NCF Nation: Hawaii Warriors

Chris Petersen's first game-week news conference for the Washington Huskies on Monday was unremarkable, which was imminently predictable and the way he wanted it. His predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, now at USC, was effusive and quotable, sometimes even revealing. Petersen aspires toward affably dry. He's not going to open up about his sentiments as he makes what is a potentially momentous transition into the big leagues.

He didn't provide any deep thoughts about what it might feel like to take the field at Hawaii on Saturday leading Washington instead of Boise State, where he experienced incredible success and became a fixture, a nationally respected figure, a two-time national coach of the year celebrated for getting less talented players to consistently beat college football's big boys.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen said coaching in the spotlight of the Pac-12 won't change his demeanor.
Yes, he is excited, as he has been for every season opener he's experienced. No, he's not looking back nostalgically over how far he's come, nor looking forward eagerly to where he might go. One suspects he doesn't pour out his emotional thoughts and concerns into a diary every night before going to bed.

The angst-inducing competition of the Pac-12? Sparkling, overflowing Husky Stadium? Big-time pressure? The ever-present shadow of Don James, his one and only benchmark? Whatever. To Petersen, it's football and nothing more, his version of Nick Saban's mighty "The Process."

A momentous transition? Baah. You ask Petersen if this present moment is special or big for him, he swats the idea aside.

"No bigger than any other year," he said. "They are all big. Like I told you guys way back when I first started coaching in front of 300 fans, I had the same exact feelings. It doesn’t change. You’re competitive. You want to do your best for your guys. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re on, where you’re at. My focus never changes on that.”

That sort of thinking comes out of the many business and leadership books and articles Petersen has digested through the years: Simplify the task at hand to what it truly is and ignore all that is extraneous. Media and fans may overlay seasons and games with epic meaning but that's just frosting on a cake. Petersen only sees a football team he's preparing for a football game and when he's done Saturday it will be the same thing the next week. And so on.

Yet I will 100 percent guarantee you that Petersen's brain has considered the notion of personal legacy. While he's resistant to it -- particularly talking about it -- and probably good at blocking out such thinking as something that is detrimental to his moment-to-moment and day-to-day mental process, he knows that there's a historical ledger kept on college coaches.

He knows that if he wins big at Washington, he'll become a Hall of Fame coach, a guy who is remembered. A statue guy. A bronze bust guy. Like James.

Again, he's not dwelling on that, but it undoubtedly was part of his contemplation when he started chatting with Washington AD Scott Woodward about replacing Sarkisian. If Petersen wasn't interested in challenging himself, in advancing himself, in aspiring toward something he couldn't do at Boise State, he wouldn't have taken the job. Petersen accepted a brighter spotlight, which he hates, to have a chance to win it all.

There is nothing wrong with ambition, and Huskies fans should be giddy that Petersen, while probably not as flushed with it as Saban or Urban Meyer, is now accommodating his own. For the proverbial "next step" at Washington is all about championships, Pac-12 and otherwise. The way things have gone of late in this conference, you win the first, the national stuff will take care of itself.

Sarkisian took an 0-12 team and made it a top-25 team that finished 9-4. So for a team to improve on 9-4, it posts double-digit wins, right? It goes from No. 25 to No. 15. Or higher. And so on.

That next step for Petersen means eclipsing Oregon and Stanford in the North Division. Then it means winning the Pac-12. At that point, eyeballs will be firmly affixed to something like what happened in 1991. Yeah, the whole thing. It's not unrealistic. It's happened before, and Petersen arrives as a guy with an impeccable coaching resume, better even that what James had when he went west from Kent State.

Petersen isn't going to go 92-12 over the next eight seasons and match his Boise State record, but the reasonable expectation is he will build Washington into a Pac-12 power. Again.

And if he falls short, if the Huskies don't advance in the North, don't move up in the top 25? That, too, would be reflect upon his coaching legacy, which would end up good but not great.

