USC head coach Lane Kiffin announced seniors Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald, Khaled Holmes, and junior Nickell Robey will captain the 2012-2013 team, as voted by their teammates.
"It's a good group that leads extremely well," Kiffin said. "They had a lot of votes for a reason."
Barkley will serve as a captain for his third straight season. He is the first Trojan to ever be named a three-time captain. McDonald joins Barkley as a returning captain.
This is the first time being named for Holmes and Robey. "I thought it was pretty neat to add Khaled and Nickell in there to two returning captains," Kiffin said.
The McKay Center
Athletes and coaches moved into the McKay Center a few weeks ago, but Tuesday was the first time the media got an inside look at the finished product.
For a price tag of $70 million, the facility did not disappoint. The 110,00 square-foot McKay Center will serve all 21 athletic teams and will be a focal point of USC recruiting. Kiffin says he's already seen the impact the building has had on impressionable high school kids. "Over the course of the last year," Kiffin explained, "there have been a lot of recruits or signees now who have walked through there with their families, prior to being done. They could see where it was going. It's a huge advantage."
The facility features a 33-by-15 video board displayed upon entering the building. Among the other amenities include two classrooms, multiple computer labs, lounge areas, an indoor practice facility, weight room, training room, and the football team's locker room – complete with a players lounge.
"Not only did we catch up," Kiffin said of the new building in comparison to other program's facilities, "because we were way behind our conference and (the) country, I think we not only caught up but we probably passed everybody."
The McKay Center is not currently open to the public. USC officials say they plan to open the building to the public for tours in the future.
Selling it Out
The Trojans have already sold out three home games this season inside the Coliseum, which seats a capacity crowd of 93,607.
USC's season opener versus Hawaii was announced as a sellout on Thursday.
"I think it's exciting," Kiffin said of already have three sellouts. "It's great for our university, it's great for our fans. It's not the fans' job to come, it's our job to put the product out on the field so they do come."
The Trojans open the season as the No. 1 team in the AP Poll and No. 3 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Grades Are In
It's not all good news for the Trojans after summer school grades were posted.
The cornerback, Wiley, is not eligible to play for the Trojans this season and has been taken off athletic scholarship. He started the final six games of the season last year.
Asked if losing the cornerback would impact the Trojans defense, Kiffin said "We had kind of moved forward, as you can tell from not having him here at camp and so from that point it worked." Kiffin went on to say that the team did not invest much time in players who had question marks surrounding their eligibility status. I think the blow isn't as big because of the way we went about it," he said.
It is unknown if Wiley will remain at USC, "I know that he wants to play," Kiffin said Friday. "So he's going to have to figure that out. If we can help him, we'll help him."
The return of Simmons is expected to provide added depth to not only the linebackers, but to special teams. "He's fortunate to have made it," Kiffin said of Simmons' passing grades, "and hopefully that was a wakeup call."
The 75 Limit
Monday, August 27th - the first day of school - is the day Kiffin has to turn in his list of 75 (or less) scholarship players to the NCAA.
He says the Trojans will have no issue being at or under the limit. As of Tuesday, he also said that walk-ons who were awarded scholarships are no longer on scholarship.
The head coach says there is no deadline to award scholarships, just that the Trojans needed to be at or below the 75 limit come Monday.
*Editors Note: As of Sunday evening, walk-on punter Kyle Negrete was awarded a scholarship.
With only 75 scholarship players available in 2012 and with guys already out because of injuries, don't expect many players to redshirt this season.
"I don't think you're going to see many guys redshirt at all," Kiffin said last week after practice.
Asked specifically about the possibility of redshirting freshman offensive tackle Zach Banner, Kiffin said it would most likely come down to whether or not Banner sees any time on offense. The USC head coach says it would not be fair to spend a year of eligibility on Banner if he only sees action during special teams.
The Trojans final scrimmage of fall camp could not have told a more different story than the scrimmage they played over the previous weekend. Saturday's scrimmage was setup to emphasize the logistics of a college football game – substitutions and transitioning from offense, to defense, to special teams. "I thought that they did a really good job for the most part of lining up in general in all three phases of the game," Kiffin said on Saturday. "I'm very pleased with how it went. I'm very pleased with how the skilled guys on offense clicked together, they really looked in sync. So it was really productive and I think we stayed really healthy."
So Long, CAMP!
