Pac-12: Mike Garrett

Timing right for USC, Sark marriage

August, 21, 2014
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USC safety Taylor Mays didn't exactly grin from ear to ear at the question back in 2008, but his face did acknowledge that the reporter had offered him an underhanded pitch that he could belt out of the L.A. Coliseum in any direction he wished.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsIn his second stint as a college football head coach, Steve Sarkisian faces the pressure of guiding a national powerhouse program in USC.
Mays and the top-ranked USC Trojans had just made No. 5 Ohio State look like a high school team in a 35-3 whipping that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggested. The question was whether the Buckeyes had been shocked by just how much better the Trojans were. Mays paused, seeming to savor the question as he coolly assessed the contents of his locker, before delivering a response.

"Many teams wonder what this SC thing is about -- why have we been so successful these past years," he said. "We came out there and showed them. They're Ohio State and that means something. But we prepare so well that we just do what we do."

There was a time under Pete Carroll when USC pretty much won games when they got off the bus. They simply looked a whole lot better -- bigger, faster, more confident -- than anyone else in college football. Reporters and fans would encircle the Trojans' open scrimmages, particularly during Competition Tuesdays, and marvel at the talent level and intensity.

New USC coach Steve Sarkisian was Carroll's top offensive assistant for much of that run from 2002 to '08 before heading off to Washington. He missed the 2004 BCS national title season while spending an unhappy year with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the start of the program's decline in 2009, a 9-4 finish after the Trojans had lost just nine games in the previous seven seasons. Then Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks.

So Sarkisian knows what things were like during the Trojans' most recent dynastic run. He was there for its creation. A Southern California native, he knows the area, the program's traditions and how quickly expectations can become stratospheric. He knows what he is taking over. And getting himself into.

He knows USC is one of the most powerful brands in college sports, one whose name and logo have impact in South Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as in its home territory.

"When you have that SC interlock on your chest and you walk into a school [to recruit], whether it's in Southern California or anywhere else, this talks about 11 national championships, six Heisman Trophies, more NFL draft picks, more All-Americans, more All-Pros, more Hall of Famers than any other school," Sarkisian said. "So it's a powerful brand."

Sarkisian also knows timing. He knows it's better not to be the "man after the man," as his friend Lane Kiffin was with Carroll. Sarkisian was Carroll's personal preference to replace him, and then-athletic director Mike Garrett made a play for Sarkisian before offering the job to Kiffin. Sarkisian was then heading into his second season at Washington and felt it wouldn't be the right time to bail out on the Huskies.

Oh, and he also knew NCAA sanctions were on the horizon, though there was little indication at the time that they would be as severe as they ended up being.

Good timing? As of June, USC is no longer yoked with those sanctions that included the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. After signing a highly rated class in February, despite limits, Sarkisian could have the Trojans at around 80 scholarship players next fall, according to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, not far below the limit of 85, and substantially better than the numbers that have made depth the team's most worrisome issue since 2010. The Trojans presently rank 14th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings.

Timing? Even during Carroll's run, USC's facilities were second-rate. No longer. After putting $120 million toward new and renovated buildings, including the 110,000-square foot John McKay Center, USC matches up with the most elite teams.

Timing? Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters from a team that won 10 games in 2013. The Trojans should be contenders in the South Division this fall, emerging from so-called crippling sanctions in pretty good shape after averaging "only" 8.8 wins per season from 2009 through last year.

Of course, his timing isn't that perfect. He's got a UCLA problem that Carroll didn't have to contend with. The Bruins are surging under Jim Mora and are hardly quaking at the prospect of USC again being whole. It's notable that Sarkisian and Mora have long had a cordial relationship, though that might be difficult to sustain going forward.

"I think [hiring Sarkisian] has given them a shot of energy that I wish they didn't get," Mora quipped at Pac-12 media days. "I have great respect for Sark, and I like him as a person and as a coach. I just know he's going to make my job harder."

While USC can again sign a full recruiting class of 25, which should make the going tougher for all 11 other Pac-12 teams, there's also some undercurrent of smugness within the conference from coaches and fans that Sarkisian hasn't truly earned a job like USC and that he isn't much different from Kiffin. His critics dubbed him "Seven-Win Steve" after he led Washington to three consecutive 7-6 seasons, a rut that had some Huskies fans putting him on the hot seat heading into the 2013 season.

The Huskies improved to 9-4 last season, finishing with a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2001. Some also seemed to forget that Sarkisian inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008. While there's been an odd effort to rewrite the history of how down the program was back then, it was outscored 463-159 that season and hadn't posted a winning record since 2002. Washington went 1-10 in 2004 and 2-9 in 2005. Further, majestic Husky Stadium was falling apart.

Chris Petersen has inherited a team from Sarkisian that's played in four consecutive bowl games, is ranked in the preseason, and is playing in a beautifully renovated stadium.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsUSC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian was optimistic at Pac-12 media days, saying: "I think we have a chance to do something special this year."
This is not to say Sarkisian did a perfect job at Washington. He made mistakes like most first-time head coaches, including sticking with overmatched defensive coordinator Nick Holt for too long. Yet the feeling among USC insiders is that the Trojans are getting Sark 2.0, and he's surrounded himself with a staff that is touted for its X's and O's acumen (most notably defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox) as well as its recruiting savvy. Sarkisian retained receivers coach Tee Martin, one of the most quietly important coups of the transition.