So call it an overly dramatic media play if you want, but Petersen at Washington is momentous. It's about a very good coach measuring himself for greatness. It will be interesting to see if he ends up with that statue.
HONOLULU -- It was over when: USC safety Josh Shaw intercepted a Taylor Graham pass in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown to make the score 17-5 in favor of the Trojans. USC had also intercepted Graham on the previous series, which led to a Cody Kessler touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. The Trojans didn’t allow Hawaii to score after the Shaw interception until a late touchdown and cruised to the 30-13 victory.

Game ball: Clancy Pendergast. The Trojans were hoping for instant improvement on defense with their new coordinator and they certainly got it in this game. The Trojans attacked from every angle to pressure Graham and swarm the Hawaii ballcarriers. The results showed in the stats; four turnovers, seven sacks and limiting the Warriors to 23 rushing yards on 31 attempts.

Stat of the game: The four interceptions by Graham. Hawaii did a good job of keeping USC's offense in check early in the game but the Warriors' offense was unable to capitalize in large part due to the picks. The Trojans scored 18 points off the interceptions, which turned out to be the key difference in the game.

Unsung hero: Dion Bailey. The former linebacker moved back to his high school position of safety in USC's new defensive scheme and the results were productive in the first game. Bailey had a sack on the opening play of the game, added a third-quarter interception deep in USC territory and led the team in tackles.

What USC learned: That there is work to be done on offense, particularly on the offensive line. There was an increased commitment to running the football -- USC ran the ball 45 times -- but if you take away three long runs of more than 20 yards they gained only 112 yards on the remaining 42 carries. The Trojans also converted just three of 14 third-down conversions.

What Hawaii learned: That there is also work to be done for the Warriors on offense. Norm Chow came to Hawaii with a well-deserved reputation as an offensive mind but his defense was the only reason Hawaii was able to keep this game as close as it was. The Warriors were basically even with the Trojans in total plays (USC 74, UH 72) so there was opportunity to do some damage but the offense was limited to a single field goal until a touchdown pass in the final minute.

Video: USC auditioning QBs

August, 27, 2013

Brett McMurphy and Danny Kanell discuss Lane Kiffin's comments about using both Max Wittek and Cody Kessler in USC's opener against Hawaii.

USC needs to win pretty

September, 5, 2012
After inspecting film of USC's 49-10 win against Hawaii, coach Lane Kiffin lamented some "normal first-game sloppiness" and was unhappy with his inconsistent offensive line play, which surprised him after the line was sharp in preseason camp.

But an area that surely caused him to raise a worried eyebrow was the struggles at the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey. With Torin Harris out with an injury -- one of three defensive starters who didn't play against the Warriors -- Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham and Kevon Seymour were beaten a number of times.

Truth is, it wasn't a big deal against a green Hawaii offense adopting a new scheme. USC had two interceptions and allowed only 208 passing yards. But it could be a big deal Saturday against Syracuse in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellTrojans coach Lane Kiffin knows his team must play better against Syracuse than it did in its opener.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib put up huge numbers in the Orange's nail-biting, 42-41 loss to Northwestern. He completed 44 of 65 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, with all the touchdowns coming in the second half. He also rushed for 30 yards.

"Their quarterback made a ton of plays," Kiffin said.

USC pounded Syracuse 38-17 last season, and the Orange welcome back only 12 starters. They are again picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East. But it's difficult to scoff at 596 yards gained against a major conference foe.

Kiffin admitted that his defense "didn't get tested a lot" against Hawaii. That could change against Syracuse.

Although the Trojans are overwhelming favorites, they also are in a beauty contest at the top of the polls. All wins are not equal. The Trojans need to win impressively to impress voters.

Consider that they fell from No. 1 to No. 2 behind Alabama after the Crimson Tide stomped Michigan. That seems reasonable, seeing that Hawaii is mediocre to bad and Michigan was ranked No. 8, but the Trojans are the first No. 1 team to drop in the AP poll after winning a game by 35-plus points since Penn State in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So surrendering a bunch of yards and points against Nassib and allowing Syracuse to hang around late in the second half could further hurt USC's standing. Don't think that matters? It will if pollsters and computers are trying to make distinctions in December between multiple unbeaten and one-loss teams. Recall: The BCS still yokes college football for two more seasons.