Fall camp officially ended Saturday and game preparation for Hawaii began Sunday. "I mean obviously camp gets long at times," explained Kiffin on camp's final day. "The days are long. So this is really time, we just talked about that, it's time to go. I told them college football season for us, starts tomorrow."
The Trojans spent camp focused on their own play and even as they turned to preparation for their season opener versus Hawaii, much of the focus remains on the play of their own team. "I think sometimes in openers you can get caught up in what they may do and so we've really tried to make sure we're not doing that, especially on defense," Kiffin explained, "and just making sure we just get really good at what we do and not trying to figure out what they do because you really don't know."
Monday proved to be one of the most important days of fall camp, all because of Sunday. The three Trojan quarterbacks combined to throw four interceptions – two by Barkley and two by Wittek - and only two touchdowns at Sunday's scrimmage.
Monday proved that as quickly as things could go downhill, they could also be turned around.
"It was a really good practice, especially coming off of a scrimmage," Kiffin said on Monday. "For whatever reason, (we) had great energy."
Barkley knew it was not for "whatever" reason. Sunday served as a wakeup call the Trojans needed to turn up the "serious level" a notch with the season quickly approaching.
When asked if Sunday indeed served as a wakeup call, Barkley said "I think so. For guys that don't know how to line up, who are missing assignments and everything, it's kind of like ‘okay, you've got to grow up now, it's time to make plays, time to know your stuff real soon or you're going to hold us back.'"
Throughout the week the Barkley to Robert Woods connection started to look more like it was in midseason form rather than the preseason state they have been trying to break out of. "I think you probably noticed (Matt Barkley) and (Robert Wood's) timing together, Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice. "It seems to be on its way back."
The Trojans' head coach has yet to announce who the backup quarterback will be, but is expected to make a decision Tuesday. Kiffin originally said a No. 2 would be named prior to game week because he didn't know how to run practice any other way, with the limited number of reps for any No. 2 quarterback. He later recanted part of that statement, saying there was no deadline on naming a backup. After Sunday's practice, however, it sounds as though a No. 2 will be named.
This will be an interesting storyline to stay on top of. Both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are redshirt freshmen, meaning unless a battle is won over at some point, one could potentially spend most of his college career as a backup – on the bench. Because of the skill level of both quarterbacks, that is not a very likely scenario – that one will be happy being a backup – so it will be interesting to see if transfer speculation begins to grow after a backup is named. There is no doubt the media will begin to speculate – it is already happening – especially since the nation's top rated high school quarterback, Max Browne, will be making his way to USC in 2013 – or perhaps sooner – as the senior is trying to graduate early from Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline High School.
Kessler and Wittek have taken an equal amount of reps during fall camp, alternating turns. Kiffin has been careful to say that neither quarterback has excelled beyond the other. He says he'd feel comfortable putting either Wittek or Kessler into game if the need comes. "I think both of them have a really good grasp of our offense," Kiffin said. "I could see some areas where both would play."
It is the never-ending question that needs to end. Receiver Robert Woods may not be 100%, but he will never tell you that. Neither will his coach. Not when his 80% or 90% looks better than most players 110%. Woods is good to go, the ankle – the brace – is not an issue. He rests his case and after watching him make catch after catch, only to then turn and run like the wind, I rest mine.
In fact, here are some of Kiffin's thoughts, which he is asked for nearly everyday following practice, on Woods.
On Tuesday, Kiffin said "He looks fast. I think he's still got a ways to go. He's definitely the best he's been."
On Friday, "I think Robert's in really good shape right now," Kiffin said. "I feel pleased with where he's at. He's not perfect, he won't do much tomorrow, but we'll come back Sunday and see where he's at."
Kiffin made some pretty strong statements about the abilities of sophomore Marqise Lee following practice Thursday, saying Lee "was dominating college football at the end of the year," last season. Lee's ability and versatility from his freshman season to this year has already grown, this season he will is able to lineup in every receiving position.
"If you're making a statement that he may go down as the best receiver ever, you better put the ball in his hands," Kiffin said of Lee on Thursday. "So ideally, when we have really good players we like them to touch the ball a lot." Needless to say, Barkley will be looking for Lee this season more often than not.
At the end of the week, there was still no clarity on who the No. 3 spot would go to. De'Von Flournoy, George Farmer, and Nelson Agholor all made a strong case throughout fall camp. "I think that when we look at the receivers," Kiffin said Wednesday, "Nelson's really made a jump there. Trying to catch (Farmer) and (Flournoy). So that's a very healthy battle."
