USC: NCAA

Lunch links: Recalling Bloom vs. NCAA

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else.

USC's political imprisonment ends Tuesday

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
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video

USC officially will be done with NCAA sanctions on Tuesday, so the Los Angeles Times published a package this weekend looking back and projecting forward, talking to -- or getting turned down for interviews by -- some of the key players in the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the history of NCAA enforcement.

It's not inaccurate to say the NCAA's indefensible and farcical ruling against USC football is a notable part of the organization humiliating and entirely justified downward momentum over the past four or so years, both in terms of public perception and in the courtroom, as well as the movement for autonomy among the Big Five conferences.

The NCAA is incapable of fairly and consistently policing its member organizations. That's as good a reason as any to diminish its power.

From the Times:
As many of you know, I've ranted and raved about the USC case numerous times through the years -- such as this and this and this. While some have implied that the source of my strong feelings on the matter emerges from some sort of USC/Pac-12 bias, that's simply inaccurate. It's always been about facts and fairness. Truth is, it's been a pretty easy argument to win -- over and over again.

That said: This feels like a great week for the Pac-12 blog. I am weary of the whole mess. Too often it disturbed my typical Zen-like equilibrium.

USC has spent the last four years getting justifiably mad. The Trojans best course going forward is to get even.

Summer Pac-12 power rankings

May, 27, 2014
May 27
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While summer is considered the "offseason," we all know there is no offseason. Every Pac-12 team is either gaining -- or losing -- ground right now due to its focus and effort at getting better, both on a team and individual level.

So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?

Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).

1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.

3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?

4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.

5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."

6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.

7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.

8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?

9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.

10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.

11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.

12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.

Pac-12 spring meetings: Day 2 recap

May, 7, 2014
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PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

Lunch links: Rich Rod talks spring

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course ... would be to tread lightly.

NCAA won't penalize Tosh Lupoi, UW

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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The NCAA won't take any action against former Washington assistant coach Tosh Lupoi on accusations he paid $4,500 in cash for tutoring services and online classes for a Huskies recruit. That means Lupoi and two separate football programs let out a deep breath on Monday: Steve Sarkisian's former school (Washington) and present school (USC).

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesNew USC coach Steve Sarkisian can officially put the past behind him after the NCAA's latest ruling.
From the Seattle Times, which broke the story:
Tom Hosty, the NCAA’s Director of Enforcement, notified University of Washington President Michael Young in a formal letter delivered today that the NCAA has “now completed the inquiry into those matters” and that “the enforcement staff does not believe that further action is warranted” in the investigation.

First off, USC: How's it feel to get good news from the NCAA? Weird, huh?

For this is very good news for Sarkisian, ensconced in his new digs at USC. He was Lupoi's head coach at Washington, and the NCAA has new enforcement guidelines that are supposed to hold the head coach more accountable than in the past for the "rogue" actions of his assistants. If the NCAA had found that Lupoi had provided extra benefits to the recruit in question, former Lynnwood (Wash.) High defensive lineman Andrew Basham, Sarkisian could have been exposed to sanction himself.

The same goes for Washington, which is good news for new coach Chris Petersen and his staff.

And, obviously, this is good news for Lupoi, whose college coaching future was on the line. He released a statement on Twitter Monday night.

"I want to thank the NCAA and the UW for their professionalism and thoroughness during this investigation," he wrote. "I stated from the beginning that an honest and thorough investigation would clear my name, and prove these attacks against me were untrue. The results speak for themselves."

So this means all three parties under scrutiny can move on. Lupoi, who took a buyout from Washington and wasn't hired at USC because of these accusations, now needs to find a job. Widely considered an ace recruiter, it will be interesting to see if he's quickly grabbed by another college program or if he opts to seek an NFL job.

The problem for Lupoi, of course, is just getting accused of recruiting violations is often enough to make head coaches -- and athletic directors -- wary of hiring a guy. We shall see.

Then there's the alleged whistleblower Mike Davis, a track coach and advisor to Basham, who made the accusations to the NCAA, LA Times and Seattle Times. He told the newspapers he could document $4,500 in payments from Lupoi.

