach attempts to pull off an upset over USC for the third straight season this Saturday at the Coliseum. Considered a potential first-round selection in the NFL draft, he's been flat-out dynamic this year, averaging more than 120 rushing yards and another 30-plus receiving yards per game. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards last month for the third time in his college career.

"He’s big and physical, and he’s really good in the passing game too," now-Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said this week. "So he’s really kind of the complete package."

Polk's stat lines the last two seasons against USC include 235 yards from scrimmage and a TD. He's proven to provide a tough challenge for the Trojans' defense, perhaps the toughest challenge over the last couple of years outside of LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers.

But USC is trying to keep it simple in devising a game plan to stop him this week, following what the Oregon Ducks did in holding him to 3.3 yards per carry in their 34-17 win over the Huskies last weekend.

"It's not real complicated," Kiffin said this week. "Tackle the guy really well and don't let him fall forward. Just look no further than what happened on Saturday night. Oregon tackled great the whole game.

"They swarmed to the ball, they tackled really well, they knocked the power back."

But, even then, Polk found a way to accumulate 114 yards out of the backfield. It's been almost a year since he's failed to reach the century mark in yards from scrimmage.

With him, it's more of a case of trying to limit his production than trying to make him completely unproductive -- and, of course, trying not to remember that he could very easily have been doing the same thing for the Trojans right now.

First look: California Bears, Thursday

October, 9, 2011
USC's struggles over the last few years of Pac-12 play don't really apply to the California Bears.

Jeff Tedford's squads, while consistently solid nationally and often a force in the conference, have just not been an issue for the Trojans of late. In 2008, USC shut down Cal's offense entirely and won 17-3. In 2009, the Trojans blew the Bears out, 30-3, in a game dedicated to Stafon Johnson, who had dropped a bench-press bar on his throat in the week leading up to it. And, last year, at the Coliseum, USC led 42-0 at halftime before pulling away with a comfortable 48-14 win.

Going back further, the Trojans haven't lost to Cal since a triple-overtime game in Berkeley in 2003, a game in which future Super Bowl-winner Aaron Rodgers was replaced in the second half becaise of poor play. The 2011 Bears starting signal-caller, Zach Maynard, has been replaced by a backup, Allan Bridgford, twice this season. But those appearances came later in the game, in one case because of an injury and in the other because of a blowout.

Maynard, a Buffalo transfer, has proven to have well-developed chemistry with his top two receivers in Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Running back Isi Sofele stepped right in for Shane Vereen, who left to the NFL, but the Bears defense has been the primary issue at fault for the team's 3-2 start.

Cal was 3-0 at first, after a trio of non-conference games. But Keith Price and Washington found a way to beat the Bears last month in Seattle, and then the Bears again struggled to keep up with Oregon last week in Eugene. The latest problem is the pass defense, especially now, with top corner Marc Anthony out for the foreseeable future and a true freshman, Stefan McClure, in for him.

With how much trouble USC's quarterback-receiver tandem of Matt Barkley and Robert Woods has caused some better defenses so far this year, it's not hard to imagine a situation where Woods surpasses 200 receiving yards on Thursday at AT&T Park.

Cal's run defense allowed a ton of yards (239) to Oregon's LaMichael James on Thursday, but that's not indicative of its normal play. Washington running back Chris Polk gained three yards a carry against the Bears in that Huskies win, and Fresno State's Robbie Rouse and Colorado's Rodney Stewart both ran the ball poorly earlier this year, too.

A Marc Tyler-dominated day is not likely for USC in what promises to be an unusual environment at AT&T Park, where only a handful of Trojans have played a football game previously.

A Barkley-to-Woods one is.

Taking advantage of a weakness

September, 29, 2011
Arizona, USC's opponent this Saturday, is a 1-3 team that probably is better than than record considering the quality of its opponents.

But the Wildcats do have one easily discernible weakness: They struggle defending the run.

In its last three games, Arizona has given up an average of 285 rushing yards per game, a ridiculously high number boosted by LaMichael James' record-setting 288-yard performance last week. But Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle had similar success too, gaining 7.4 yards per rush against the Wildcats' porous front seven.

But James, Taylor and Randle all have one thing in common: They're quick. USC's No. 1 running back, Marc Tyler, is not, as evidenced by his struggle to break most runs past the 15-yard mark. And that naturally lowers the Trojans' expectations for what they can accomplish against the Arizona defense.