Sarkisian isn't necessarily bringing back Carroll's "Win Forever" rhetoric and culture. For one, he runs an up-tempo offense, not Carroll's pro style, and a 3-4 hybrid defense, not Carroll's 4-3. That could be seen as part of Sarkisian's maturation, of finding his own way. When Sarkisian took the Washington job after the 2009 Rose Bowl, Carroll actually told him that he needed to be his own man, not mimic Carroll.

"His final words to me walking out was, 'Go be you, because when adversity strikes, the real you is going to come out anyway,'" Sarkisian said.

For USC fans, adversity has already struck and stuck hard. Sarkisian's charge is to make sure those adverse days are done. Adversity going forward is losing more than two Pac-12 games.

Or is that losing more than one game, period?

Greatest season in USC history?

August, 5, 2014
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USC Trojans football has been defined by great teams and great individual seasons for decades. How about seven Heisman Trophy winners, starting with Mike Garrett in 1965 and finishing with Reggie Bush in 2005 -- though there is, of course, an asterisk by Bush's name due to NCAA violations.

ESPN.com launched its The Season package Monday, which looked at the best seasons recorded for each major college football team, and we tapped Marcus Allen's 1981 Heisman campaign as No. 1 for the Trojans. That pick, while we feel pretty good about it, wasn't easy.

SportsNation

Who had the best season in USC's history?

  •  
    37%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    39%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,090)

That's why we're curious about your takes.

In order to narrow our field to five, we dropped Garrett and O.J. Simpson from the running. Garrett's numbers don't hold up, while we'd just as soon not hear Simpson's name ever again.

So that leaves Charles White, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Bush as choices for you to unseat Allen.

As for Allen, he was pretty spectacular in 1981, becoming the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, a number he shattered with 2,427 yards. He also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, finishing with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 touchdowns. In addition, he was the Trojans' leading receiver and set 14 new NCAA records and tied two others. Further, he beat out a star-studded list of candidates: Georgia's Herschel Walker, BYU's Jim McMahon and Pittsburgh's Dan Marino.

A downside? His team finished 9-3 and No. 14 in the final AP poll. A big finish is where White, Allen's tailback predecessor, has Allen beat.

White's USC teams won the Rose Bowl in 1978 and 1979, splitting a national title in 1978 with Alabama and finishing second behind the Crimson Tide in 1979, his senior season. That year, White led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game. In the last 10 games of his senior season, he averaged 201 yards rushing per game. He finished with 2,050 yards (including the bowl game) and 19 TDs. His 6.2 yards per carry bested Allen's 5.6, too.

White unseated Oklahoma's Billy Sims, the 1978 Heisman winner, with a dominant percentage of first-place votes (453 vs. 82).

Leinart and Bush were sort of a tandem during USC's dynastic run under then-coach Pete Carroll, nearly leading the Trojans to three consecutive national titles.

In 2004, Leinart led the Trojans to an undefeated national title run, including a dominant victory over Oklahoma in the BCS Championship Orange Bowl. He became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six picks. A three-time All-American, he was 37-2 as a starter and placed third in the Heisman race in 2005, when Bush won over Texas' Vince Young.

As for Bush, it wasn't just numbers for him. A human highlight film, he's probably the flashiest of all USC Heisman winners. He led the nation in 2005 with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game. He finished with 1,740 yards rushing and an eye-popping 8.7 yards per carry with 16 TDs. A great receiver, he also had 39 receptions for 481 yards and two scores. He returned punts and kicks as well. He set a Pac-10 record with a spectacular 513 all-purpose yards against Fresno State and earned perhaps dubious honors as the namesake of the "Bush Push" against Notre Dame.

Finally, there's Palmer, a four-year starter who suffered through some lean years before leading the 2002 Trojans to the opening of their dynastic run. He won all Heisman voting regions after he passed for 3,942 yards with 33 TDs and 10 picks, completing 63 percent of his passes.

Palmer also didn't have anyone to lean on while winning over voters. He was the first West Coast winner of the award since Allen. Palmer mostly rewrote the Pac-10's passing record book and went on to become the first pick of the 2003 NFL draft.

That's a pretty scintillating list. So how do you rank them?
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's 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.

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
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There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.
Happy Friday.
Knock, knock (Who's there?!)

Mailbag. (Mailbag who?!)

Mailbag your pooh pooh face.

(Knock-knock joke just dictated to me by my 4-year-old).

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Donald from Eugene, Ore., writes: First off, I agree with Andy Staples that Oregon's punishment was appropriate and what USC SHOULD have received. But I was wondering if Chip Kelly had forewarning about the "Show Cause" punishment and knew Oregon would have been forced to fire him if he had stuck around Eugene? So he didn't really escape, as some people suggest, as he wasn't going to coach The Ducks in 2013 anyway. He actually did Oregon a favor by leaving before spring practice.Also, why doesn't the NCAA mandate a standard contract clause for all head coaches making them financially liable for any violations occurring under their watch regardless if they are still at the school or not?

