This might be the only week of the year when a football team not only must look ahead, it's encouraged to do so. There's really nothing else to do on a Saturday after practice before a team knows its bowl opponent.
And so USC did just that after another upbeat full-pads competitive 90-minute morning workout, the Trojans' second of 15 allowed in the postseason.
Sunday afternoon they find out for certain which bowl they'll be headed to. But earlier this week, some of the marquee Trojans with a year left at USC were thinking about next year -- or next month, actually, with the Jan. 15 deadline for declaring early for the NFL Draft looming.
Three of them in particular talked about it. Cody Kessler talked a lot, seeing as how the only reason we were asking him was "that it speaks to the year I had . . . It's a cool opportunity."
Buck Allen said he'll absolutely get his NFL evaluation -- one of just five each team is allowed this year -- but isn't spending any time thinking about it and has yet to discuss his future with his family in Florida.
First-team All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk had the best answer for USC fans. Will he get an evaluation? "Nawww," Max said, "I'm going to stay." Just like that.
But it was quarterback Kessler who went into the most detail on his thinking. "Sark told me to get an evaluation and focus on that," Cody said, admitting that this is a more serious look than he anticipated he'd be taking earlier in the season.
Cody said something else, referencing Sark's talking point about how players returning would be coming back "for a championship team."
"I told him if I did come back, that'd be the main reason," Cody said. "This team left a lot on the field this year."
And a return for Cody would allow him to "work on getting the ball out quicker and helping the O-line out," he said.
What Sark said in their meeting he said for now "is best kept between us . . . not until he makes his decision," Sark said. But he's "seen it both ways" with quarterbacks. "Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Jake Locker all decided to stay and were Top 10 picks," Sark said, "Mark Sanchez decided to leave and he was a Top 10 pick."
But Sark did say he was pleased with Cody's rationale for a return -- for a championship run. "That's indicative of his character," Sark said.
"He knows how close we were," Sark said of USC's gut-wrenching losses that he thought may have hit Cody harder than anyone. "He knows how close we are."
Allen, at 23 and a ballcarrier who knows his clock is running said he's thought about his draft evaluation and leaving early "not at all," he said. "Honestly now I'm focusing on playing in our bowl game."
But he's getting his evaluation. "Most definitely . . . any player should send that in." And then he would have something to "sit down with my family to talk about." But that will be then. This is now, Buck said.
And like Cody, he thinks about what might have been this season: "We should have won those games," he said. "But everything happens for a reason."
And would the reason for him to return be the same as Cody's, a chance at a championship? "Most definitely," Buck said.
Change spots . . . or not
With Chris Hawkins' Pick-Six Saturday, the move from corner to safety for the redshirt freshman was off to a good start. And it makes sense.
Facing so many four receiver sets, teams are absolutely going to have to have a cover safety on the field. But that defender will also have to be big and strong enough to take on the open field tackling duties of a safety.
"He's got a high football IQ," Sark said of the 5-foot-11, 185-pound redshirt sophomore who started the first four games after Josh Shaw's suspension only to give up the spot to Adoree Jackson for the final eight games.
"But if that's the way we're going," Sark said, "we're going to have to change his body . . . to get in the weight room" this winter.
But he might not be the only "body changer" in the winter weight room, Sark said. After they "self scout" the way they turned Su'a Cravens into a ball-hawking line of scrimmage hybrid linebacker/safety, they'll see which way they want to go with Su'a.
"He was ridiculously productive," Sark said of the way Su'a's forced fumbles and tackles for losses "skyrocketed" after he was brought up close to the line of scrimmage. "It's hard to move him away from the ball."
Shaw won't be available to the media with the defensive players Sunday, Sark said, although once bowl practice arrived, he was supposed to be able to be interviewed . . . Sark said he has yet to talk to Shaw about how this is going to go and didn't want to get out ahead of things . . . USC will practice bright and early at 8 a.m. on a big Sunday when the Trojans find out officially where they'll be bowling . . . with the men's basketball team hosting Utah State at 2 p.m. and the bowl announcements coming around 2:45, it will make for a full day . . . Juju Smith was held out Saturday with an ankle he rolled late in practice Friday but he looked like he could have practiced if he was needed . . . Sark said he's taking no chances with the freshman wide receiver . . . despite Arizona taking the gas Friday night, USC folks still believe the Trojans will get the call from the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl in San Diego . . . no Trojan was in a yellow jersey Saturday . . . Four coaches out recruiting Friday were all back Saturday: Keith Heyward, Chris Wilson, Keith Heyward and Marques Tuiasosopo.
For a postpractice wrapup of Saturday's workout, check out See what USC Trojan fans are saying here