One way the Trojans can keep Nassib in check is by keeping him and the Orange's up-tempo, no-huddle offense on the sideline. The best way to do that is to run the ball. Although the Trojans piled up some nice passing numbers against Hawaii, the running game sputtered with just 81 yards at 3.5 per carry. Last year's starting tailback, Curtis McNeal, got only five carries, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd got nine.

Kiffin said that didn't indicate a change in the backfield pecking order.

"That wasn't on purpose," Kiffin said.

The Trojans probably aren't on upset alert. But when you're in the national championship chase, it's not only about winning it's about winning pretty. So it's important for "first-game sloppiness" to transform into second-game efficiency and dominance.

Video: USC's Monte Kiffin

September, 2, 2012

USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin talks about the Trojans' 49-10 victory over Hawaii.

Video: USC QB Matt Barkley

September, 2, 2012

USC quarterback Matt Barkley talks about the Trojans' season-opening 49-10 victory over Hawaii.

Lee outshines Barkley in USC win

September, 2, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- USC quarterback Matt Barkley earned only second billing in the Trojans' 49-10 victory over Hawaii on Saturday. That the Heisman Trophy favorite isn't the lead story after passing for 351 yards and four touchdowns means somebody did something special.

That would be receiver Marqise Lee. He took the first pass of the game -- a short out route -- and went 75 yards for a score. And that wasn't as spectacular as his 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Lee finished with 191 yards receiving on 10 receptions and perhaps joined Barkley on at least a couple of Heisman lists.

Not that Lee, a true sophomore, is angling to get on the Heisman radar.

"Naaah," he said. "I give that all to Matt. Just the fact of him coming back [for his senior season]. He's a great quarterback. He's the reason I'm getting all those balls. He's putting it right on the money."

Barkley and Lee have been making beautiful music together for a bit now. This is Lee's third consecutive game with more than 185 yards receiving, and his 602 yards receiving against Oregon, UCLA and Hawaii is the best three-game receiving stretch in school history.

When All-American Robert Woods was banged up last season, Lee stepped up. Now Lee looks like the Trojans' No. 1 option, something coach Lane Kiffin has talked openly about.

"He'll be one of the best ever when it's all said and done," Kiffin said.

If that sounds like Kiffin is puffing up his players with hyperbole, he certainly wasn't gushing about Lee's performance against Hawaii specifically. When asked whether Lee validated some of the plaudits Kiffin had been handing out during preseason practices, Kiffin replied, "He didn't with the two drops in the first half. Those were critical plays."

Lee failed to haul in a deep pass from Barkley that was perfectly thrown and dropped a 2-point conversion. Those were not good plays, and Lee admitted as much himself. But, oh boy, Lee certainly made some others.

Lee, a 6-foot, 195-pound speedster from down the road in Inglewood, has great vision and has the ability to make defenders miss with an economy of moves. He doesn't jitterbug. He cuts and goes, piling up yards after the catch on most of his touches.

He might not displace Barkley atop Heisman lists, but he might challenge Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas as the Pac-12's -- the nation's -- most electric player.

Further, Lee is stronger than last season. He gets yards after the catch and yards after contact.

"The first guy rarely ever tackles him," Kiffin said.

Still, the postgame theme from Kiffin and his players was dissatisfaction, at least with the offensive performance.

"Our expectations are higher than the way we played today," Kiffin said.

Barkley termed the game "bittersweet" because he felt the offense missed plays that were open. "We could have put a lot more points on the board," he said.

Barkley even got on Lee in the third quarter when Lee cut short a route and Barkley took a hit as a result.

"You expect perfection," Barkley said. "It's nothing personal."

Not personal. Business. Part of the whole "unfinished business" deal.

While it wasn't perfect, USC's dominant win was impressive, a solid way to begin a season with stratospheric expectations. And it certainly made clear that the Trojans are more than a one-star constellation. On opening night, Lee's star burned the brightest.

