USC: Looking back, looking forward

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
11:00
AM ET
Good news for USC: The start of spring practices means the Trojans can start looking forward after a horribly disappointing 2012 season.

The bad news? The start of spring practices -- and fall camp in August -- will bring out reporters wanting to again ask what went wrong in 2012.

Reporters don't feel too guilty, by the way. It's a question that's worth asking and has been asked -- repeatedly -- by fans as well as coach Lane Kiffin himself.

We have two interesting links for you then. First, Mark Saxon of ESPN LA sits down with a slightly defensive Kiffin and gets some good perspective on what went wrong last fall.
Kiffin, 37, having perhaps heard one criticism too many this winter, is ready to fire back.

"My question would be, 'Twelve months ago, where were those criticisms?'" he said. "That same guy -- that fan, or that alumnus or the money person -- that sits here and says, 'Man, you're going to be here forever,' and 'We love what you're doing, that's awesome,' just last August is the same guy saying, 'Well, he holds his play card too much, he doesn't have a relationship with the team because he doesn't jump up and high-five everybody.'

"There was nothing different. Let's really get to the bottom of why we were more successful the year before. Let's get to real things."

Yes, let's get to real things, and Kiffin gives us a legitimate one: He believes he fretted too much about injuries and allowed that concern to water down the physicalness of the Trojans' preparation.
"I do really regret the mindset of training camp," Kiffin said.

With NCAA sanctions limiting USC's roster to 75 scholarship players, Kiffin elected to severely restrict contact in fall camp to avoid injuries. As the season wore on, he realized, "We were not a very physical football team," but by then it was too late.

It wasn't just about the team's physicality, though. After the team's second loss, at Arizona, Kiffin realized that, despite his emphasis on preparation over hype, his players hadn't absorbed the message. Months later, he watches film of the second half of USC's season and sees that the energy level wasn't the same as it had been before that loss. All summer they had heard they were a shoo-in for the BCS title game at the Orange Bowl. They noted the rankings and might have bought into them too fully.

Of course, the looking back will eventually yield to 2013 forward thinking. Here's some good perspective on the issues the Trojans face this spring, where vacancies at QB, center and in the secondary lead the list of competitions. Oh, and there are two new coordinators to break in among the four new assistant coaches.

In other words -- as usual -- there's plenty to talk about with USC and Lane Kiffin.

Ted Miller | email

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