Ted Miller: You know in the movie, "Being John Malkovich," when everyone just starts going "Malkovich!" "Malkovich!" "Malkovich!" That's what it sometimes feels like being a college football writer with Staples around, "I agree with Andy Staples!" "I agree with Andy Staples!"

I mean, really, how hard is to be right all the time when you're bacon's biggest advocate?

I agree with Staples' idea about allowing recruits to take official visits beginning in January of their junior year of high school as a good way to reduce cheating.

And yet I don't agree that Oregon coach Chip Kelly would have been fired after the NCAA ruling, in large part because we don't know what the NCAA would have ruled if Kelly were still the Ducks coach. I do know Oregon would only have done that as an absolute last resort.

For one, Kelly and Oregon have had each other's backs in this from beginning to end, even when Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. I sense zero hard feelings between school and former coach.

If the NCAA had given Kelly a "show cause" as a sitting coach, Oregon would have had the option of firing him or going back in front of the Committee on Infractions to defend Kelly and itself against additional sanctions. The NCAA can't make an institution fire its coach.

Kelly might have been suspended, or the school might have been hit with other penalties. It's difficult to say.

But I think Kelly's 18-month "show cause" was largely symbolic and was given specifically because he was no longer at Oregon. If he were still in Eugene, I don't think that he would have been given that sanction. I think the NCAA would have found an additional way to hit him and the program -- in order to support the NCAA's attempt to hold head coaches more accountable -- but I don't think, based on my reading of the ruling, the NCAA would have wanted to hit Kelly with the worst penalty he could get as a sitting coach.

As for the NCAA mandating contract standards, that won't happen because institutions don't want to surrender their authority on contracts. Further, NCAA efforts to standardize penalties also have run into resistance through the years.

(Read full post)

WeAreSC links: Hitting the books

February, 14, 2012
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Erik McKinney writes Insider: Junior day visitors came away impressed with USC's academic reputation and presentation.

Steve Bisheff writes Insider: Mike Garrett committed his share of sins in USC's issues with the NCAA, but it's time to stop vilifying the Trojans great.

Erik McKinney writes Insider: USC's junior day presentation made a big impact on Encino, Calif., safety Tyler Foreman.

Kyle Williams writes Insider: After improvising at the position last season, USC is looking for a more classic fit at fullback this time around.

Opening the mailbag: More on Graham crackers

December, 16, 2011
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Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Zach from Mesa, Ariz., writes: Not sure how I should feel about Todd Graham coaching my Sun Devils. Seems like a used-car salesman and he really hasn't done anything.

Mike from Philly writes: I'm not going to call you an idiot, even though that might help get this published, but you've missed the mark on Graham. Not sure if he can coach, but he's completely full of it. He's a liar. He's spineless. Why would anybody want him to lead their sons?

Ted Miller: Got plenty of feedback on my admittedly quasi-Machiavellian takes -- and here -- on Todd Graham bolting Pittsburgh after one year for Arizona State and texting his departure to his players instead of meeting with them face-to-face. I have many thoughts on this, but I'd rather not do another 1,000-plus word column. So I'll try to be brief. Briefer, at least.

Let's start with this: Recall just a week ago when Graham said, "I don't know how else I can say it. I've said it on three different occasions. I'm not going to be the Arizona State's coach."

Oh. Wait. That wasn't Graham talking about Arizona State. That was the best coach in college football. That was, gulp, then Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, talking about Alabama, not Arizona State, and who just days after saying that became... wait for it... wait for it...

Alabama's coach!

And what did Saban say when he later sat down with ESPN Chris Mortensen, who asked if Saban's disingenuousness would be an issue for him in recruiting going forward?

"The number one thing for me, Nick Saban, whatever anyone thinks, is to be a good person," Saban said. "Honesty, integrity, loyalty, being fair and honest with people is always been the trademark of what I've done."

So know that when Graham talked about how important "relationships" were for him Wednesday, that same forehead slap of indignation over the unintentional irony has happened before. And will again. It's the nature of their business.

You cannot compare Saban's and Graham's resumes, of course. But Saban has long been a climber at the highest level while Graham has been scratching and clawing -- some might suggest scurrying -- to arrive at an A-list job. That means you often leave unhappy people in your wake.

Do any Alabama fans care about Saban's messy departure from Miami? Are you kidding? No coach in America is more beloved by his fan base. Why? Have you looked at Saban's win-loss ledger and trophy case?

Same goes for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, who didn't even finish his only season with the Atlanta Falcons before bolting for the Razorbacks, leaving behind only a note for his players.

Graham, suffice it to say, is not alone in the Hall of Coaching Transition Infamy. Don't gloat Arizona fans. You might recall your new coach, Rich Rodriguez had some issues at West Virginia, too.

Then let's consider this name: Mike Riley.

