The setup is less than ideal. Playing in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, against a 6-7 team from the ACC? Not exactly somebody’s ideal New Year’s Eve plans.
Throw in the fact that kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on the west coast and I’m starting to question just how many people will even watch this game.
As has been well-established, this was not the ending to the 2012 season everyone pictured last summer. Underwhelming though it might be, there are many positives in watching this year’s edition of the Sun Bowl.
Senior quarterback Matt Barkley is expected to play in his final game. Many fans were left disappointed with Barkley’s play this season, which saw him fall from the Heisman favorite to a Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection.
Regardless of how he played on the field this season, Barkley should be respected for what he has done for this program. In the darkest of times, he led the team out of a situation that could have left the program in shambles. Barkley should be praised because he fought on, and we should all be thankful that we get a chance to see the Trojan legend take the field one last time, regardless of what bowl game it is.
Speaking of swan songs, another football icon will be making his final appearance for the Trojans: de facto defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Things never really did click for the USC defense under Kiffin’s tenure, and it’s sad to see a great father-son coaching story end this way.
But the elder Kiffin’s reputation is secure in football circles, and he should be celebrated as USC takes the field under his direction to try and slow up the Georgia Tech offense.
An extra game also gives fans the chance to see just how many times Lane Kiffin can call plays designed for Robert Woods as a last-ditch effort to lure him into returning for his senior season. Or, Lane could go the other way and call plays for Marqise Lee as a way to let Heisman voters know just how wrong they were to leave Lee out of their top three and to send a message as to who should be the favorite heading into next year.
Speaking of next year, one of the most significant aspects of bowl games is how they can be a barometer for creating a pecking order among conferences.
This can make a huge impact on the Pac-12’s national perception heading into next year, which can only help USC’s chances at a high preseason ranking for 2013. Should USC and the rest of the conference’s eight bowl teams post a 7-1 or perhaps even an 8-0 record, then the Pac-12 will be held in high regard going into next season.
Another positive side to playing the Sun Bowl is that it gives Lane an opportunity to use different players in live game action.
Though the team will be playing to win a victory in the Sun Bowl will do little to remove the stink that this season will leave behind. So why wouldn’t Lane take some chances with some different lineups?
Maybe some extra snaps for freshman wide receiver Nelson Agholor or even even sophomore wide receiver George Farmer will be in store. Additional carries for sophomore running back D.J. Morgan could be expected, as well.
On the other side of the ball, Monte could sub frequently throughout the game, particularly in the secondary, where USC will likely be replacing three starters next season. Maybe junior safeties Gerald Bowman or Demetrius Wright could see increased playing time.
Kiffin could use the bowl game as a sort of early audition for starting jobs next year, and possibly take a page out of Pete Carroll’s book and become a vocal advocate for constant competition, even he probably is already a vocal advocate of “constant competition” in practice or in seemingly meaningless bowl games.
Or maybe the team will simply be focused on waking up early enough for kickoff, or on getting back to Los Angeles in time to celebrate the New Year. It’s entirely possible that the players and coaches are just as deflated about this season’s disappointment as the fans.
But if they’re smart, they’ll take this game seriously. Because, as any Trojan fan is quick to remind you, next season is right around the corner.
“Inside the 20s” ran every other Thursday. If you would like to comment on this article, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.