Neuheisel sat down with the media prior to watching practice to promote a new series on the Pac-12 Networks, and an episode in which will feature the Trojans on Thursday.
USC fans, keep in mind when choosing to read on, that Neuheisel at one point in the hour-long discussion did stop to remind those of us listening, that Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans beat him and his UCLA squad 50-0 in 2011, so any opinions and thoughts by Neuheisel don't come as insults, but rather ideas and insights into college football…
That being said, Neuheisel thinks USC will be a better team without Matt Barkley…and he didn't mean that as a slight against the loyal quarterback who chose to put the NFL on hold for a year to come back to Troy. "They got so enamored with using Barkley to throw," Neuheisel said. "They maybe relied on his talents too much."
It could be true. Barkley was a expected to be a top pick in the 2012 draft if he had declared. Coming back to USC, the offense seemed comfortable with him. Maybe a little too comfortable. Neuheisel pointed to the number of time the Trojans threw the ball with Barkley, saying they'll probably be less inclined to throw as often with a quarterback who isn't a "sure thing" as Barkley was thought to be. The former Bruin coach repeatedly called Barkley a great quarterback.
As for his slide in the draft, all the way down to the fourth round? Neuheisel said he was absolutely "shocked" to see that happen. His take? That scouts get spooked easily. In other words, he fell a few spots and organizations started freaking out that others knew something that kept them from taking him and it had a trickle down effect – until Chip Kelly had to have thought "wait a minute" and snatched him up, knowing a great deal about his mentality and place since facing him for years in the Pac-12.
Switching gears to facilities popping up in the Pac-12, Neuheisel brought up the now all-too-familiar term "arms race." That's practically what it is. USC opened the McKay Center last fall. Oregon just opened its new football building. "The machine that created Nike is alive and well in Oregon athletics," he said.
And how about the SEC vs. the Pac-12? Neuheisel thinks within a couple years the Pac-12 can close the gap on the Southeastern Conference dominance. Interesting take, he thinks where the Pac-12 is lacking is in their development of the student-athlete and the missing piece is nutrition…and strength and conditioning. With the addition of the McKay Center, USC has a featured nutrition bar next to the weight room, run by the motto "Fuel on."
The discussion with Neuheisel also took the always-entertaining turn to discussing schedules. i.e. how the SEC schedules what one would call a gimme-game before big conference match ups. Whereas in the Pac-12, not so much the case. Anyone outside the SEC can argue this until they're blue in the face when looking at schedules.
The hot button topic of whether or not to open practices? Well, Neuheisel thinks by and large that coaches are paranoid and worry about secrecy. "If you have the players, you're going to win," he said. Now, that being said, Neuheisel did emphasize that as a coach, you need to be "you." In other words, Pete Carroll was Pete Carroll. Lane Kiffin is Lane Kiffin. Coaches should do it how they want to. Pete was a more-the-merrier kind of guy. Lane, not so much. And Neuheisel says "that's okay".
As far as those injury reports? The former head coach thinks league commissioners should standardize it. When Neuheisel was at the helm, he says he delivered an injury report but would always feel at a competitive disadvantage when his opponent would not.
An even hotter button -- play calling. "It is a very difficult thing to be a play caller and manager of the game," Neuheisel said. He pointed to both the Stanford and Arizona games in which USC lost in 2012 as times when play caller and game-manager roles conflicted by what Kiffin called at the end of each contest. "The roles conflict at times, in glaring ways," he said. But then again said the head coach, there are a lot of times when it goes the right way. This is when Neuheisel chuckles and says, "He beat me 50-0."
Max Browne, the starter? Okay, Rick. We'll give you a mulligan on this one. Don't know which practice reports you've been reading that have been telling you about a plethora of reps Browne has been taking…but it's just not the case. Neuheisel says sometimes in the case of a quarterback "You know it when you see it" and that you basically then have to go with it. Neuheisel insinuated that Browne is that kind of kid. Then again, he said maybe Browne was getting so many reps because he needs to be ready to go in to the game, incase Wittek or Kessler bolt after losing the competition. All interesting theories, though at this point, I don't see any of them panning out. Browne is taking third-team reps. Hardly getting any time during the main drills… doesn't exactly stack up to him being named the starter. If we were to have this same conversation with Neuheisel after he watched practice, bets are that his thoughts would be different.
Finally, if Rick Neuheisel were leading practices at USC through these sanctioned times, how would he do it? "BE PHYSICAL" he said.. oh - and he thinks USC it's possible for USC to win 11 games this season.