Instant analysis: USC 49, Hawaii 10

September, 1, 2012

The USC Trojans, who opened the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, showed why many consider them the best team in the country with a 49-10 thrashing of Hawaii. Here's how it all went down at the Coliseum.

It was over when: Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods all decided they'd get out of bed this morning. Barkley and Lee hooked up for a 75-yard touchdown on USC's first offensive play and the Trojans never looked back.

Game ball goes to: Take your pick among that trio. But we'll go with Lee and his 10 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. He also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Unsung hero: Making his USC debut, running back Silas Redd, a transfer from Penn State, carried nine times for 57 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-2.

Unsung hero, take 2: USC linebacker Hayes Pullard was beastly. On top of his hard hits, he also had a pick-six late in the first quarter.

Heisman watch: Barkley entered the season as the front-runner and didn't disappoint. He missed on a couple of balls and there were some drops. But overall a pretty good night: 24-of-39, 351 yards and four touchdowns.

What it means: Probably not much at this point. Most people expected USC would cruise against Hawaii. It wasn't as clean as it could have been. There were some dropped balls and Redd did lose a fumble, so there are some negative plays the Trojans can go back and scrutinize. But USC didn't stub its toe, nor did the Trojans give the people who voted them No. 1 any reason to doubt their selection.

USC ready to start title run

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC is back as the Big Show, as a premier football program that features All-Americans, high rankings and national title hopes.

At least, that's been the big talk all summer. Really, it started last December when QB Matt Barkley stood in front of a Christmas Tree inside Heritage Hall and first spoke of "unfinished business."

His returning to a 10-2 team that finished ranked sixth with 18 other starters coming back made the Trojans a vogue favorite to knock the SEC from its perch atop college football.

It also made Barkley the heavy preseason Heisman Trophy favorite. And forced more than a few folks to reconsider some of their previously negative opinions about coach Lane Kiffin.

But now toe-meets-leather, the games begin and USC either takes care of business or flops. Because, as ridiculous as it might sound for a team with just 75 scholarship players, anything less than a Rose Bowl berth would seem like a failure. Heck, some might say it's national title or bust.

It begins this evening against Hawaii, which should be completely overmatched. So success in the opener is defined by a blowout and starters sitting out the fourth quarter.

Of course, new Warriors coach Norm Chow, the former offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, would love to stick it to the Trojans, or at least make life difficult for them. He's not a huge fan of how he was pushed aside at USC, and he's long held a grudge against Kiffin and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over for him in 2005.

So what to look for if the scoreboard holds little intrigue?
  • The stat sheet: If Barkley is going to win the Heisman, he'll need numbers. So expect him to attack with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
  • The RBs: How will Kiffin split time between Curtis McNeal, his returning starter, and Silas Redd, a high-profile transfer from Penn State?
  • The DL: The Trojans' only real question mark -- other than overall depth -- is the defensive line, which was replacing three starters even before Devon Kennard was lost to a pec injury. The Warriors are rebuilding on the offensive line, so the Trojans should win the upfront battle. If they don't, that should inspire some concern.
  • The wounded: USC won't win a national championship if it suffers more than a small handful of injuries. It needs to stay healthy because of the scholarship limitations. And, yes, the D-line is the place it can least afford to lose guys.

While this game won't make much of a big picture statement -- unless the Trojans implode -- it will set the scene for the season. Is USC again the Big Show? Is it ready to party like it's 2002-08 again?

We shall see shortly.
In case you haven't noticed, we've got a bit of a theme going on this week -- important games in the Pac-12. Obviously, everyone is circling the Nov. 3 showdown between USC and Oregon in Los Angeles. But there are other games to enjoy along the way. So this week we're looking at games we're most excited about.

Ted Miller: I like measuring-stick games, games that perhaps reveal the talent and heart of a team, as well as, of course, where they rank in the Pac-12 pecking order. We have a perfect example Sept. 27 (a Thursday) in Seattle: Stanford's visit to Washington, which will be played in CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks' stadium.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesStanford has trampled Washington in recent seasons; the Huskies can turn the tide Sept. 27.
The obvious measure of this game's importance is this: The winner steps up in the Pac-12 North Division pecking order, the loser steps back. The winner can imagine challenging Oregon for the division title, while the loser's attention likely turns to more attainable quarry. But it's more than that. For one, it's likely both teams already will have suffered a defeat. The Huskies visit LSU on Sept. 8, while Stanford hosts USC on Sept. 15. Those opponents likely will rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation. This game, therefore, can serve to redirect one team's early-season trajectory. It's much better to head into October with one loss than with two.