Kiffin says Flournoy, a redshirt junior, is an example of "if you stay, you play." He says Flournoy has put in the time over the last few years and has stayed in the system, which is now paying off. "He's really matured," Kiffin said.
On Tuesday, redshirt freshman Buck Allen had a few strong carries during practice, prompting the following statement from Kiffin when asked about Allen's progress. "Buck has come a long ways," Kiffin said. "He missed time with injury when he was in high school with a knee. He's missed time with us with some injuries. He's very young football-wise. Hopefully he continues to improve at the rate that he's going."
The following day, the head coach mentioned tailback D.J. Morgan as a player who has done "really well" over fall camp.
No real stir here over the last week. Redshirt freshman Soma Vainuku will be at the top of the depth chart.
Freshman Jahleel Pinner did get some meaningful carries in over the week at practice and even broke for some yardage.
When most of the offense was heating up on Monday and Tuesday, redshirt sophomore Xavier Grimble was cooling off. Grimble, who has been a steady presence in the offense throughout camp, made a few uncharacteristic drops.
"You have some streaks," Kiffin said on Tuesday. "Surprisingly he's kind of hit a cold one here over two days, which is unusual because he's a very natural catcher that has really good hands." The "streak" is causing no real concern, just a little surprise as Kiffin said "I wouldn't have guessed him" as a player who would go through a bump like this.
In and out of camp throughout the three weeks with an undisclosed injury, redshirt freshman Junior Pomee looked to make some breakthrough plays during Saturday's scrimmage, but upon closer review, continued to make young player mistakes.
"We brought him over with us and he lined up wrong twice and wasted a time out," Kiffin explained. "It was good to see him make plays, but you don't get to read off cards and have the plays told to you every time. Junior's got a long ways to go, but obviously he's very talented and it's our job to get him focused."
Kiffin says Pomee's main issue at this point in his career is finding consistency.
For the first time of fall camp, the Trojans' offensive line was able to get consecutive days of practice in with the entire first team. Center Khaled Holmes, left tackle Aundrey Walker, and right tackle Kevin Graf all spent time sidelined during parts of fall camp.
In the absence of Walker and Graf, freshman Max Tuerk and walk-on Nathan Guertler were able to take valuable reps with the first team line. Kiffin continues to say he rarely calls out Tuerk's name during practice, which he considers a good thing. "He's going to be really, really good," Kiffin says of the 6-6, 285 pound freshman. "I don't even know where he's going to end up playing. He has a unique body and a unique skill set that he could probably play all three spots."
As of last Monday, Tuerk was also the lone freshman to not have hit the "freshman wall," known as the point in fall camp when freshmen tend to reach a saturation point not only physically, but mentally. "Up front Max Tuerk has really done a good job," Kiffin said Wednesday.
Walk-on Nathan Guertler proved over fall camp he will be ready if his name is called on game day. "Nate is very valuable, he can play both sides," Kiffin said. "He's had a great attitude doesn't say a word. You don't hear anything from him and he just works as hard as he can."
Nerves over the strength of the defensive line are starting to settle. "I did feel better yesterday after watching the film," Kiffin said on Monday, following Sunday's scrimmage. "I think that was probably 50 percent they played well. The defense played with really good effort yesterday, really good energy."
Amongst the players Kiffin noted from Sunday's scrimmage was junior-college transfer Morgan Breslin who has been filling in and collecting valuable reps as first-team linemen have been forced to watch from the sidelines with injuries. After reviewing film from Sunday's scrimmage, Kiffin said Breslin played well after "not a very good week of practice."
"I thought he played well and showed up," Kiffin said. "He's really kind of done that since we've been here – showed up in the scrimmages. Sometimes he's been lucky on some blocking assignments and had some easy ones, but he's also made some plays. That was really good to see, especially with J.R. and Wes out.
The head coach's praise of Breslin continued on Tuesday when he said the junior has had a good attitude throughout camp and has pushed himself to stay on the field.
Freshman Leonard Williams continues to make strides at his new home, playing defensive tackle. "Leonard will be really, really good," Kiffin said over the week, "but he's a long ways away." Though he is a long ways away, the freshman made huge strides in only his first few weeks of camp, "If a guy can come this far," Kiffin says, "as a lot of these young guys have, he can come this far again."
