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Sources: Dillon Baxter not with USC

CHICAGO -- USC running back Dillon Baxter did not make the trip with the Trojans to South Bend on Thursday for this weekend's game against Notre Dame, two sources close to the situation told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Baxter, an embattled sophomore, instead headed home to San Diego for the weekend. USC's policy is to not officially address personnel matters -- who made the trip, who didn't -- in the time leading up to road games. The school discusses such issues only on game day at the stadium.

Baxter could not be reached for comment Friday.

He has had multiple issues with team activities recently, missing the Trojans' practice Sunday with what was called a "family issue" and arriving late to practice later in the week with was called an "academic issue."

Baxter has repeatedly fallen in and out of favor with Trojans coach Lane Kiffin since his arrival on campus in January 2010. During his first practices that spring, he was an immediate sensation, prompting Kiffin to compare him to former USC star running back Reggie Bush on multiple occasions and call him perhaps the Trojans' most talented player.

But Baxter eventually found himself in Kiffin's doghouse. That summer, he was suspended for the season opener for an unspecified off-field issue and he also missed a November game against Oregon State after he was found to have accepted a golf-cart ride from a student-agent in violation of NCAA rules.

In June 2010, after USC was hit with NCAA sanctions including a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years, Baxter told a school compliance official that he had been illegally contacted by coaches from various programs across the country, leading to a report. When it turned out to be false, then-athletic director Mike Garrett was forced to send a letter of apology to the five schools named by USC in their filing to the NCAA from the incident.

Still, Baxter was expected to have a major role in the offense as a true freshman. That never materialized, however, with Baxter gaining only 252 total rushing yards on 59 carries and one touchdown. He did throw a scoring pass out of the Wildcat formation in the season finale against UCLA.

Then, this season, Baxter competed to start at running back in USC's season opener when starter Marc Tyler was suspended for off-field issues. But he lost out to fellow second-year player D.J. Morgan and has been a minor factor in the offense through six games, totaling just 29 rushing yards on nine carries.

In interviews, he has repeatedly maintained that he has given no consideration to a transfer. But a private meeting with Kiffin, Baxter and his family the day after the Trojans' season-opening win over Minnesota prompted speculation that the 5-foot-11, 195-pound back would consider changing schools if his playing time did not increase.

Baxter, a top recruit in the Class of 2010 out of San Diego Mission Bay High, was recruited by Florida, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee as a prep, among other schools.

Pedro Moura covers USC for ESPNLosAngeles.com.