For Stanford, this is about announcing the program's health in the post-Andrew Luck Era. Beating the Huskies on the road likely would re-establish the Cardinal as a top-25 team, where, based on the schedule, they could remain all season.

But, really, the weight falls more heavily on Washington. Why? For one, Stanford has beaten the Huskies four games in a row. But that's not the biggest issue. It's not even that the three most recent games have been blowouts. It's the nature of those blowouts. Stanford has unmanned Washington during that winning streak. Huskies fans, cover your eyes. You don't want to read this. Stanford has averaged 322 yards rushing in those four victories. 322! Last year, the Cardinal set a school record with 446 yards rushing in a 65-21 victory. The Cardinal only had 278 in 2010, but, of course, the final count was 41-zip. At Husky Stadium!

It hurts to lose no matter what. And it hurts to get blown out. But for a football team to get physically manhandled ... that's humiliation. It's hard to describe the recent turn in this series any other way. The Huskies' pride is on the line. New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was brought in to make sure no opponent rushes for 322 yards against Washington. It will be interesting to see if he can deliver in this early conference test. Or if post-Luck Stanford keeps churning along, winning with character and cruelty.

Kevin Gemmell: I too enjoy a good measuring-stick game -- and I don't think there is a bigger one early in the season than USC's trip to Utah on Oct. 4. First, it's a Thursday night game, which means a national TV audience. It's at Rice-Eccles Stadium -- one of my favorite venues -- and the place should be going crazy.

[+] EnlargeUSC Trojans, Utah Utes
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PRESSWIREThe Oct. 4 visit from USC gives Utah a chance to prove it belongs in the Pac-12 elite.
For the sake of argument, I'm going to work off the assumption that both USC and Utah are 4-0 heading into this game. If any Hawaii, Syracuse, Stanford, Cal, Northern Colorado, Utah State, Brigham Young or Arizona State fans take exception to that argument, I know Ted would love to hear about it in his mailbag.

In terms of measuring-stick games, there is none bigger on the 2012 schedule than this one for Utah -- which is desperate to find its way into the conversation as one of the Pac-12's elite. A victory over the Trojans -- who presumably will be one of the top-ranked teams in the country (if not No. 1) on Oct. 4 -- would go a long way toward achieving that.

Both teams will be coming off a bye week, so there is a good chance they will be rested and healthy. But the Trojans have the tougher road through the first four weeks. USC will have been put through the meat grinder against two top-rated defenses in Stanford and Cal before their bye. Then they come to Salt Lake City against -- arguably -- the best defensive front in the conference.

That makes this a pretty significant measuring-stick game for the Trojans, too. Three consecutive wins over three of the top front-sevens in the Pac-12 will likely answer any questions about the Trojans' toughness. By the way, they're on the road again the following week at Washington. This is just step three in an awfully difficult four-game stretch.

USC has the stronger offense -- even Utah fans won't dispute what the Trojans bring to the table with Matt Barkley and Co.-- but Utah's defensive line is as good as it gets. And one cannot throw the ball if one's face is buried in the turf.

This projects to be a brutal, physical game with the winner taking decisive command of the Pac-12 South.

A victory for Utah would catapult the Utes into conference legitimacy and mark that they have arrived. A USC victory re-affirms its status as the team to beat in the South and will likely leave the rest of us licking our chops for Nov. 3.

MWC, C-USA to form new conference

February, 13, 2012

The Mountain West and Conference USA have announced plans to form a new athletic association for the 2013-14 season, as a way to ensure their future survival due to heavy losses each league has suffered in realignment.

