Southern Cal-Hawaii Preview

Few things are certain at the onset of the college football
season, but Southern California knows its will end at the Rose
Bowl.

It won’t be playing in the New Year’s Day game, however.

With sanctions in place banning USC from playing in a bowl, Lane
Kiffin’s 14th-ranked Trojans are out to prove they deserve to be
considered one of the nation’s top teams this season beginning with
Thursday night’s opener at Hawaii.

Kiffin took over for Pete Carroll, who bolted for the NFL a few
months before USC was sanctioned with a two-year bowl ban. The NCAA
ruled former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and basketball
player O.J. Mayo received improper benefits.

The sanctions allowed players to transfer without having to take
a year off and many did leave, leaving Kiffin, who has his own
history of NCAA missteps, with just 70 scholarship players – 15
below the NCAA’s limit – at the start of training camp.

Although the Trojans know there will be no bowl game following
their Dec. 4 finale against UCLA at the Rose Bowl, they aren’t
about to lower their standards.

“The only way we’re going to be able to express ourselves is to
win 13 games,” said senior tailback Allen Bradford, who rushed for
668 yards and eight touchdowns last season. “We know it’s going to
be difficult this year. We’re playing for a tradition. We’re
playing for a school. We’re playing for ourselves.”

Kiffin arrives following a 9-4 season for the Trojans, who
suffered their most losses since going 6-6 in 2001, failing to win
a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time since that same
year. USC, which defeated Boston College in last December’s Emerald
Bowl, averaged 26.5 points and 389.1 yards – large drop-offs from
their norms of 37.8 and 458.2 from the previous seven seasons.

“I do get a sense from the players that they have an
us-against-the-world mentality, that everybody is counting them
out,” Kiffin said. “I don’t really look at it that way or emphasize
that, but I think it’s helping some of our players.”

Kiffin is hoping quarterback Matt Barkley can show greater
consistency than he did as a freshman.

Barkley appeared in 12 games last season, completing 59.9
percent of his passes for 2,735 yards, 15 touchdowns and 14
interceptions.

He’ll be joined in the backfield by junior Marc Tyler, who won
the starting job by beating out Bradford – the team’s top returning
rusher.

Tyler missed all but one game last season due to a toe injury,
but is in his best shape in years after dropping 15 pounds since
spring ball. He rushed for 198 yards and a touchdown in limited
duty as a freshman in 2008.

This will be the Trojans’ first game against Hawaii since a
63-17 win in 2005. USC is 6-0 all-time against the Warriors, and
has scored at least 61 points in each of the last three
meetings.

Like the Trojans, Hawaii is also coming off a disappointing
2009. The Warriors went 6-7, finished fifth in the Western Athletic
Conference and failed to go to a bowl for the first time since
2005.

A fast start will be a tall order given Hawaii’s early schedule.
After hosting USC, the Warriors travel across the country to play
Army and then visit Colorado before returning home.

“We’ve got a competitive beginning with those three games,”
coach Greg McMackin said. “It’s going to be a challenging schedule,
but I think that we have the players to win.”

McMackin believes quarterback Bryant Moniz will do a better job
of leading the offense after being thrown into the starting role
last season following a season-ending injury to Greg Alexander.

Moniz started eight games as a sophomore in 2009, and threw for
2,396 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

“He was really still learning as he went, but this year he has a
better grasp of the offense,” McMackin said.

Moniz’s top target returns in wide receiver Greg Salas, who
ranked fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in receiving yards
per game (122.3) last season and led the team in both catches (106)
and receiving yards (1,590).