Seniors out to protect last piece of legacy

A battle of back-up quarterbacks likely for intersectional rivalry between USC and Notre Dame, with Mitch Mustain expected to start in place of injured Matt Barkley.

So many goals of this USC senior class have gone unfulfilled.

No BCS championship despite coming so close in 2007 and 2008.

No Pac-10 championship these last two seasons.

No 10-win season or even a bowl game this year.

But there's still one remarkable piece of their legacy the Trojans can continue Saturday evening at the Coliseum, their mastery of rivals Notre Dame and UCLA.

Former coach Pete Carroll was a remarkable 16-2 against the two traditional rivals, running off an unprecedented eight straight wins over the Fighting Irish (6-5).

"We need this," senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson said. "We need these wins. We got to go out and dominate."

"They've got a lot of great players, great coaches and great fans counting on them to make that into nine," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

An unlikely senior day starter may be tasked with keeping that streak alive. Mitch Mustain, the former Arkansas quarterback who started his career with a rushing touchdown against USC in 2006 before transferring west, is expected to be under center for the Trojans (7-4, 4-4 Pac-10) as Matt Barkley recovers from a left high-ankle sprain.

Barkley, the sophomore who has thrown for 2,593 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season, was injured at the end of the first half in last week's 36-7 loss at Oregon State. However, he returned to practice Thursday and is a officially game-time decision.

"Everyday it seems to get better, so I'm just staying positive and realize there's a chance that I plan on playing," Barkley said. "I say I'm in."

While he has not been explicitly named the starter, Mustain has been preparing all week as if he would, helping lead a week of excellent practices in stark contrast to the buildup against the Beavers.

"Three in a row, guys were really into it," Kiffin said. "I just reminded them all of the hard work all those players did over the past eight years in the offseason and everything to keep that streak alive and now it's their turn."

Mustain has attempted just 34 passes this season, half of which came in relief of Barkley last Saturday. Then again, Notre Dame will also be starting a backup quarterback in true freshman Tommy Rees.

Rees has started the last two games, both Irish wins, after former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss to Tulsa, throwing for 343 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Kiffin recruited Rees at Tennessee and was very impressed with his demeanor.

"He is the classic non-combine quarterback, just being around him before," Kiffin said. "He's not Carson Palmer when he walks in the door or goes through a workout, but he's so smart and aware, he's going to be a really great player."

Of course, it helps to have six-foot-three wide receiver Michael Floyd to throw to. One of the nation's top receivers and a certain first-round draft pick, the junior has caught nine touchdowns this season and has 25 in his career, two behind the school record held by Jeff Samardzija.

Floyd, as a high school sophomore, actually sent Kiffin a letter calling USC his dream school.

Why didn't Floyd end up a Trojan? "I wasn't here when he came out," Kiffin joked.

"He was a dominant player then and he still is," he added.


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