Presidents and chancellors of the 16 schools that will be a part of the group met in Dallas on Sunday to discuss the details. Those schools: Air Force, UAB, Colorado State, East Carolina, Fresno State, Hawaii, Marshall, Nevada, New Mexico, UNLV, Rice, Southern Miss, UTEP, Tulane, Tulsa and Wyoming. With the exception of Hawaii as a football-only member, the participation would involve all sports.

The Mountain West is losing Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East, while Conference USA is losing Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF to the Big East as well. Most interesting in the announcement made Monday were these two points that will likely be included in the future structure of the new association:
  • Membership of 18 to 24 universities
  • Championship football game format that includes semifinal matchups

Growing from two to eight teams means the new association might have designs on absorbing the WAC, which is struggling to hang on after recent defections to the Mountain West, or possibly going after teams in the Sun Belt. Utah State and San Jose State, currently in the WAC, have been tied to the Mountain West in the past. In fact, Utah State was offered a spot in the Mountain West in 2010 but turned it down.

The championship game format, complete with semifinals, is obviously intriguing simply because that is something most folks have yearned for in college football as a whole. If the league grows to 24 teams, having four teams making it into a "championship round" would seem to increase interest. Especially if the semifinal round is on a home campus.

Now keep in mind regular-season scheduling will be contained to divisions, and those divisions are going to be set based on geography. There is a reason the news release cited this as essential to the new association: "bringing fiscal discipline into athletics and ensuring competitive fairness."

Right now, Conference USA has teams stretching from East Carolina to El Paso. So one would think that it would make more sense to have UTEP in a different division than the Pirates, just like they are now, with road games East contained to one or fewer a year, or perhaps eliminated entirely. If the league gets to 18 teams at a minimum with two nine-team divisions -- think eight regular-season football games contained to that division.

That should help alleviate some of the money that is spent on traveling alone, especially in the nonrevenue sports.

Barkley's return means USC is back

December, 22, 2011
USC, which finished this season 10-2 and ranked No. 5, will have 19 starters returning in 2012 including both specialists and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireMatt Barkley's decision to return to USC next season makes the Trojans a contender for the national championship.
Also back in 2012: The Trojans' top four tacklers. And five of their top six. And a first-team All-Pac-12 kicker. And a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.

The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.

Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"

Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.

Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?

Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.

The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.

Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.

Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.

Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.

And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.

Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.

Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.

Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.

By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.

Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.

The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.

But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."

Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."

3-point stance: Why bowls are fun

December, 22, 2011
1. The Poinsettia Bowl provided a textbook example of why motivation is critical in bowl games. No. 18 TCU, 10-2, almost made a BCS bowl. Instead, the Horned Frogs ended up in a pre-Christmas bowl playing 8-4 Louisiana Tech. TCU failed to understand that the Bulldogs lost narrowly to three bowl teams before winning seven consecutive games to take the WAC championship. That’s why the Horned Frogs had to come from a touchdown down in the fourth quarter to win, 31-24. That’s why bowls are so much fun.

2. Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades promoted interim head coach Tony Levine to the top job, replacing departed coach Kevin Sumlin. It's an interesting choice as the Cougars head to the Big East. Levine worked for Tommy Tuberville and Bobby Petrino, with a brief stint in the NFL as well, before Sumlin hired him. In six years at Akron and Houston, Rhoades has never before hired a football coach. If he can pick them like his predecessor Dave Maggard, who brought Art Briles and Sumlin to Houston, then the Cougars will be fine.

3. After 39 seasons as an assistant coach in colleges and the NFL, Norm Chow returns to his home state of Hawaii to become the Warriors’ head coach. Chow, 65, did wonders as a quarterback guru at BYU, NC State and USC from 1973-2004. Stanford nearly hired him several years ago, and other schools interviewed him. But he never found the right fit. That’s not an issue at Hawaii, which is a good thing, because he will find enough built-in obstacles (geography, fan base, facilities, etc.) to keep him busy.

Chow gets his chance at Hawaii

December, 21, 2011
It's long been one of the difficult questions college football fans ask: Why won't anyone give Norm Chow a chance to run a program?