"It is what it is," coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "You can’t all of a sudden make a guy really fast. We’re doing the best to put him in the best situations with his ability. Obviously you always want a home run hitter and a guy that last week on those runs has some explosive longer runs.

"We've just got to use what we have and make the best of him and find different ways to use him.”

(Read full post)

5 things to watch: USC-ASU

September, 23, 2011
1. The whole road thing: It's USC's first road game, and that's the focus of the week for the squad. Last week's focus -- it's all about us, not about Syracuse -- worked out well. Will this one? That depends on a few factors: (1) how a young offensive line responds to constant crowd noise at Sun Devil Stadium, (2) how freshmen linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard keep up against a sharp, smart quarterback and (3) how USC's young offensive targets Marqise Lee, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer do in a new environment. In general, the Trojans need to avoid rookie-type and mental mistakes, as Kiffin has preached all week. The problem is that they've been making those mistakes all year thus far. It doesn't matter how well the team plays in general if USC commits too many penalties. Those have a way of messing things up.

ASUUSC2. The Tempe temperature: projects it to be 99 degrees at kickoff and at least 87 until midnight. Compare that to USC's mid-70s temperatures for the Trojans' first three games. The heat is going to be a factor, as it'll likely force USC to use more substitutes than usual and rotate players in and out on a frequent basis. It could mean cramping and all that, but it could also mean Marc Tyler will get the chance to run over a run-down Sun Devils defense late in the game, just as he did in Tucson last year against Arizona. ASU also has a lot less depth on its defense than was expected heading into the year, with long-term injuries sidelining defensive end Junior Onyeali, linebacker Brandon Magee and cornerback Omar Bolden.

3. Barkley: USC's quarterback, junior Matt Barkley, hasn't had his best games against Arizona State in the past and actually had his worst-ever collegiate game in Tempe as a freshman, when he passed for only 112 yards while completing just 7-of-22 attempts. That game, he said this week, was "terrible." In retrospect, he said he didn't know if he was "sick," "tired," "lethargic," or "dead." The Trojans barely won that game, getting big boosts from former safety Will Harris and receiver Damian Williams, who boosted Barkley's passing totals with a 75-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.

4. Burfict: Is there a more exciting opposing player the Trojans will go against all year than ASU's Vontaze Burfict? Maybe Stanford's Andrew Luck or Oregon's LaMichael James -- that's really it. Burfict is a lightning bolt of a defender, a guy who tends to make things interesting. USC's players -- and coaches, actually -- have talked all week about the junior middle linebacker, trying to rile him up via the press so that he will presumably take action early on in the game and get called for a personal-foul penalty. Here's the thing, though: The Trojans might be just as likely as he is to get a foul called on them. Matt Kalil straight-up said he plans to drill Burfict.

5. A 6-8 quarterback: You know how it's fun to watch a top-flight offense go against a top-flight defense? That's sort of what this game will be like, only on a much more minute level. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is tall, very tall, and surprisingly mobile, which typically allows him to get off passes in unusual situations. But USC's defensive line is particularly adept at reaching up and knocking down passes at the line. Who will win this battle within the battle? The safe money's on the 6-8 Osweiler, but Nick Perry and Co. will put up a fight. And USC's defense will likely have some trouble with Osweiler all around, as the junior has made significant strides this year and posted a dominating performance two weeks back against Missouri.

DBs prepare for Gray and the spread

August, 31, 2011

What do USC's defensive backs have to prepare for against a team running a spread offense like Minnesota?

They have to be ready for deep balls, thrown early and thrown often. They have to be ready for the quarterback, MarQueis Gray, to cut broken plays short and take off running. They have to be ready for traditional run plays from tailbacks Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood.

Above all, they just have to be ready for everything. Jerry Kill likes to mix things up in his offense -- or, Kill liked to mix things up in his offense at Northern Illinois and probably will at Minnesota, too.

Still, the Trojans insist Saturday's game is all about execution and not at all about deception.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen before," sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said Wednesday, roughly an hour after he returned an interception for a touchdown during practice. "Everything's the same with the spread. They got athletes who do the same things that most athletes around here do.

"It's nothing surprising we're gonna see."

That's not an insult, you see. Because, for all the Trojans know as of right now, the Gophers really won't be doing anything different. In fact, they'll be doing a lot of what the Oregon Ducks do in the Pac-12 with the combination of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James.

(Read full post)

Questions for camp, No. 10: Barkley for Heisman?

August, 3, 2011
Only one day (!) remains until fall camp begins for the Trojans. We've been previewing the biggest questions that USC must answer in the month between camp and the season opener. Read the first nine questions here, covering such topics as freshmen on both side of the ball, position switches and recovering from unexpected.

