Football begins preparations for Pac-12 Championship

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold eludes pressure during USC’s Week 2 matchup against Stanford. Photo by Katie Chin | Daily Trojan

On Monday, No. 11 USC began a short week of practice in anticipation of facing Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship, while offensive coordinator Tee Martin addressed his head coaching candidacy. This week’s conference championship game doubles as a rematch of the teams’ regular season contest and their 2015 Pac-12 Championship matchup.

Rumors swirl

When Tennessee fired head coach Butch Jones two weeks ago, USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin became a natural contender to fill the vacancy. He is a young coaching prospect with proven success since taking over play-calling duties in 2016 (the Trojans were second in the Pac-12 this year in total offense, with 488.6 yards per game). He also quarterbacked Tennessee to a national championship as Peyton Manning’s successor in 1998.

With the Volunteers hiring and then un-hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano amid student protests on Sunday, Martin’s name is once again coming up as a potential option.

“I think he’d make a great head coach if he decides to go that route,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold said. “I think Tee is an awesome guy, so any time you get a great guy with that kind of offensive mindset, he’s going to make for a great head coach one day. We’ll see what happens.”

On Monday, Martin stayed quiet about potentially filling his alma mater’s coaching vacancy.

“I just don’t talk about other jobs during the season,” Martin said. “I’m going to focus on Stanford, and it’s something that will be talked about after the season.”

He added that he has not been interviewed by Tennessee.

Rumors also circulated regarding Darnold’s NFL future: The quarterback refuted rumors that he would return to school if the Cleveland Browns earned the No. 1 draft pick.

“I didn’t say anything about the Browns,” Darnold said. “I’ve never said anything bad about [an NFL] team. They know I would never say anything.”

Stanford’s improvements

In Week 2 of the college football season, USC steamrolled Stanford for a 42-24 victory, while amassing over 600 yards of total offense. It still stands out as one of the Trojans’ most impressive performances of 2017.

Since a challenging 1-2 start, Stanford has won eight of its last nine games, including victories over two top-10 teams. The Cardinal enter the Pac-12 Championship with loads of momentum after handling No. 8 Notre Dame this past weekend.

“I think right now, when you look at it, I think they’re stopping the run very well in the last seven games,” head coach Clay Helton said. “A little bit of it is schematically, they’ve made some schematic changes on their defense. But I think overall they’ve gotten better and that’s usually what [Stanford head coach] David [Shaw’s] team does as they go from game one to game 12.”

In their 38-20 victory over the Fighting Irish, the Cardinal stifled the dynamic duo of quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams for 111 combined rushing yards. Notre Dame ran wild for 377 rushing yards against USC in its 49-14 win in October.

“We beat Stanford by double digits, Notre Dame beat us by double digits, so when you look at that it’s pretty interesting,” Darnold said. “But we played Stanford early on in the season and Notre Dame was a while back too so I think it’s just two really good teams going at it on Friday.”

Injury Notes

USC held both junior defensive lineman Rasheem Green and junior tight end Tyler Petite out of practice with shoulder injuries, with Helton citing both as day-to-day. He also announced that junior outside linebacker Porter Gustin was unlikely to play until a bowl game. Gustin has grappled with a broken toe for most of this season.