Riley left Oregon State in 1998 after just two season -- his hometown team! -- for the San Diego Chargers, where things went badly. But he got lucky. The Beavers were willing to re-hire him in 2003, believing he'd learned the proverbial "the grass is always greener lesson." No coach in the nation has been more loyal to his university since then while not getting super-rich. At $1.3 million a year, Riley is now the second lowest paid coach in the Pac-12.

He could have doubled his pay when Alabama came calling. He could have tripled his pay when USC came calling. But he remained loyal. And he's been praised for it. Which is nice.

Yet now, despite averaging nine wins a year from 2006-09 at a program that didn't post a winning season from 1971-98, two consecutive losing seasons have him sitting on the conference's hottest seat heading into 2012. There's a vocal minority of fans who believe he should be fired now. A larger percentage believe he needs to make a staff overhaul. My belief is he won't survive a third consecutive losing season.

If Riley had been "disloyal" to Oregon State and bolted in 2010 for USC -- he was widely seen as then-athletic director Mike Garrett's first choice -- he would have more job security today than he does now and a far more financially-secure future for his family. This side of the story is rarely considered, but such cautionary tales pass by word of mouth among coaches -- i.e., watch your back and look out for No. 1.

Maybe Graham is a double-talking con artist. Or maybe his circumstances and opportunities just have been different than other coaches, particularly in terms of timing. Maybe he felt like he and his family being unhappy at Pittsburgh was a good enough reason to leave for a place they wanted to go.

What Arizona State fans need to know is this: This is a tempest in a teapot. It's the story of the week. If Arizona State wins eight games next year, there will be grins all around in Tempe. And if the Sun Devils go to the Rose Bowl within five years with Graham, his exit from Pitt will, at most, be a curious sidenote.


Brian from Pullman, Wash., writes: In your post "Imagining the perfect coach," you said that "There are only 10 or so destination jobs in college football -- places where there really isn't a move up." I'm curious to know which universities you believe are on this list.

Ted Miller: My list of 13 destination jobs would include (in alphabetical order): Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas and USC.

Of course, everyone's personal list would be different. I'd rather be the coach at Stanford or California -- Bay Area! -- than Nebraska or Oklahoma. But the quality of area restaurants is more important to me than most coaches.

And immediate circumstances matter. Even before the Penn State scandal, following Joe Paterno would have been an extraordinary challenge. No one likes to be the man after the man.

Factors? Tradition, stadium size, all-time winning percentage, recruiting base and revenue.


Lolita from Riverside, Calif., writes: My name is Lolita Anderson. I am Dres Anderson's mother. I am so elated! Thank you so much for my son's recognition. You absolutely made our family's Christmas! By the way what rubric do you use when making these decisions? This is Awesome!!! Go Airforce! Go Utes!!

Ted Miller: Most of it has to do with on-field performance.

But some of it is based on having a cool mom.

UCLA taps Mora to replace Neuheisel

December, 10, 2011
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Jim L. Mora, a two-time NFL head coach with almost no college experience, is UCLA's new football coach, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com.

And UCLA made the official announcement a short time later.

Mora, 50, is currently an analyst for the NFL Network. He was fired from his last coaching job -- a single season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 -- after going 5-11. His only college coaching experience? He was a graduate assistant in 1984 at Washington, where he played from 1980-83.

Are Bruins fans going to immediately embrace this hire with buzzing enthusiasm? Probably not, particularly after Arizona and Washington State made splashier hires with Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach.

I like how ESPN LA's Peter Yoon describes things here:
True, Mora isn’t exactly the splashy, big-name hire many UCLA fans were hoping to land, but there are reasons to believe his hire makes a lot of sense.

First, he has no UCLA ties in his past. Second, he is a defensive-minded coach. Third, he has no noteworthy experience as a college coach.

That bucks the trend of the past three UCLA coaches who are seen as the holy triumvirate of mediocrity. Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell and Neuheisel were all Bruins assistants at some point before they became head coach; Dorrell and Neuheisel were UCLA players.


Before joining Seattle, Mora served as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-2006. In his first season with Atlanta, the Falcons went 11-5 and made it to the NFC championship game. His teams went 8-8 and 7-9 the next two seasons and he was fired. But keep in mind, he was dealing with QB Michael Vick -- a stellar talent with a terrible work ethic and attitude at that time, something Vick has owned up to after he got out of jail.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJim Mora takes over the head coaching position at UCLA, his first on-field job since coaching the Seattle Seahawks in 2009.
A former Washington Husky reserve who played for Don James, Mora is a defensive guy with a strong resume working with secondaries.

That last part should be encouraging for Bruins fans. His area of specialization is stopping the pass. There, you might have heard, is a lot of throwing in these parts.

Mora also has the potential to be a charismatic recruiter. The parallel UCLA folks are surely thinking of -- whether they want to or not -- is USC's hire of Pete Carroll in 2001. Carroll had little college experience and was generally thought of as a mediocre-to-bad NFL head coach. Just about everyone panned his hire and mocked then-athletic director Mike Garrett's bumbling coaching search (which was a true comedy of errors and sloppiness).

Trojans fans eventually changed their feelings. There's a possibility that Mora will do the same.

