Will he or won't he?
That's the question regarding USC quarterback Matt Barkley and his availability going into Saturday's season finale at UCLA.
The answer went back and forth on Tuesday afternoon alone.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin told Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers that the sophomore would play after missing last week's game against Notre Dame because of a high ankle sprain he suffered at Oregon State only to backtrack after practice.
"I hope he's going to play," Kiffin said. "Maybe I said I think he's going to play. … But I don't know for sure (that) he'll play."
Barkley, wearing a plastic brace to support his left ankle, was firmer on his playing status after seeing some reps.
"I'm planning on it, absolutely. That's the goal," said Barkley, who has thrown for 2,593 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.
"The pain in the front, the actual injury is pretty diminished. That was the only good news coming off of last week, the ligaments are pretty much healed up. It's pretty much a bone bruise in the back that is bothering me versus pain threshold."
But redshirt senior Mitch Mustain worked mostly with the first-team offense throughout practice.
Barkley's mobility could be the deciding factor on who starts at quarterback against the Bruins.
"He trusts me that I'm not going to just go out there and limp and hurt the team," Barkley said. "I don't want to do that. If I'm ready to play, I'll know that."
"Obviously we're not going to play him if he can't move at all," Kiffin said. "He's throwing the ball fine. He's moving around some. It'll just be as we get late in the week maybe a game-time decision. What's good for Mitch is he's still getting a lot of reps."
Completing 21 of 38 passes for 183 yards and one interception in the 20-16 loss to the Irish, Mustain said he was again preparing to start regardless of Barkley's status.
"I know Matt's making a lot more progress, got some reps today but we'll see how it goes," Mustain said. "Even then, who knows what's going to happen in the game if he does go? I know playing injured, it can be tough. They're going to take shots. So I'm going to play, be ready and prepared, if nothing else to get the other guys ready this week. We need to keep our tempo up, make sure we have our game plan ready, so whatever happens we all know the speed we need to be at."
At least running back Dillon Baxter has learned something this year.
"Just mainly all eyes on you. Even when you don't think so, all eyes are on you," he said.
Baxter's first season at USC has been anything but boring, including his recent golf cart ride that resulted in him missing the Oregon State game.
That interaction with a USC student/agent was just the latest in a run of run-ins, including a suspension against Hawaii for a violation of team rules and a diminished role in several others. Baxter also suffered a foot injury in a strong performance at Stanford.
"I wouldn't have guessed we'd be going into our last game and he'd have one touchdown," Kiffin said. "Obviously there's been (times) when we haven't given him a lot of opportunities, for obvious reasons. But yeah, that would be a disappointment for a guy who was the national high school player of the year last year."
While Baxter has rushed 58 times for 252 yards and caught 11 passes for 73 yards this season, Kiffin still believes he can be a major contributor for the Trojans.
"The potential's still there," he said. "He's still a dynamic catcher, runner, (can) make people miss. He's just got to get focused. At times he shows some signs, and at times he regresses."
-Offensive tackle Tyron Smith (knee) said he would likely return to practice Wednesday. The junior said he was "leaning toward coming back" next season instead of declaring for the NFL draft, but would wait until after Saturday before making a decision.
-Safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder) and cornerbacks Torin Harris and Brian Baucham did not practice Tuesday, while safety Jawanza Starling was limited.
Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris suffered an apparent knee injury during practice.
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