The Seattle Times reported "Davis and his wife met with a UW official and two NCAA investigators for a combined five hours in Seattle on Dec. 20, two days after the allegations first surfaced in a Los Angeles Times report." It appears, however, that Davis was unable to produce compelling evidence beyond his inflammatory accusation.

So, barring the unlikely event that new evidence is produced, Lupoi, USC and Washington can tip their caps at each other and go their separate ways, (mostly) no worse from the NCAA wear and tear.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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The Pac-12 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. So in the spirit of the Halloween weekend ...

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks rocked Tennessee, 59-14, in the "biggest debacle of the season."
Rising from the dead: Oregon State surely was headed for the slag heap after it opened with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. The defense looked AWFUL. Fire Mark Banker! Fire Mark Banker! Panic in the streets of Corvallis! After all, we'd seen this before.The Beavers opened with a loss to Sacramento State in 2011 and then meandered to a woeful 3-9 finish. But the Beavers dusted themselves off and surged to six consecutive wins. Last weekend, they extended Stanford until the waning moments before falling 20-12. With QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks fronting the nation's best passing offense, Oregon State remains a threat in the North Division.

Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.

Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.

Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."

House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.

Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Halloween costumes

Kiffin just never looked the part at USC

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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The problem with coaching USC is you're coaching USC. If you don't really understand what that means, then you're doomed to fail.

That's the lesson learned by Lane Kiffin, who was fired shortly after the team's charter flight landed in Los Angeles early Sunday morning after his team's 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the school announced before any reporter could claim the news story prize.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsLane Kiffin could never quite live up to USC's lofty expectations.
Kiffin went 28-15 in three-plus years while the Trojans were buried under difficult NCAA sanctions, but the key span is the past 11 games. He lost seven of those, essentially starting a downturn just after folks started to wonder if he actually might be a good coach.

If you can recall USC in December 2011, the Trojans were coming off an impressive 10-2 season that included a win at Oregon. Quarterback Matt Barkley shocked many when he announced in front of a strategically placed Christmas tree during a Heritage Hall news conference that he would return for his senior season to take care of "unfinished business."

That, of course, meant a Pac-12 and national title.

The Trojans headed into the 2012 offseason overbrimming with talent and expectations. They were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll. Yet, little thereafter went well. And that falls, not unfairly, on Kiffin.

He just never seemed capable of getting out of his own way and just coaching his collection of athletes, which in just about every case were more physically talented than the guys on the other side of the field.

Did USC have depth issues due to scholarship reductions? Sure. But that didn't change the fact that the area where USC consistently seemed to be most lacking was coaching, in terms of preparation, motivation and execution. And the offensive play calling, which Kiffin refused to give up despite pointed criticism, was fundamentally flawed in one simple way: The plays Kiffin called more often than not didn't work.

He too often tried to be clever or tricky. He also seemed to react poorly when things weren't going well. An early sack or turnover would seemingly spook him into an overly conservative plan. His complicated schemes seemed simplistic and predictable in execution compared to simpler schemes from other Pac-12 programs that seemed more imaginative and effective.

Further, USC had been eclipsed not only in the Pac-12 by Oregon and Stanford, it also had lost ground to its previously struggling rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Trojans fans are demanding as a whole, but losing to the Bruins and Fighting Irish is a deal-breaker.

Kiffin was most consistent as a recruiter, even with scholarship limitations. But the downturn even caught up with that. The Trojans presently have only seven commitments, and they are not ranked among the nation's top 40 classes.

USC remains one of the nation's best college coaching jobs. The high school talent in the surrounding area is among the best in the country. The school also has the resources to make the next coach among the nation's highest paid.

Athletic director Pat Haden likely decided to make a decisive move now so he could get a head start on his search. No sense in allowing the ship to continue to sink. He'll immediately start getting back-door feelers from NFL and college head coaches and top assistants -- many probably already have made inquiries. Lots of names will circulate, from Boise State's Chris Petersen, to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, to Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Kiffin was unquestionably burdened with tougher circumstances than many coaches who take over college football superpowers. Yet such an explanation only goes so far in this win-now age.

While he flickered potential during the 2011 season, his ultimate downfall was this: His teams never consistently looked like USC should. And he never consistently looked like a guy who should be fronting USC.