Chow, widely considered one of the best offensive minds in college football history, got plenty of interviews, most notably of late at Stanford in 2005, and made plenty of "candidates" lists during the annual coaching carousel. He also turned down the head coaching job at Kentucky in 2002 to remain at USC. But, in reputation and reality, he was the perennial bridesmaid.

You'd hear things, of course. All the why-nots. He wasn't terribly good at interviews. He was an Xs-and-Os guy who didn't have people or management skills. Most schools wanted a dashing, young, charismatic guy who could slap backs, enticing a flood of elite recruits and booster checks. Chow was never reputed to be much of a recruiter, something he doesn't particularly enjoy.

[+] EnlargeNorm Chow
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireNorm Chow, 65, is moving up from Utah offensive coordinator to Hawaii head coach.
Chow, 65, is professorial. His personality isn't "big." He's not a commanding presence. He also is stubborn, territorial and not terribly good at coaching politics. He holds grudges — just ask Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and USC coach Lane Kiffin, whom Chow -- not unfairly -- believes pulled the carpet out from under him at USC with head coach Pete Carroll. (Carroll's almost childish jealousy of the credit given Chow during USC's glory days is another story entirely).

It also was perfectly fair to wonder if Chow's being Asian-American had anything to do with the critiques and whispers. His hiring at Hawaii, after all, makes him the first Asian-American head coach of a major football program.

First. That's pretty big, folks, even if most FBS rosters have little to no Asian presence, though if you go with that old standard "Asian/Pacific Islander" category, things change dramatically there.

Not only is Chow, after 39 years as an assistant coach, finally getting his shot as a head coach, he's going home to do it. He was born in Honolulu and is a Punahou School alum. He began his coaching career as head coach at Waialua High School on the North Shore of Oahu from 1970-72. This seems like a good fit, though coaching at Hawaii has built-in challenges, starting with geography.

Chow will serve as Utah's offensive coordinator in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 before officially taking over the Warriors. For the Utes, it's a blow, but not a crippling one. Coach Kyle Whittingham brought Chow aboard to install a pro-style offense with a downhill running game, replacing the spread the Utes had long used. After quarterback Jordan Wynn went down in the fourth game against Washington with another shoulder injury, Chow's chief task was managing an extremely conservative, almost run-exclusive offense that didn't mess things up for a very good defense.

Chow did a good job of making running back John White into an effective weapon even when everyone knew he and his 24 carries a game were coming. But the Utes never got the full Chow offense. The expectation here is that Whittingham will look for a guy who believes in the same pro-style, run-first concepts. The Utes don't figure to go back to a spread, though that does seem to be the thing in the Pac-12 after the hiring of four new coaches who all run a version of it.

Utes fans should be more concerned about who's going to play quarterback in 2012. Whittingham is going to make a good hire at OC.

And this day is about Chow.

He's a three-time national assistant coach of the year. He's served as offensive coordinator for three national championship teams (Brigham Young, 1984; USC, 2003 and 2004). He has tutored three Heisman Trophy winners (Ty Detmer, BYU; Carson Palmer, USC; Matt Leinart, USC) and six NFL first-round draft picks.

His resume has always been impressive. Just not impressive enough to overcome the things whispered about him.

Over the past decade, he's been portrayed as a bit of a nomadic mercenary, but keep in mind he was a bastion of stability most of his career, coaching at BYU for 27 years before things turned sour and he bolted to N.C. State in 2000, the first of five jobs he'd hold over the next 11 seasons before landing at Hawaii.

Chow is coming home to get his big chance. No matter what happens at Hawaii, his coaching legacy is secure. But, let's face it, if he retires a big winner in 10 years, he'll surely enjoy at least thinking "I told you so" through a big grin.

MWC aligns with Hawaii Bowl

December, 21, 2011
The Mountain West has reached an agreement with the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league announced Wednesday.

The move was made as Hawaii leaves the WAC to join the Mountain West in football only beginning in 2012. The Mountain West takes the WAC tie-in. The game will still feature an opponent from Conference USA.

Hawaii is automatically guaranteed a spot in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl if it is bowl eligible and not picked for a BCS game.