"As someone who has been around the game of football my entire life, I have always held the UCLA job in the highest esteem," Mora said in a statement. "Given its location and its tradition, UCLA is truly a sleeping giant and I realize that an opportunity of this magnitude doesn't present itself more than once in a career, so I jumped at the chance to be a Bruin."

It's fair to say Mora was the Bruins' third choice. Boise State's Chris Petersen and Miami coach Al Golden both rejected previous entreaties.

I know UCLA fans don't always appreciate using USC as a measuring stick, but, again, Carroll was the Trojans fourth choice after an 18-day search. He was widely seen as a lightweight.

So this is an outside-of-the-box hire. At the very least, skeptical Bruins fans can grab hold of that.

Further, it's worth noting that a massively negative reaction would serve no useful purpose for the program. In fact, 11 other Pac-12 programs are likely poised to print out such reactions and use them against the Bruins in recruiting.

Meanwhile, the Bruins will play Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 with interim coach Mike Johnson, who took over after Rick Neuheisel was fired two weeks ago.

Here's the LA Times on the Mora hiring.

The LA Daily News.

And the Orange County Register.

Strong words from Scott on Dee, Miami & reform

August, 18, 2011
8/18/11
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The Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein tracked down Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott to see if he had any reaction to the Miami scandal and that the Hurricanes athletic director at the time, Paul Dee, was the man who sat in stern judgment of USC.

And Scott didn't beat around the (Reggie) Bush when asked "whether he agreed with national college football columnists who had described Dee as hypocritical."

"If the allegations prove true," Scott told the Times, "the words irony and hypocrisy don't seem to go far enough."

Zing!

This also was interesting from Scott. Is it possible that the NCAA is too impotent to police itself?

From the Times:
An advocate for change, [Scott] noted: "I like considering bold, new ideas in terms of reform. If I worry about anything, it's that the reform effort moves too slowly and does not go far enough."

Scott emphasized he was not advocating for the NCAA to move the enforcement and penalty process outside the organization. But he endorses considering it.

"I think we need to step back and consider bold new ideas, including the possibility of bringing in outside resources," he said.

This makes sense to me: Enforcement from an objective, unaffiliated body that reviews evidence and makes decisions without a proverbial horse in the race.

One of my takeaways from USC's session with Dee's Infractions Committee was an off-the-record comment from an individual who sat in the room. He noted that one individual on the committee was so antagonistic to USC that this individual misstated facts of the case a number of times.

Remember this widely mocked comment from then-USC athletic director Mike Garrett shortly after the NCAA hammered the Trojans?
"As I read the decision by the NCAA," he told the group, "… I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Trojans."

It was a stupid things to say for political reasons. But understand: Garrett isn't a stupid man. He was expressing an impression -- poorly, yes -- that many in the room had in front of Dee's Infractions Committee: The NCAA was going to get USC, no matter what the facts of the case were.

In its appeal, USC tried to point this out: Yes, you got us. You hammered us. But we both know this punishment doesn't fit the crime. And no matter how you try to downplay precedent when judging cases, it will come back to haunt you when far worse sets of violations come around the bend.

And so we have North Carolina, Ohio State and, with a thunderclap, Miami.

None of this will help USC. The NCAA isn't going to come back and say it's sorry.

But it might lead to major reforms, which I think we all can agree need to happen as soon as possible.
First things first. USC fans, you have a right to be outraged by the NCAA infractions appeals committee decision to uphold all penalties against the Trojans football program.

The sanctions -- two-year bowl ban, a 30-scholarship reduction over three years -- were not fair based on historical precedent. They weren't fair based on the flimsy evidence against the program. They weren't fair even if all the findings were true.

Said USC in a statement:
[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy KingThe NCAA upheld a decision to dock Lane Kiffin and USC 30 scholarships over three years and inact a two-year bowl ban.
"We respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with the findings of the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee. Our position was that the Committee on Infractions abused its discretion and imposed penalties last June that were excessive and inconsistent with established case precedent."


But it's time to get over it. Being angry isn't going to change anything. This, by the way, was expected. The appeals committee is set up to reject appeals. Another ridiculous part of the NCAA process? Absolutely. But as you might have told your child when he or she was ranting about some playground injustice: "Life isn't fair."

Recall this letter from athletic director Pat Haden:
During the period of our NCAA probation we won't wake up each morning with a "woe is me" attitude as a result of the sanctions. I have failed if I cannot create a positive, upbeat environment that cultivates success in spite of the sanctions.

Want some solace? You weren't Ohio State coach Jim Tressel when you got out of bed this morning. He might be the only person more unhappy with the NCAA ruling than USC fans. If the USC football program gets hammered like this for the Reggie Bush fiasco, what will Tressel face? The stocks for a year in Ann Arbor?

A second grounds for solace? It's over. The seemingly endless process is at an end. After the anger slows a bit, there at least will be clarity, even if the picture isn't rosy.

USC won't be eligible to compete for the first Pac-12 South Division title. Scholarship limits over the next three years will have a significant impact on competitiveness. It's unlikely the Trojans will rejoin the national title hunt within five years. (Pedro Moura does a nice job here speculating on the immediate scholarship situation).

