High expectations have returned to Los Angeles.
Despite finishing just 8-5 a season ago, good for third place in the Pac-10, USC was picked to win the South division in the conference’s annual preseason media poll. Tallying 230 points, the Trojans edged Arizona State, which narrowly finished second with 207 points.
“With so much stuff this offseason going on with USC and around us, we can get back to the field,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said at Pac-12 Media Day on Tuesday. “Hopefully we have no distractions and just get back on the field and coach and play, which is why we came here.”
Because of NCAA sanctions stemming from the ineligibility of former Heisman Trophy winning tailback Reggie Bush during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, should USC in fact finish first in the South division, it would be ineligible to participate in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, as it currently serves the second year of a two-year postseason ban.
Arizona State, as a result, would be the division’s representative, even if it were to finish second to USC.
“I don’t care,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said when asked about such a scenario. “A lot of things in life you take anyway you can get it.”
Despite postseason ineligibility, Kiffin, who is entering his second season as the Trojans’ head coach, remained optimistic about the state of the program, downplaying the importance of participating in a December or January bowl game.
“There is a lot of build up before the season about no Bowl games,” Kiffin said. “But once you get going, you’re in practices and you’re walking down that Coliseum and getting ready to play, I really don’t think [players] think much about that.”
Junior quarterback Matt Barkley, who was in attendance alongside Kiffin, expressed similar sentiments.
“We’re not thinking about the negative aspects of the season,” Barkley said. “When it comes, we’ll deal with it. But as of now, Minnesota is on the game plan. That’s our schedule. One game at a time, one week at a time, and that’s what we’re doing.”
USC, which faces the Golden Gophers at home Sept. 3, returns 12 starters from a year ago, five on offense and seven on defense, including Barkley, preseason All-American junior safety T.J. McDonald and Biletnikoff Award candidate Robert Woods.
“We know more about our roster,” Kiffin said. “Going into the second season this fall is going to really help us, as we figure out where to put these new guys and put everybody into place.”
USC opens fall camp Aug. 4.