It's been a while. And now early Friday, we get back to it -- an honest-to-goodness full postseason bowl prep period that we haven't seen here in years.
The creeps at the NCAA took two years away and we're not sure you can count Pete's last year in 2009 when the focus for the Emerald Bowl -- remember that rain-plagued game at a baseball stadium in Frisco that seems now mostly a bad dream -- was whether Joe McKnight -- gasp -- was sitting in his girlfriend's SUV after practice.
Although that wasn't nearly as bad a nightmare as the first bowl game back when Lane Kiffin went on some sort of mini-strike trying for a contract extension and farmed out -- then pulled back -- the offensive coordinator's and playcalling duties for a Sun Bowl week and game that will live in infamy. And not just for the Ronald McDonald clown shoes.
And then we have last year when the early Las Vegas Bowl date and the even earlier departure of Ed Orgeron left USC with six of the 15 permitted bowl practices to use as the roster of 44 originally recruited scholarship players mostly rested up. But they managed to prepare mentally and emotionally under interim coach Clay Helton for one of the better performances anywhere last bowl season.
But that's six years now since USC has had a normal full bowl postseason practice schedule. And almost no carryover for the next season other than from the game itself.
Now -- and we like the way Steve Sarkisian jumped on this thought the other day -- it's back. A full schedule to get things done for a young, talented team that has to be looking back on this season and saying what might have been.
The potential 15 extra practices are "badly needed," Sark says. We agree. Lots of good things can happen here.
But we think the mindset is most important. And that mindset should be not that these are USC's finishing-up practices following an 8-4 season.
They should be considered the opening salvo for a 2015 season that could be at least as special as 2014 would have been had the Trojans not lost two or three games they could have and maybe should have won.
For the nine Trojan freshmen who earned 60 starts -- 56 by true freshmen -- this should not be the end of their first season but the start of the second one. This team did such a good job in the spring, summer and early fall, let's just go back there as USC goes forward.
Get everybody on board here -- and now. Get those numbers up. Incorporate the likes of Uchenna Nwosu and Olajuwon Tucker, Jonathan Lockett and Max Browne, Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell, Nico Falah and Don Hill and Matt Boermeester along with the redshirts, walkons and former walkons who can help.
Maybe even find a place -- however much you must recognize the rehab issues -- for the likes of Jordan Simmons, Lamar Dawson, Jabari Ruffin, Kenny Bigelow and Tre Madden as they work their way back to football speed. Not a bad way to start the recruiting year with that fivesome.
And continue the tone of the physical, aggressive, uptempo Trojan team that showed up Saturday for the Notre Dame game with coaches and game and practice plans to match.
No excuses. Go for it. The standard at USC, Sark has said, for players and coaches, is "to win championships." It's that simple, that straightforward.
Start now. Get quicker, smarter, more certain -- and maybe most of all, more confident. "Everybody on the same page," as Sark said they were for Notre Dame.
Coaches and players, quarterback and offensive coordinator/playcallers thinking alike. Defensive players who want to attack and coaches figuring out how they can make the plays they need to make when they do that.
Forget playing not to lose or to protect your numbers. Make the other team play to protect itself. Get ready to go for it -- and for them.
Nothing else will be satisfactory. No more of how young this team is but how talented it can be.
And not some day down the road but tomorrow -- and by tomorrow, we mean Friday, Dec. 5.
Get the ball rolling so that the sense of where this can go pervades everything. You'd like to think that a player with eligibility left who's on the fence about going or staying -- and we're obviously not talking Leonard Williams here who must move on -- maybe that player decides to stay with his guys for what could be a memorable 2015.
If all the players on that list make that call, this is a team that could be preseason Top Five. Even if all of them don't, this is a team that could be up where it would have been this year -- if only . . . .
Get it right starting Friday and there may be no "if only" to think about.
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