Back at it -- for a bowl and next fall

USC's Trojans returned to the practice field Friday as they look ahead to a bowl game -- and to who will be back for 2015 -- and why it might make sense for them to do that.

The look Friday was a team in full pads happy to be back playing football without any other specific goal in mind. Once again this Trojans team, off since the Notre Dame game, showed how much "they love football," Steve Sarkisian said.

"They love competition," said Sark, who was "extremely impressed with their energy."

Indeed they did look like they loved being back -- Sark wasn't just blowing smoke here. But with the wait to see who USC will be playing in a bowl, not to mention when and where, the football talk turned to Sark's meetings this week with players eligible to leave early and maybe give the NFL a try.

They're in a whole new place this year -- and that's everybody involved, Sark indicated. The players know him now and he knows them. They can talk about this with one another.

And the NFL has changed the way this all goes down now. The league was not pleased with the record 107 players who came out early a year ago and the 45 who went undrafted.

"We tried to help them," Sark said of the USC players who left as he and his staff were coming in -- players like Dion Bailey, George Uko and Xavier Grimble.

"Last year I told those guys I wish I'd known them longer and we'd developed more of a relationship, more of a trust . . . I don't blame those guys.

"They didn't know me very well," Sark said. "We tried to help them . . . not all of them made the best decisions and some of them are on the streets right now and not playing football and they could be out there running around with us and having a blast . . . I feel bad it went down that way."

It won't go down that way this year. For starters, the NFL is limiting the number of early draft evaluations to just five players per school. And it's also limiting the scope of the evaluations. A player will get "either a first or second round grade -- or no evaluation," Sark said.

"It's going to very clear whether you should leave or not," Sark said. Not nearly as many chances for false hopes. But there would be these hopes for staying, Sark said, including working on their games, getting their degrees and . . . "being part of a championship team next fall."

That part Sark reiterated. "Competitively as the head coach at SC, sure I want them to be here. I think we have the chance to do something uniquely special next fall."

But first, Sark said, he wants "to be a viable resource" for the USC players who have been meeting with him. "I've been through it enough . . . I don't want them to feel like they can't open up and talk to me."

Something Sark does want, however: "that these guys make really educated decisions, not emotional decisions, that's the most important part."

This isn't going to happen right away although the Jan. 15 deadline for declaring isn't all that far away. "I want them to take their time in gathering information and when the time is right they'll make an educated decision and let everybody else know what they're doing," Sark said.

But not yet. They haven't decided who will submit the evaluation requests from USC yet. "I think we'll be OK there," Sark said.

Players who would be eligible to go early include many of the stars who could be back for the Trojans next year: Leonard Williams, who may be the first pick in the draft and almost has to go, followed by the likes of Nelson Agholor, Buck Allen, Cody Kessler and Max Tuerk.


USC will practice twice more this weekend at 8:45 Saturday and Sunday and then probably take exam week off with a return next weekend although that will somewhat depend on the bowl selection and game date to be announced Sunday afternoon . . . USC appears to be the choice of both the Alamo and Holiday Bowls if Arizona acquits itself well enough Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game to get an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl . . . only Trojan regular in a yellow jersey Friday was Adoree Jackson although Leon McQuay III, out in full pads but with a brace on his left knee, mostly observed . . . academically ineligible tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Sark said, is not practicing because he's tending to his academic duties right now . . . Kenny Bigelow, in shorts but running around with his D-line mates, was the lone rehabbing Trojan back . . . no Lamar Dawson, Jordan Simmons, Tre Madden or Jabari Ruffin . . . Four coaches out recruiting: Keith Heyward, Chris Wilson, Peter Sirmon and Marques Tuiasosopo.

For a postpractice wrapup of Friday's workout, check out See what USC Trojan fans are saying here Top Stories