USC asks for justice from NCAA

September, 26, 2013
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USC is making one last run at the NCAA, hoping the organization that crushed it with severe sanctions in June of 2010 will finally aspire toward some degree of belated justice.

But don't hold your breath.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Victor Decolongon/Getty ImagesUSC AD Pat Haden is smart to appeal to the NCAA for reductions, but that's doesn't mean it will happen.
Athletic director Pat Haden released a statement Thursday saying he and USC's vice president for compliance Dave Roberts spent the last two days in Indianapolis meeting with NCAA officials, including NCAA President Mark Emmert.

The meeting had been scheduled weeks earlier, so it was purely serendipitous that it coincided with the NCAA's extraordinary decision to reduce previous sanctions against Penn State due to good behavior.

Still, Haden, who's been criticized for not going after the NCAA's poorly reasoned and factually challenged judgment against USC, saw an opportunity and at least wanted to score a public relations point with his frustrated fans.

Noted Haden in the statement, "We felt compelled to discuss USC's sanctions in a new light. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I believe the penalties imposed on our football program in 2010 were unprecedented and inconsistent with NCAA precedent in prior cases."

Haden then said he and Roberts "argued for some consideration regarding the 2010 sanctions during the last year of our penalty."

Meaning Haden is asking the NCAA to restore some scholarships to USC that it can use for the 2014 recruiting class, which has been docked 10 scholarships from a typical class of 25.

Haden concluded, "After candid discussions, the NCAA asked us to provide additional information and indicated it would study our suggestions. Because time is of the essence regarding these issues, we have asked for the NCAA's response as soon as practical."

The problem here is Penn State's situation was a special case, one that allowed the NCAA to both punish and then show newfound mercy outside the bounds of its typical process. Yes, the NCAA made up the rules as it went along with Penn State, which allows plenty flexibility for an organization that prides itself on being just the opposite.

With USC, the NCAA would have to make an unprecedented reversal of long-accepted processes. USC already failed with two appeals. If Emmert were to take executive action, it would be a slap in the face to the members of the Committee on Infractions who handed down the ruling against the Trojans.

That the COI, which was chaired by the late Paul Dee, athletic director at Miami and good buddy with jailed super booster/shyster Nevin Shapiro, from the USC case deserves a slap in the face is probably not relevant, even if it should be.

Still, maybe there is some leeway for justice. If Emmert merely read USC's appeal, it would be impossible for him -- or any other objective reader -- not to recognize the compelling strength of USC's position.

But, again, don't hold your breath.

 

Kiffin on new NCAA enforcement plans

October, 30, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said he was somewhat familiar with new legislation adopted Tuesday by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, intended to make football and basketball coaches more accountable for mistakes made by their assistants.

A new four-tier penalty system opens up more possible penalties and directly punishes head coaches who have any knowledge of violations committed by those on their staff. In the past, only major and secondary violations were available, and head coaches often escaped punishments in secondary-violation situations.

"Those have been in discussion for a long time," Kiffin said when asked about the new legislation Tuesday. "I think that what it came down to is people were tired of an assistant coach doing something and an assistant coach being the one punished."

Kiffin said he did not have a particularly strong opinion on the topic, although he appeared to lean against it.

"It is what it is," he said. "I just think it's the responsibility ... you're the head coach and it's hard to know what everybody's doing, just like it's hard to know what your players are doing or the relatives are doing or the things we've discussed before.

"If those are the rules, then those are the rules. They come with the job."

The document calls head coaches responsible for several types of violations "unless the coach can show that he or she promoted an atmosphere of compliance and monitored his or her staff."

USC athletic director Pat Haden said it will require coaches to take more responsibility for the actions of their assistants.

"It's a tougher penalty structure, there's no doubt about it," Haden told USA Today, which first reported on the changes last week. "The point is, for head coaches -- and this goes for any sport -- you have this responsibility. You need to be constantly vigilant and you need to be constantly coaching your coaches about how important it is to play by the rules."

Haden was part of the group of athletic officials who worked on the legislation before its adoption.

Oregon poised to remove USC as top power

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
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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?"

