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

rival UCLA.

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

promising future.

”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

special Trojan.”

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.”