The USC head coach was certain Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw running back De'Anthony Thomas would be a Trojan. Thomas had been instrumental in helping build a recruiting class that would rank fourth in the nation, according to Scout.com.
His last-minute flirtation with Oregon would never amount to anything. He would sign to play with his teammate, offensive guard Marcus Martin, and join redshirt freshman linebacker Hayes Pullard, who had selected USC to start a Crenshaw pipeline.
Instead, Thomas arrived at his high school auditorium decked out head-to-toe in Oregon green, his letter of intent delivered hours earlier.
"That usually doesn't happen that way," Kiffin said. "Really, one of the first commitments in our class. And for a year strong (he) helped recruit this class and talked these kids into coming here. For that to happen, it was very strange.
"At that point, you've been around him so much and you've seen so much of his film, you start to picture how he's going to piece in with all these other guys. Then all of a sudden it went the other way.
"It still doesn't make sense. I still haven't figured it out. It's just really unique. I don't know that we've ever had that. We've had guys flop sometimes at the end, but not when they're really the leader of the class and they're the ones bringing other kids up here."
And after a disastrous start, losing two fumbles that set up a pair of LSU touchdowns in a 40-27 loss to the now top-ranked Tigers, Thomas has been nothing short of sensational with 13 touchdowns. His 1,497 all-purpose yards are fifth most in the Pac-12.
It is the explosiveness in the open field that sets the 5-foot-9, 173-pound Thomas apart, Kiffin even comparing him to former USC running back Reggie Bush.
"The only guy that I've probably seen like that is Reggie," Kiffin said. "Obviously he's not as big as Reggie, but when you watch those two kickoff returns versus Washington, the way he can start and stop and how fast he can cut, he's really special.
"It's why he was maybe the best player in the country (as a high school senior)."
Oregon uses Thomas in a variety of ways, as a running back and receiver, on kick and punt returns. That versatility has manifested as Thomas leads the team with 423 receiving yards, helping offset the graduation of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.
"He can hurt you in so many different directions," safety T.J. McDonald said. "Whenever he is on the field, you know where he is at and know where he can attack you from."
Even though USC handled Washington with relative ease in its 40-17 win over Washington last Saturday, injuries accumulated at a troubling rate.
"Surprisingly large amount of injuries in a game like that, where a bunch of our guys played only 30-35 snaps," Kiffin said. "Hopefully we'll get them all back. We'll need them all back for a very challenging week."
A clearly hobbled wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle, shoulder) was limited, feeling the effects of 134 touches this season plus countless more blocks and routes.
"You can kind of tell he's not 100 percent," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "I wouldn't say it affects our offense as a whole, maybe just our connection and his play. I'm hoping he gets better soon."
McDonald, who was hospitalized Saturday night after suffering from migraine headaches resulting from a hit on a kickoff, was able to practice and proclaimed himself "100 percent fine."
-Walk-on linebacker Augusto Alonso will miss Saturday's game as he interviews for the Rhodes scholarship.
-Kiffin on being 16.5-point underdogs at Oregon: "Sometimes you take it as motivation. But also, the pressure's off in those type of games. We just go up there, have some fun and see what happens."