Barkley, Kiffin still searching for answers

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
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Matt Barkley Steven Bisig/US PresswireUSC won at Washington on Saturday, but Matt Barkley had a rather rough outing at quarterback.

SEATTLE -- Matt Barkley stood outside the visiting locker room at CenturyLink Field, took off his navy blue and silver USC hat, and rubbed his head as he tried to make sense of USC's latest win that produced more questions than it did answers about the direction of the team and their quarterback.

Barkley didn't look like the quarterback of a team that had just won because his final stat line didn't look like that of a quarterback or team that had just won.

He finished the game completing just 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards and had one touchdown and one interception. He completed only 3 of 10 passes in the second half and USC was only 2 of 12 on third-down conversions, opting to run on third and long throughout the game instead of putting the ball in Barkley's hands. Barkley also was sacked five times, including once on fourth down late in the game.

"It's just the little things like you saw last week with the penalties and being undisciplined," Barkley said. "If we play undisciplined football like that we're not going to have a blowout football game, it's going to be close. Those are things that we need to fix in terms of stalling drives and putting ourselves in second-and-long and third-and-long situations. If we correct those things, we'll be fine."

Lane Kiffin and Barkley have been trying to "correct those things" on offense for the past six weeks now. While USC finished the first half of the season at 5-1, there's no question the Trojans would probably be 6-0, in the driver's seat for the BCS national championship game and Barkley would still be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy if they had corrected those mistakes long ago.

Instead, those same mistakes continue to rear their ugly head every week, leaving players and coaches to sound like a broken record when talking about what's wrong with the team.

Perhaps the scariest mantra coming out of USC's locker room now is that the Trojans don't care about style, stats and substance anymore as long as they simply win the game.

"I continue to remind myself that there's one goal and that's to win the game," Kiffin said. "Are the numbers what we're used to? No, but we won. If you remember [against Stanford] when we went on the road, we weren't sitting here with a win so, yeah, we played conservative when we got a lead. We said it all along. This isn't about anybody's numbers or a Heisman or any of that. It's about winning games and we did the best thing to win today."

If USC's goal is still to win the national championship, numbers should and do matter.

Let's not forget that the national championship game in college football (until we get a four-team playoff in 2014) is still very much a beauty pageant if there are not two undefeated teams at the end of the season.

Kiffin could have adopted his old friend Al Davis' "Just win, baby" attitude if USC hadn't stumbled against Stanford. Now, USC has to not only win but look good doing it if they are going to be the top-ranked one-loss team. They're already behind one-loss LSU and will likely be behind one-loss Oklahoma when the new polls come out, and both of those teams lost after USC.

(Read full post)

Kiffin: Crowd noise won't be a factor

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
2:17
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans went through the final on-campus practice Thursday before boarding buses for their flight to New Jersey for Saturday’s game against Syracuse.

While it will be USC ’s first road game of the season, the fact that it is to be played at MetLife Stadium -- home of the New York Giants and Jets -- and not at the Carrier Dome on Syracuse’s campus will make the crowd noise far less of a factor than normal for USC road games.

“Normally it takes out the crowd factor because the crowd’s mixed,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I would think in this one there would be more Syracuse than USC [fans], but you’ll also have another third that’s going to the game just for the event, not for one side. So I wouldn’t think crowd noise would be a factor.”

Three years ago Syracuse announced a deal with MetLife Stadium to play USC this season, Penn State in 2013 and Notre Dame in 2014 and 2016 at the venue, as well as 10 additional football games to be scheduled at the East Rutherford, N.J., facility between 2019 and 2038.

USC has tried to drum up support for the team in New York leading up to the game by purchasing electronic signage in Times Square and tweeting out the hashtag #WePlayBroadway. The USC Trojan Marching Band also will conduct a live performance in Times Square on Friday.

On Friday at MetLife Stadium, Kiffin will lead the Trojans in what will be his first walk-through as a USC coach. He said the extra day and close proximity from the team’s hotel to the stadium made it an easy choice and will keep the team focused the day before the game.

The significance of playing at MetLife Stadium and getting exposure in New York, however, was downplayed by Kiffin, who said it might be significant to everyone else but his team.