A third grounds for solace? USC is a far better athletic program today under Haden than it was under the often bizarre leadership of Mike Garrett, whose adversarial handling of the NCAA investigation provided a firm foundation for the infractions committee to justify a fit of pique when the evidence didn't do so. (Chris Defresne does a nice job of explaining that here).

A final grounds for solace? USC was far from innocent. For all the winning the Pete Carroll Era produced, the program was a circus of opportunity for leaches and opportunists. Part of the NCAA's ire -- the justified part -- was the lack of organized and firm monitoring. That appears to have changed under Haden.

Who are the big winners today? The other 11 teams in the Pac-12, particularly the five teams in the Pac-12 South, and -- most particularly-- UCLA.

Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat, yes, but if he can lead a successful season -- seven or eight wins -- he should survive and then have a banner year recruiting in Southern California almost by default. Some were surprised that didn't happen this past recruiting campaign, when Lane Kiffin surged and Neuheisel tanked. But the new reality is there are more than 15 elite recruits in the Los Angeles area and if they want to play football near home, they now have only one option in an AQ conference.

That won't make USC fans happy. But, Trojans, it's time to breathe. USC is a timeless football program. It will rise again.

Oh, one more grounds for solace: The NCAA has its own problems.

Kiffin ready to be judged for winning

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
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LOS ANGELES -- The nominee for "Worst Person in the World" from the state of Tennessee has been a bit of a letdown on the West Coast. When he wore bright orange, Lane Kiffin was as loud as the Volunteers' uniforms. He was a controversy not waiting to happen. He called people out. He trashed-talked. He immediately started beeping loudly on the NCAA's radar.

But since he arrived in Los Angeles, ascending to what he called his "dream job" at USC, he's been mostly an all-business, old school, grumpy football coach.

"You been bored?" Kiffin quipped. "You were all excited when I got hired here."

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy King"If you are worried about what people are writing about you, win games," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Yes and no. Things have been pretty hectic around USC for the past year or so. While reporters often enjoy a little drama, there are limits. Typing fingers do cramp up, after all. The Reggie Bush mess. Pete Carroll leaving. Kiffin getting hired and the ensuing hullabaloo in Knoxville. NCAA sanctions. The comings and goings of scores of players. The comings and goings of athletic directors and school presidents. A five-loss season for a program that had grown accustomed to the number five representing a disappointing final AP ranking. Highly rated recruiting classes, despite sanctions. Tennessee shipping its NCAA problems to Kiffin's new address. A seemingly endless wait for the NCAA to rule on USC's appeal of sanctions.

A notable void, however, has been controversy arising because of Kiffin's conduct at USC. Oh, he took a shot at rival UCLA after signing his 2010 recruiting class, but that was more a tempest in a thimble than a teapot. He sometimes provides assessments of players' shortcomings that can seem too honest. But really, the only big story this spring at USC is injuries. That means there are plenty of stifled yawns by observers at practices. Who saw that coming?

"Sometimes I get people here that actually want to see that brash side," Kiffin said.

Just not many over 21 years old.

On the one hand, that is a good thing. It's possible Kiffin shortly will be judged on substance, on whether he can coach, on whether he can lead the Trojans back to the top of the Pac-12. His oft-noted limited résumé -- a 5-15 record coaching the Oakland Raiders and a 15-11 mark in two college seasons -- reveals little.

What is revealing are five losses a year after the Trojans, in their final season under Carroll, were unceremoniously smacked out of the conference's top spot by Oregon. What is revealing is watching practice and wondering, "Where did all the NFL-looking dudes go?" Just three years ago, USC looked better getting off the bus than any team in the country. No longer. Now they look like just about everyone else.

Part of that is injuries. Twelve members of the two-deep depth chart have practiced little or not at all this spring. The Trojans numbers were already down, which convinced Kiffin to sign a handful of early enrollees, who weren't up to previous standards, just to get more available warm bodies.

Still, there are plenty of old school USC guys, starting with quarterback Matt Barkley and his top target, Robert Woods. They are a potentially dynamic pass-catch combination. Left tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Nick Perry, safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey are going to be playing on Sundays. D-tackle George Uko has been impressive this spring. But there are obvious holes -- for one, the offensive line is perilously thin and unproven -- and the backups don't look like the next generation.

"We got guys running with our twos that weren't even going to play football, but we found them in science class after a tryout," Kiffin said.

A touted recruiting class of 23 arrives in the fall, and many of those freshmen are going to immediately be in the mix for playing time. Toss in the expected return of the injured players, and the reinforcements will total 35.

But will they win? It may be nice that the hyperventilating from critics is trending down, but the bottom line is there is a bottom line, of which Kiffin is well aware: winning.

Kiffin said he feels more comfortable this spring, and it's clear his players share that sentiment. Understand, the transition to Kiffin was challenging for many. Carroll had become an icon at USC. All those five-star players he signed did so in large part to join Carroll's "win forever" cult of personality. Carroll was all about bottomless enthusiasm and optimism. Kiffin is a different bird. For some veteran players, his approach, which often included unvarnished criticism, was tough to take.

