It was hard to miss the "Prep Not Hype" message painted on the grass at Howard Jones Field as players arrived for the first day of spring ball.
Every team comes up with a motto as coaches across the country try to get their players motivated for another grueling season, but this one seemed to be right on key for a team that has emerged from the doghouse as one of the favorites to make it to the BCS Championship Game.
The excitement for the 2012 season began as USC surpassed expectations with a promising 10-2 finish in 2011. Then just before Christmas, Lane Kiffin got the gift of Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald for one more season - and suddenly USC was viewed as a team with the potential to go all the way.
And while it can be fun for the fans and the media to project just how good this team can be, and just how satisfying it would be for the Trojans to make a run at national championship in the first year off of a bowl ban, Kiffin wants to keep his players as far away from the hype as possible.
"I think it's refreshing really to our fans and to our players but it doesn't change anything that we do," Kiffin said of opportunity to play in a bowl. "We're not all of a sudden preparing different and coaching our players any different or get ready for opponents any different. We're going to do the same thing that we've been doing."
Strong Start for Farmer
After Robert Woods burst onto the scene as one of the best freshmen in the country in 2010, George Farmer, his former teammate at Serra High School, arrived in 2011 with much of the same expectations. But it was Marqise Lee that emerged as the next big thing at wide receiver and teamed up with Robert Woods to form arguably the top pass catching duo in the country.
While Woods and Lee lit up scoreboards throughout the Pac-12 and made highlight catch after highlight catch, Farmer was moved to running back and struggled to find a role in the offense as a freshman.
"The norm is not Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, those are rare situations," Lane Kiffin said. "Every year there are about five significant impact true freshmen around the country. So normally they take a little bit of time to adjust, like George."
This offseason Farmer has transitioned back to wide receiver and immediately showed why he was so high-regarded coming out of high school, putting together a strong performance in the first practice of the spring on Tuesday.
"As far as the MVP of the day probably was George Farmer," Kiffin said. "Really to see him healthy out here and the way that he caught the ball today and his confidence is very different than last time we were with him so obviously that was great to see."
Not only did Farmer show off his tremendous speed and make a handful of nice catches, but maybe more importantly, he played with a renewed passion and was routinely the first person in line during drills.
Like Kiffin stated after practice, the talented sophomore appeared to be playing with a lot of confidence, which is a very positive sign for his development and he could give Matt Barkley yet another dangerous weapon in the passing game.
Walker Working with Less Weight
One of the telling signs of just how focused a team is during the offseason is to see what kind of shape the players are in at the start of spring ball, and if Aundrey Walker is any indication, then Aaron Ausmus and the strength staff have the Trojans headed in the right direction.
The mammoth sophomore offensive lineman has dropped 60 pounds since arriving at USC and was noticeably more agile during drills yesterday.
"He's completely different. If you were to watch just when you go from stretch drills to the offensive line drills a year ago he was always the last guy," Kiffin said. "And I looked for him to be last today and he was the first guy down there, actually. When you lose 60 pounds you move a little bit better too."
Walker will likely start at one of the tackle spots this coming season, helping to protect Heisman-hopeful Matt Barkley, and his determination this offseason has gone a long way in gaining the confidence of his teammates and coaches.