The 10th, and final, question is this: Could junior quarterback Matt Barkley made a legitimate run for the Heisman Trophy in what very well might be his last season as a Trojan in 2011?

It's one of the best off-the-field storylines to follow in sports: the race for the Heisman Trophy. And it's even more interesting than usual for the Trojans and their fans this season, because it's likely that, in Barkley, USC will have a true competitor for the award for the first time in six years.

Barkley's not the favorite. That role goes to Stanford's Andrew Luck. But he's probably, at this point, somewhere in the bottom half of the top 10-candidates nationwide, behind Luck, Oregon's LaMichael James, Boise State's Kellen Moore and the two quarterbacks from the state of Oklahoma, Landry Jones and Brandon Weeden. Some would argue Auburn's Michael Dyer, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon are also in front of him.

But what would Barkley have to do this season to jump ahead of a few of those guys and make a serious run?

First, USC would need to have a very good, if not great, season. Any less than 10 wins, coupled with the lack of a bowl game, would eliminate him from consideration. He probably needs to lead the Trojans to an 11-1 or 12-0 season to really have a chance. He also needs to bring his interception total down from 12 to fewer than 10 and up his touchdown total at least to 30.

He also needs to have big games in USC's big games and lead an upset over Stanford or Oregon while hanging tough with each of those schools' candidates.

These conditions are demanding, and Barkley would have a much better chance if he were to stay for his senior season because of the bowl-game aspect and the extra year of experience. But that seems unlikely at this point. A good goal for this season, then, is to simply get to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation as one of four finalists.

The last Trojan to do so was Reggie Bush, in 2005, when he won the award with the most votes since O.J. Simpson in 1968. But Bush's honor has since been forfeited. The last Trojan to win the award who still remains in the record books is Matt Leinart in 2004.

As for competition on his own team, Barkley won't have to worry too much about splitting votes with any teammates. The closest thing to another candidate has is sophomore receiver/returner Robert Woods, who has nothing more than an extreme outside chance.

Barkley could easily get to New York. Winning the trophy would be a lot more difficult.

Football camp coverage begins Thursday.

First, first look: Oregon

July, 29, 2011
As the weeks count down until USC football fall camp begins on Aug. 4, we've been offering up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began back in May with Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse, continued the next three weeks with Arizona State, Arizona, and Cal and added Notre Dame, Stanford, Colorado and Washington recently. We now present Oregon, who the Trojans will play on the road on Saturday, Nov. 19:

History: Oregon has won seven of the last 11 games played between the schools, a period of dominance unmatched in the Ducks' history against the Trojans.

All-time, USC still leads the series 37-18-2. This is a matchup of, at this point, teams on opposite trajectories. Oregon is on the way up; USC is on the way down. Look at the last two head-to-head matchups -- Oregon 47, USC 20 and Oregon 53, USC 32 -- for evidence of that.

Of course, a game like this can help reverse things.

An interesting note about the schools' recent histories: Of the last seven Oregon-USC games, only one has been decided by 10 points or fewer -- and none by less than a touchdown. Five of the last six have also been won by the better-ranked team entering into the game.

Offense: Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are the stars, at quarterback and running back, respectively.

Thomas, a redshirt junior who played his first year and sat out his second, is a true talent who had a very, very good season as a first-year starter in 2010. Coach Chip Kelly didn't ask him to do too much, and he didn't try to. His touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was a healthy 30-to-9, and he was 17th nationally in passing efficiency. There's also, of course, his running ability -- he carried the ball 93 times for 486 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Oregon's running back corps is probably the best in the nation. James, also a redshirt junior, was a unanimous first-team All-American last season with more than 1700 yards rushing. Then there's Kenjon Barner, a dynamite returner who quietly accumulated 551 yards on the ground as a backup last year. The Ducks also add redshirt freshman Lache Seastrunk and true freshman DeAnthony Thomas into the mix, both five-star prospects out of high school who USC recruited heavily.

Oh, and then there's senior tight end David Paulson, an all-conference first-team pick. He was the Ducks' representative at Pac-12 media day last week.

But, hey, their two top receivers and three starting offensive linemen are gone, so it's not all a nightmare. Oregon will need production from junior college transfer receivers Lavasier Tuinei and Rahsaan Vaughn, plus sophomore Josh Huff, who had a 57-yard catch against the Trojans last season.

(Read full post)



C. Kessler361236296820
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46