"First spring, it was rough with getting guys to buy-in and accept that we didn't have Coach Carroll -- the 'there's a new coach, just deal with it,'" Barkley said. "Some guys were holding back and didn't like the way things were going."

Barkley said Kiffin has loosened up a bit. "Even this year, Coach Kiffin has given in a little bit, making it more fun for us, that competition style we were kind of used to before," Barkley said.

The person at USC who knows Kiffin best waves away the criticism that has dogged him. "It's basically one state," said USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Lane's pop.

"I know him. I've known him for 35 years. I feel I've got a pretty good feel for him. If I thought he was a smart aleck or wasn't a good head coach, first I wouldn't have gone to Tennessee or I would have taken opportunities to go back to the NFL [instead of going to USC]. They don't know him."

That's fair. An ill-fated tenure working under Al Davis and a single year at an SEC school shouldn't define Lane Kiffin as a coach. And, ultimately, it won't. Kiffin knows what will, though.

"If you are worried about what people are writing about you, win games," he said.

Or else those negative assessments will begin to develop a foundation built on incontrovertible fact.

Newton, Auburn, the NCAA and USC

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
7:20
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Coach, it’s going to cost you $100,000 to get my son.

Dad… what’s my cut?

Hush, Junior. You know nothing.

OK, Dad! Good thinking.

Whoops. Sorry. Thought I had the mute button on the blog.

The news of the day: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is eligible to play in the SEC title game this weekend, even though the NCAA says his father broke rules by shopping his son to another school. Here’s the official release from the NCAA.

Let’s pause for a moment to allow USC fans to shout at the heavens.

There. Now here are some Trojans-oriented links on the story.

The intrepid Gary Klein checked in with USC athletic director Pat Haden to see if he had any thoughts on the matter. This portion is telling:
“In the Reggie Bush case, when the parent [did] something inappropriate the kid and the school suffered,” Haden said.

Haden, who succeeded Mike Garrett in August, said the Newton ruling is at odds with how USC is attempting to educate athletes and their parents regarding NCAA rules.

“I was always told the parent is the child,” Haden said. “That’s what we’ve been telling our kids. If the parent does something inappropriate the child suffers the consequences.”

USC is scheduled to appear before the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee next month. Haden said school attorneys would probably review the Newton case.

“Intuitively, it seems appropriate that we would discuss it,” he said.
Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register understands the parallels between Bush and Newton are not exact, but that’s not the larger point. Writes Miller: “… what Cecil Newton did certainly is wrong, way, way wrong, and by not bringing any actual justice, the NCAA is only encouraging parents, friends and ‘handlers’ of future stars to conduct their business in a similar manner.”

“High profile players demand high profile compliance,” said Paul Dee, chair of the NCAA committee on infractions.

Wait. He said that only about Bush. My bad.

Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples has some well-reasoned commentary here.

It’s critical to understand a couple of things: 1. To this point, there is no evidence that Auburn has done anything wrong. That should be little comfort to Auburn folks, though, because there was little evidence that USC did anything wrong in the Reggie Bush case, other than behave in an arrogant and clumsy manner during the investigation; 2. The investigation is not over.

But USC fans probably don’t care what happens to Auburn, other than the unsavory temptation to hope for some schadenfreude down the road.

What most Trojans fans likely do want to know: Will all the stuff that has gone on this year -- the Newton case as well as all the agent stories involving multiple schools -- have any effect on USC’s case in front of the NCAA Appeals Committee?

It should. It probably won’t. But the odds that it might are better today than they were last week.

Pac-10 Week 2: Did you know?

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
9:00
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Some quick notes to get you through the hours until Saturday.
  • Five Pac-10 players accounted for at least three TDs last weekend: California's Shane Vereen, Oregon's Kenjon Barner (5 TDs), USC Ronald Johnson (4 TDs), Arizona State's Deantre Lewis and Arizona State's Cameron Marshall.
  • Three Pac-10 QBs rank among the nation's top seven in passing efficiency: Stanford's Andrew Luck at No. 3, USC's Matt Barkley at No. 4 and California's Kevin Riley at No. 7.
  • Seven different Arizona receivers caught at least three passes last week at Toledo.
  • Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber is 3 for 3 from beyond 50 yards in his career after booting a 52-yard field goal vs. Portland State. He was one of three conference kickers to connect from beyond 50 yards (Washington's Erik Folk, 54 yards, and Washington State's Nico Grasu, 56 yards).
  • Cal is 2-2 all-time with Colorado, but this is its first meeting since 1982.
  • Oregon is one of eight teams nationally that produced shutouts last weekend.
  • Ducks CB Cliff Harris returned two punts for TDs -- for 61 and 64 yards -- in the win over New Mexico. Two punt returns for TDs has only been accomplished twice before by Pac-10 players: USC's Mike Garrett in 1965 vs. Cal; UCLA's Sam Brown in 1954 vs.Stanford.
  • Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell leads the conference in tackles after recording 18 vs. TCU. Fellow safety Suaesi Tuimaunei is tied for third with 14.
  • UCLA leads its series with Stanford 45-32-3.
  • UCLA kicker Kai Forbath tied two NCAA records after going 3 for 3 vs. Kansas State. His 27 games with at least two field goals ties Georgia's Kevin Butler and his 13 with at least three ties Arizona State's Luis Zendejas. Forbath has made 40 consecutive field goals inside of 50 yards. His 75 career field goals are just 12 short of the NCAA record of 87.
  • USC has won 31 consecutive night games (USC-Oregon kicked off at 5 p.m. last year).
  • Washington QB Jake Locker made his college debut as a redshirt freshman at Syracuse in 2007. The Huskies won 42-12.
  • Dating back to the last part of the 1975 season, the Huskies have gone 35-14 when playing at home the game after a loss on the road.
  • Washington State is trying to snap a 10-game losing streak Saturday vs. Montana State. The Cougars are 6-0 all-time vs. the Bobcats.

