No. 9 USC fights through sanctions for big finish
Matt Barkley stopped speaking in the middle of his postgame news
conference, transfixed by the voices emanating from the Coliseum
walls. Back in the locker room, his Southern California teammates
were singing the school fight song loud enough to be heard through
several feet of 90-year-old concrete.
”I get chills just hearing that,” the USC quarterback said
with a wide-eyed grin.
The No. 9 Trojans woke up those echoes of past USC greats during
a remarkable bounce-back season, winning seven of their final eight
games to finish 10-2 in the second year of their NCAA postseason
ban. Barkley passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns as USC capped
its comeback Saturday night with a 50-0 obliteration of crosstown
The Trojans finished 7-2 in conference play, two games ahead of
the second-place Bruins in the Pac-12 South standings.
From Barkley’s record-setting brilliance to the defense’s first
shutout in over three years, the Trojans did it all with the
knowledge they wouldn’t be rewarded with postseason games – not a
bowl, not a trip to the Pac-12’s first championship game, nothing
at all after Saturday.
Sanctions are keeping the Trojans home in December and January.
They can’t keep USC fans from getting awfully excited about a
”We are coming out of the dark,” said Lane Kiffin, whose 18-7
start at USC has rebuffed many doubts about the brash young coach’s
abilities. ”This is the only university that could take the hits
we have. The majority of the guys who played today are freshmen and
sophomores who came here after the sanctions hit. We have a bright
But the Trojans celebrated the present on Saturday night,
pulverizing UCLA in their biggest victory over their rivals since
1930. USC athletic director Pat Haden spent the week looking for an
allowable way to recognize the Trojans’ finish atop the division
standings despite their ineligibility – and when they returned to
the locker room, they found T-shirts on their chairs reading: ”USC
Football 2011 South Division Champions.”
”It’s true,” Barkley said.
USC has been on a roll since October 1, losing only to Stanford
in triple overtime. The Trojans finished the year with back-to-back
victories over then-No. 4 Oregon and UCLA, the two teams who will
play for the league title on Friday. The Trojans never even trailed
against either conference finalist.
”We had a lot to play for this year,” Barkley said. ”We were
playing for this university, the history of this program. You’re
playing for personal pride. You don’t want to just flush the season
down the toilet. There were a ton of things that we were playing
for and that motivated us.”
USC still isn’t done paying for the misdeeds cited by the NCAA
related to Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush. Although
the Trojans’ two-year bowl ban ends this year, USC also loses 30
scholarships over the next three years, severely limiting the
ability of Kiffin’s staff to sign elite talent.
But Kiffin and his staff already have prepared for the
limitations through long-term planning. USC spent the past two
years signing bumper crops of star recruits and redshirting much of
it, putting fewer than 50 scholarship players on the field for many
games this season.
Only four seniors started in Saturday’s win over UCLA, and the
Trojans will lose only about a dozen players who got significant
action this season, depending on who goes pro.
”We get to go into houses and recruit without people worrying
about bowl games,” said Kiffin, who vowed his assistant coaches
would be on planes Sunday on the way to recruiting destinations.
”Now we get to go into the house with no sanctions. We’re going to
continue to build this team like we did in the past.”
While Barkley set the Pac-12 single-season record with 39
touchdown passes, receiver Robert Woods broke Keyshawn Johnson’s
conference record by finishing with 111 receptions in his breakout
sophomore season. Woods and freshman Marqise Lee racked up 1,000
yards receiving apiece, giving the Trojans two 1,000-yard pass
catchers for just the fourth time in school history.
The Trojans couldn’t help wondering what they could do if
Barkley and junior left tackle Matt Kalil decide to return for next
season, reteaming with Woods, Lee, tailback Curtis McNeal,
tantalizing freshman George Farmer and a wealth of young
Barkley, a three-year starter who represented his teammates
throughout the sanctions, will decide his future in December, and
Kalil said his decision likely will mirror Barkley’s plan. Kiffin
realizes Barkley is likely to be a high first-round draft pick,
particularly after the way he finished the season, and he expects
Barkley to depart ”unless he just wants to (return) to be a
Barkley’s final game sure appeared to be a farewell to the
Coliseum. After a near-flawless performance, his family joined him
on the field for hugs and photographs, and Barkley got up on a
stepladder to conduct the USC band, holding the mascot’s sword as a
If Barkley is going, he’s going in style – bowl or no bowl.
”I have no idea what I’m doing next year,” Barkley said.
”Tonight is too special to worry about that. We deserve to
celebrate this a little bit.”