“I think for our fans, for our players’ families, for our university [that’s important],” Kiffin said. “Not for us. I don’t even know if these kids know for sure where they’re playing. This is about the 11 guys out there executing really well, and we plan on doing that.”

No room for error for the Trojans

July, 28, 2012
7/28/12
3:43
PM PT
It’s easy to see why USC comes into this college football season as the No. 1 team in the nation but there are several stumbling blocks on the road to a national championship and this week we take a look at five key concerns for the Trojans.

The goal for USC coming into this season is to go undefeated. That’s nothing earth shattering. But if they hope to play for the national championship at the end of the season, going undefeated isn’t simply a goal, it’s a requirement.

History shows that teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 can suffer a loss and still make it to the BCS national championship game. That same room for error, however, is not afforded to teams in the former Pac-10 and current Pac-12.

A Pac-12 team has played in the BCS title game only three times and each time that team was undefeated. There should have been other appearances for the conference, but teams were not able to overcome an early season loss. In 2001, Oregon was ranked second in the AP poll but was bypassed by Nebraska, which was blown out by Colorado, 62-36, in their final regular-season game and didn’t even play in their conference title game. In 2003, USC was ranked first in both the AP and coaches poll but was bypassed by Oklahoma and LSU, even though Oklahoma was blown out, 35-7, in their conference title game.

One of USC’s most dominant teams and easily the best defense then-coach Pete Carroll had was the 2008 team, which was unable to overcome one bad half after a 27-21 loss to Oregon State in Week 3. That team came into that game ranked No. 1 and despite holding 10 of its 12 opponents to 10 points or fewer that season; they were never able to crack the top four again after their bad first half in Corvallis.

Quite simply, if USC wants to play for the national championship they cannot afford to have a bad half or a close loss. Teams in the SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 may be able to get away with that, but USC will not be afforded the same benefit of the doubt.

It won’t be easy. Only two teams in the BCS era and 10 teams since 1950 have begun the season atop the AP preseason poll and finished the season in that spot. The most recent team to accomplish this feat was USC in 2004.

Getting defensive on the line

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
11:02
AM PT
It’s easy to see why USC comes into this college football season as the No. 1 team in the nation but there are several stumbling blocks on the road to a national championship and this week we take a look at five key concerns for the Trojans.

Even before senior defensive lineman Devon Kennard suffered a tear of his pectoral muscle that could sideline him for an extended period of time, the defensive line was a major concern for USC heading into this season.

The defensive line suffered the most losses of any position unit from last season, losing three starters in Nick Perry, Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris. If Kennard is forced to sit out this season, USC will basically have to go into this season with a completely new defensive line.

“Defensive line and defensive tackle is a concern,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “There are not many guys that have played. We have to get our defensive linemen who have not played to have a great camp. We have to develop depth if we’re going to be successful this year because you better rotate guys in there as you go along.”

Even before their losses on the defensive line, USC’s defense wasn’t quite as dominating as they were in years past last season. According to this ESPN Insider piece by Brian Fremeau, USC forced three-and-outs on only 32 percent of opponent drives last year, which was the 70th-best rate in the nation; all 10 BCS bowl team defenses last season were better at getting opponent offenses off the field quickly.

If Kennard misses significant time, a trio of unproven players would battle for his starting job. Redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr., redshirt junior Kevin Greene and true freshman Leonard Williams, who have zero combined starts between them, would all likely be in the mix.

The defensive line, especially the interior, was already going to be young and inexperienced at full strength. Kennard and senior defensive end Wes Horton have combined for 40 starts in their career. The next most experienced lineman is redshirt sophomore defensive lineman George Uko, who has just two career starts. Uko and sophomore J.R. Tavai, who has never started, are slated to replace Tupou and Harris on interior line.

Kiffin admits he and his coaching staff haven’t developed the kind of depth he would like on the defensive line, mainly due to the scholarship restrictions that forced him to redshirt players and also due to a change in college football offenses.

“I don’t think we’ve done a great job developing depth,” Kiffin said. “We’ve got to do that. We’ve been doing a better job from year one to year two. But defenses in college have changed. In our great days before we didn’t rotate very much because the offenses weren’t up tempo and we were so good we were three-and-out a lot. So a lot has changed.”

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