Pac-10 players of the week

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
4:50
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Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell and Oregon punt returner Cliff Harris have been named Pac-10 Players of the Week.

Barner, a sophomore from Riverside, Calif., carried the ball 17 times for a career-high 147 yards and four touchdowns covering 1, 25, 10 and 41 yards. He also added one reception for 60 yards and a touchdown in Oregon’s 72-0 win over New Mexico. He posted 225 all-purpose yards in the game’s first 21 minutes and nine seconds before taking the bench for the remainder of the game. Barner’s five TDs tied a school record and he currently leads the nation in scoring (30.0 points per game). Oregon rolled up a school record 720 yards in the victory.

Mitchell, a junior from Pasadena, Calif., collected a career-high 18 tackles, the eighth most in Oregon State history, in the 30-21 loss to TCU. He also added his second career interception which set up the Beavers’ first touchdown of the game.

Harris, a sophomore from Fresno, Calif., set a school record, and matched a Pac-10 record, with two punt returns for touchdowns that covered 61 and 64 yards, respectively. The two other times that was accomplished in the Pac-10 was in 1965 by Mike Garrett, USC vs. California; and 1954 by Sam Brown, UCLA vs. Stanford.

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were wide receiver Juron Criner of Arizona, running back Cameron Marshall of Arizona State, wide receiver Keenan Allen of California, quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford and quarterback Matt Barkley of USC. Also nominated on defense were linebackers Paul Vassallo of Arizona, Colin Parker of Arizona State, Mike Mohamed of California, Casey Matthews of Oregon and Max Bergen of Stanford. Also nominated for special teams play were kickers Thomas Weber of Arizona State, Kai Forbath of UCLA and Nico Grasu of Washington State, and punt returners Jeremy Ross of California and Ronald Johnson of USC.

Opening camp: USC

August, 4, 2010
8/04/10
11:24
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USC opens preseason camp today. Here's a quick look.

Who's back: Six starters on offense, six on defense and punter Jacob Harfman.

Big names: QB Matt Barkley, C Kristofer O'Dowd, DT Jurrell Casey

What's new: Everything? Pete Carroll is out; Lane Kiffin is in. The only holdover from Carroll's staff is receivers coach John Morton. The postseason is out; NCAA sanctions are in. AD Mike Garrett is out; Pat Haden is in. Defending Pac-10 champions is out; finishing with four conference losses is in. Certain dominance is out; questions about the future are in.

Key competition: There are lots of areas of intrigue, starting with returning starter Chris Galippo trying to hold onto the job at middle linebacker against converted end Devon Kennard. Who will replace the injured Christian Tupou at defensive tackle: Either DaJohn Harris or Hebron Fangupo. What's the pecking order behind Allen Bradford at tailback? And what about receiver, where freshmen Kyle Prater, Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles figure to challenge returning veterans. The only certainty in the rebuilt secondary is CB Shareece Wright. Oh, and freshman Kevin Graf is listed ahead of returning starter Butch Lewis at left guard.

Breaking out: Wright, O'Dowd, WR Ronald Johnson and DE Armond Armstead will be all-conference if they stay healthy. What will Barkley in Year 2 look like after starting as a true freshman? Kennard looks like a rising star. Freshman RB Dillon Baxter had folks whispering "Reggie Bush II" in spring practices. Hopefully without the greedy parents and accompanying parasites.

Quote: Kiffin on the team's strengths and weaknesses: “I feel good about our defensive line. Depth in general is going to be an issue. We have to be extremely intelligent and smart. Seven of our 10 coaches have NFL experience. We’re going to have to be NFL-oriented because of our situation.

Notes: The Trojans were picked second in the preseason media poll. They received 12 first-place votes compared to 15 for Oregon. It was the first time in seven polls USC hadn't been picked first. ... 13 returning starters is the second fewest in the conference. ... Players who left the program after NCAA sanctions were announced: safety Byron Moore (junior college), linebacker Jordan Campbell (Louisville), wide receiver Travon Patterson (Colorado), fullback D.J. Shoemate (Connecticut), defensive end Malik Jackson (Tennessee). Also, the Trojans released touted offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson (Miami) and linebacker signee Glen Stanley (Florida State) from their scholarship commitments.

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