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Thursday, November 18, 2010
Lane Kiffin keeps USC motivated

By Ted Miller

USC quarterback Matt Barkley hears you, college football nation. He knows your feelings on first-year Trojans coach Lane Kiffin range from skepticism to outright dislike.

But, Barkley says, you've just got to get to know him!

Lane Kiffin
Lane Kiffin has USC on track for a 10-win season.
"I can kind of see what people hate about him, but if you know him and interact with him, I don't see why you'd have that perception," Barkley said. "I think he's a great guy. He loves football. He's passionate about the game. You can tell that in the way he coaches and how he handles his business. This is the place he wants to be, which is what I love. He loves coaching USC."

More than a few folks questioned whether Kiffin could keep USC motivated this season, particularly after a couple of heartbreaking losses on last-second field goals -- Washington and Stanford -- and a 21-point humbling from Oregon. But the Trojans are coming off a pair of impressive wins against Arizona State and Arizona, and they head to Oregon State on Saturday with a solid chance to win 10 games this season.

Which raises an interesting question. If Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Stanford's Jim Harbaugh are the top two candidates for Pac-10 Coach of the Year, who would rank third?

That would undoubtedly be Kiffin, who appears to have both hands on the wheel as he's guided the Trojans through a season of questions -- both on and off the field -- with the postseason not a possibility due to NCAA sanctions. And, by the way, can you recall any notable controversies this season?

When asked about how he's kept his team focused and motivated, you don't get much "I" from Kiffin -- other than pride in his players' efforts.

"It says a lot about their commitment, wanting to be here, finishing this thing off -- I'm very proud of them," he said. "It seems like every week there have been questions about 'can they do this,' or 'can they get up for this game, can they get up to that game.' But they've come out extremely motivated and played well."

Speaking of focus, motivation and confidence -- or a lack thereof -- then there's Oregon State, which has lost three of four, including last week's home defeat to Washington State, which ended the Cougars 16-game conference losing streak.

"We got beat at every turn," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "We're like in a free-fall here and we've just got to fight our way out of it."

The matchup should be a quarterback's dream. Both defenses struggle to stop the pass. USC ranks 118th in the nation, yielding 284 yards per game and a Pac-10-worst 25 touchdown passes. But, at least in terms of passing efficiency defense, the Beavers are even worse. They've given up 17 TD passes and opponents are completing throws 63.5 percent of the time.

But the two sophomore quarterbacks -- Barkley and Oregon State's Ryan Katz -- aren't playing at the same level. Barkley, who has the advantage of being a second-year starter, ranks third in the conference in passing efficiency and leads the conference with 25 TD passes.

Katz has regressed since he appeared to break through at Arizona with 393 yards passing and two TDs. He threw three picks in a double-overtime loss at Washington and was clearly out of sync in losses to UCLA and the Cougars.

"The last two weeks against UCLA and Washington State, we have had no rhythm whatsoever," Riley said. "The last two weeks, we've taken a couple steps back."

Of course, USC should be nervous whenever it leaves Southern California for Oregon. It's lost four in a row in the state, and it could be cold, wet and even snowy on Saturday.

Further, fortunes can turn quickly, up and down.

"You see that all the time in college football," Kiffin said. "Teams you think are playing bad, play great the next week. Or vice versa."

That said, it appears that the Trojans' fortunes are trending up. And for that, Kiffin -- as much as it might pain some folks -- deserves credit.