Redshirt junior Kevin Greene also saw reps with the first team when right tackle Kevin Graf missed a few days of practice with an undisclosed injury. "Kevin's long and fast," Kiffin said of the 6-4, 255 pound defensive end. "Sometimes those guys don't play the run as well, and they've got to get low, they've got to get pad leverage and they've got to bend. So the run game is where he needs the most work."
Redshirt sophomore George Uko hasn't received much attention throughout camp, despite being one of the more physically reliable players on the line as other guys make trips to the sidelines with injuries. "I think George," Kiffin said Monday, "even though he had some lapses (Sunday), and he only played about 30 plays, with defensive line it's always hard to go from a practice to a game. It's so intense and so fast in a game. I think George definitely has made some steps. He's not there yet." Kiffin went on to say that Uko and Wes Horton have the ability to be dominant players like Nick Perry was last year.
After returning for a couple of practices, Horton spent time on the sidelines over the week still nursing an undisclosed injury.
Middle linebacker Lamar Dawson continued to sit out of practice all week with an undisclosed injury, yet his return to play in the season opener seems somewhat probable. Asked if Dawson would start should he be healthy, "I would think it would be the same way that we started," Kiffin said. "I would think it would be Lamar. That's based off of Lamar being 100 percent."
With Dawson spending an extended amount of time sidelined, weakside linebacker Hayes Pullard has stepped into the middle and has done a commendable job. "I can't imagine Hayes could have done better than he did," Kiffin said of the redshirt sophomore's transition. "Moving basically in one day they put him in there and it's like he'd been there a long time." Because of the Trojans' current personnel, it is unlikely middle linebacker will be the new home of Pullard, however Kiffin says he wouldn't be surprised if that turns out to be Pullard's best spot "in the long run and maybe his spot at the next level, too."
Junior cornerback Nickell Robey continues to hold down one cornerback spot and over the week Anthony Brown showed promise on the other side.
Brown, who has been in and out of practice over fall camp with an undisclosed injury, finally saw consecutive days in action and showed consistency manning down the defense opposite of Robey. "Anthony' played for us before – started for us before – before he got hurt," Kiffin said on Thursday, "so we're very comfortable with him."
Cornerback Torin Harris, who Kiffin has said is as good if not better than Robey, continued to remain sidelined this week with an undisclosed injury.
Meanwhile, redshirt senior Drew McAllister continues to fight for a position, "We'd like to find roles for everybody," Kiffin said over the week. "Drew's obviously part of that, whether that's on special teams, defense, both. He's been here a long time. It would be great for him to have a really good season."
Preseason West 150
The Scout.com recruiting team released the top 150 recruits from the west coast and it came as little surprise, the top is flooded with 2013 USC verbal commits.
Kylie Fitts just missed the top 20 to come in at number 21, followed by Sebastian LaRue at 25. Needless to say, Kiffin & Company have put together a 2013 class for the books, as long as these verbal commitments hold up.
Nkemdiche Could Come West
Scout's top player in the nation, Robert Nkemdiche was in action over the weekend at the Corky Kell Classic in Atlanta, Georgia. The five-star defensive end told Scout's Kristen Ledlow he "may visit somewhere out west," including USC, Oregon, and UCLA. Nkemdiche is verbally committed to Clemson.
Checking in with the Trojans 2013 commits
Scout's Annabel Stephan has been making her way around the greater Los Angeles area to check in with USC's 2013 verbal commits who are now in action for their high school teams.
Redlands (Calif.) East Valley defensive end Kylie Fitts told Stephan he has continued to maintain a strong relationship with the USC coaching staff. Fitts was one of the Trojans' commits to attend last Sunday's scrimmage, where he also saw the completed McKay Center. "[The coaches] are awesome," Fitts said. "I went there this past Sunday to the scrimmage and to the new John McKay Center. It's just amazing. Talking with all the coaches, they are all fired up."
Fitts also said he maintain contact with fellow 2013 commits Chris Hawkins and Eddie Vanderdoes and that they are all "becoming good friends."
Recruiting Quick Hits
Northeast recruiting analyst Brian Dohn is reporting four-star defensive end Alquadin Muhammad wants to take an official visit to USC.
Scout's Ahmard Vital reported USC 2013 verbal commit Torrodney Prevot was honored as a preseason All-Greater Houston player. Prevot is a 6-4, 207 pound defensive end.