Jurrell Casey knows the game is about to change.
"I think about it everyday actually," he said. "Once you leave, it's not about the team no more. It's about yourself and trying to make money for you and your family. You don't have that same team atmosphere and you can't enjoy football the way you really want to because you're always working to keep your job."
The standout junior defensive tackle for the Trojans will have an NFL career. The only question is whether is begins after Saturday's rivalry game against UCLA or next season.
The former Long Beach Poly star is regarded as a first-round prospect by many veteran draft observers in the mold of former Trojans Sedrick Ellis and Mike Patterson. Casey has also been the team's most consistent defender this season, posting 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and earning constant praise from coaches.
But that doesn't necessarily mean Casey is gone. He plans to meet with his USC coach Lane Kiffin, as well as receive an evaluation of his stock from the league. Family financial considerations would factor into his decision.
"It's a big role, but not really because we've been lasting this long so I'm pretty sure we can last another year," Casey said.
There's also the uncertainty regarding the expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement, a rookie wage scale and potential lockout to consider.
"That would be a big key to it," Casey said. "If there's a lockout, what's the point of leaving, right? Come back and play another season, help the team try to rebuild for the year after and the national championship."
In the meantime, there is one more game for Casey regardless of what his future holds and he didn't hold back when discussing the Bruins.
"I really don't like the colors. I really don't like Adidas. It's just something I never liked since I was growing up and I always liked ‘SC," he said.
Barkley Looks Good To Go
It seemed positively absurd when quarterback Matt Barkley said at the beginning of the week he would be sufficient recovered from a high ankle sprain to start against UCLA.
Turns out the sophomore knew his body better than everyone else, working extensively with the starting offense during practice Thursday. Most of his reps came during the service period against the scout team and he showed no ill effects of the injury he suffered at Oregon State.
"I told you guys," Barkley said. "It's been feeling better and better everyday and you can really tell the difference, I can tell the difference in just planting and moving on it. I was feeling happy with how I was able to move around and do service and get more plays in than I did yesterday. It was a good feeling."
"He obviously looked the best he's looked since the injury, doing a lot of stuff today. I would anticipate him playing," Kiffin said.
"I would anticipate him starting," Kiffin later added, but declined to officially name a starter.
"It will be a decision as we get a little closer, but the way he looked today… We'll see how sore he is tomorrow."
The only concern with Barkley remains his lateral mobility, but he tried some bootlegs and other moves needed in the pocket during warm-ups.
"It's still the one thing that's kind of iffy, but hopefully I'll be good in two days," he said.
-The secondary continues to remain in flux, as several players are dealing with injuries. Safety T.J. McDonald remains in a sling and is doubtful to play against UCLA, as is cornerback Torin Harris. Neither player practiced at all this week.
Cornerback Shareece Wright tweaked his left ankle Thursday, while cornerback Brian Baucham was limited in his first action this week.
-Kiffin did not name a starting running back against the Bruins.
-Unhappy Trojan fans have taken to the Internet to express their displeasure with Kiffin, some calling for him to be fired after only one season. USC athletic director Pat Haden has shot down any such speculation, leading Kiffin to joke about his job security.
"I guess I'm safe for 48 more hours. Maybe not if we only score one touchdown," he said.
-The tradition of having seniors exit Howard Jones Field through a tunnel composed of teammates following their final practice was not held on Thursday and will instead happen following Friday's walkthrough.