Kiffin Settles in at Pac-12 Media Day

LOS ANGELES – At Pac-10 Media Day a year ago, Lane Kiffin was the bad boy of college football, sunglasses and all to meet the West Coast press for the first time as USC head coach.

LOS ANGELES – At Pac-10 Media Day a year ago, Lane Kiffin was the bad boy of college football, sunglasses and all to meet the West Coast press for the first time as USC head coach. This time around, with a 12 in the middle of the conference emblem, with Oregon coach Chip Kelly dealing with the never-ending questions about NCAA investigations and potential penalties, with Colorado coach Jon Embree as the new kid on the block literally and figuratively, Kiffin seemed at ease.

No sunglasses, filibustering in a way that combined a sales pitch for recruiting, referencing the new John McKay Center and the number of players selected in the NFL Draft, while actually providing valuable information, Kiffin seemed at home in the converted commissary on the Fox Studio lot.

"With that I've eaten up all the time, so there are no hard questions you can ask me right now," Kiffin joked at the end of his opening statement.

The more things change … the more they actually change?

Well, not everything.

USC was tabbed as the favorite in the new Pac-12 South, receiving 24 of 42 first-place votes, edging out Arizona State. Considering the issues on the offensive line and defensively, even Kiffin seemed caught a bit off-guard.

"Did Arizona State move to the North? That completely surprises me," he said. "I look at Arizona State's roster, what they have coming back on both sides of the ball, I don't know how they wouldn't be favored above us."

But he was quick to point out how close the Trojans were to finishing 11-2 last season and touting the incoming recruiting class.

During lunch, Kiffin elaborated on his plans for addressing the inexperienced line with two newcomers.

"(Outisde of left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes), None of the rest of our guys have ever played a significant snap of college football. That's going to be a big challenge," Kiffin said.

Massive freshman Aundrey Walker of Cleveland (Ohio) will start out at right tackle, Kiffin said, and there would be no aversion to also getting Scottsdale (Ariz.) Cyrus Hobbi in the starting lineup immediately at left guard if ready.

"It's not a real easy offense for linemen to play in right away, the pass protections, but we may have to. It could happen," Kiffin said.

Kiffin also expanded on the decision to move Devon Kennard from middle linebacker back to defensive end. A year ago, Kiffin pointed to the dearth of quality running backs across the conference. However, the proliferation of spread offenses results in a need for more speed at defensive end, not the bulk Kennard provided at linebacker.

"We faced 630 snaps of three and four wide receivers. That's unheard of," Kiffin said. "So that means you're not even playing with three wide receivers. It's more critical to have defensive linemen."

Pairing him with speedy edge rushers Nick Perry and Wes Horton, even giving Perry the possible opportunity to play inside in obvious passing situations, could help remedy the troubles USC had against the spread a year ago.

And Kiffin voiced optimism at getting Armond Armstead (medical) cleared to further bolster the line, offsetting the release of Palmdale (Calif.) defensive end Steve Dillon (academics) from his letter of intent and likely loss of freshman defensive end DeVante Wilson with a knee injury.

Factor in a season's worth of familiarity and there are reasons to expect improvement.

"We know more about our roster," Kiffin said. "Going into the second season this fall is going to really help us as we figure out where to put these new guys and put everybody into place."

But for all the good vibes, Kiffin's partner on the dais, quarterback Matt Barkley couldn't resist a little jab.

Asked to debunk one myth about his coach, Barkley had his own signature quip.

"Well, he's in the same place for two years in a row now, which is good," Barkley said with a laugh.

Some things do stay the same.


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