Trojans building hype heading into 2012 season

The seats in Memorial Stadium were all but empty, the handful of

observers dwarfed by the massive bowl. Clanging and ratcheting

sounds from workers behind the east end zone echoed off the expanse

of the stadium, at times drowning out the shouts of Southern Cal’s

coaches and players below.

The rhythm stayed the same for about a half hour before Memorial

Stadium exploded with sound: Guns N’ Roses’ ”Welcome to the

Jungle” blaring through the loudspeakers.

It didn’t play long, maybe a minute or so, but that brief burst

provided a jolt of energy to the Trojans – and perhaps a glimpse of

what USC’s opponents could be in for this season.

”With the preseason rankings and everything, everybody’s

following the hype,” Trojans senior running back Curtis McNeal

said on Friday. ”But we’re just focused on accomplishing our

goals.”

Those goals have changed this season.

No more playing for pride, building toward the future.

A major bowl, a national championship, that’s what these Trojans

are after.

It wasn’t the case the past two seasons.

Thanks to NCAA sanctions related to Heisman Trophy-winning

running back Reggie Bush, USC was banned from the postseason the

past two seasons. The also Trojans lost 30 scholarships, forcing

the coaching staff to get creative with the roster and in

recruiting.

The roster issues are still there – USC isn’t as deep as some

teams – but the postseason ban has ended.

And with the postseason a possibility again, not to mention

Heisman-worthy quarterback Matt Barkley back for his senior season

and the addition of running back Silas Redd, there’s an

in-the-national-title-hunt buzz in Troy again.

”At USC, right now we kind of feel like we’re in a perfect

storm with so many good things going,” USC coach Lane Kiffin

said.

The Trojans held their first workout in full pads and full

contact on Friday, lining up for a scrimmage in their first

practice at the Coliseum since spring drills.

It certainly wasn’t perfect.

Barkley had trouble getting his timing down with star wideout

Robert Woods, the running backs put the ball on the ground several

times and players on both sides made numerous mistakes lining

up.

Still, there were flashes of brilliance, glimpses into just how

good these Trojans can be this season.

”We’ve got a ways to go until guys feel comfortable in a

game-like setting,” Barkley said. ”We’re still in kind of

practice mode here, but being in the Coliseum we tried to up the

tempo, making it more game-like, the speed of getting to the line,

things like that. Execution-wise, we’ve got to get everyone lining

up in the right spots, got to be more crisp.”

One player who has added to the excitement in Troy is Redd.

The star running back at Penn State, he was allowed to transfer

without having to sit out a season in the wake of the Jerry

Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. He’s only been with the team for

a handful of practices, but has broken some long runs and picked up

the offense quickly.

Redd raced through a gap for a run of more than 40 yards during

the scrimmage and, perhaps more importantly, held onto the ball, a

problem USC running backs have had in the past and again in the

scrimmage.

”We’re very glad we have Silas and that’s why we went and got

him, all of those concerns (fumbling),” Kiffin said.

Like every team, USC has plenty of other concerns. But the

Trojans have Barkley, they have Redd, they have talented players

and they a shot at the postseason again, perhaps even a national

championship.