They're getting ready to say goodbye, the USC veterans are, as they head to Wednesday's Holiday Bowl (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
They've been here for as few as the two years of junior college transfer Claude Pelon, the three years of Su'a Cravens, leaving early for the NFL, and Delvon Simmons. The four years of Kevon Seymour and Jahleel Pinner. Or the five years of Cody Kessler, Tre Madden and Antwaun Woods.
But the way they're approaching this final moment of a tumultuous five years at USC that saw the Trojans do it all -- from putting together as good a team as there was in the nation by the end of 2011 to the No. 1 team in preseason for a 2012 that would see the bottom fall out for the players and the next year for their coach. They've had five of them, incredibly losing two coaches in midseason.
They won their first-ever Pac-12 South title this season after losing the first one four years earlier by a conference decision that because of the NCAA sanctions, they couldn't go bowling -- a penalty because they already had a penalty. The double-whammy for sure.
But they've also beaten a No. 4 Stanford team with 12 defenders total and knocked off a No. 3 Utah with a nearly full complement on the way to a 44-21 overall record including a pair of 10-win seasons, something no team under major sanctions has ever accomplished.
They've suffered through one of the worst-ever bowl games a Trojan team ever played in at that 2012 Sun Bowl. And they've performed pretty well -- offensively for sure -- the last two times out in the postseason. Clay Helton was in charge two years ago in Las Vegas against a good Fresno State team and then a year ago here, USC got out and held on against a Nebraska team with more talent than the one that whipped up on UCLA this week.
So where does that leave this Trojans team? And those leaving?
"It's a big test for this team," Cody said of the challenge of a 9-3 Wisconsin team after Sunday's practice, "and for the young guys for next year . . . the future is bright for this team."
But wasn't that the case for this USC team a year ago?
"We did have everything in place for this year," Cody said, "but there were some things we couldn't control . . . but the athletes are there, the coaches . . . if we can just avoid that stuff . . . all the pieces are there . . . and Coach Helton is good at that."
But as for Wednesday and the tough-defending Badgers, "I'm treating it as just another game even if it is my last game," Cody said in his finiS/Ch shirt. "I'm telling them not to make it about us."
"I just want to win," Su'a said. "I'm a competitive guy. I want to win every game. But I'm not going to make it more than it is."
As for himself, "I'm a DB at heart," Su'a says, "a pick would be nice . . . I've been trying to get to 10 (he has nine)." There's another reason he'd like to see a ball coming his way. It's USC's advantage, he said, "when we get them into passing situations."
As to what it feels like to be a Trojan for life, Su'a said "The Trojan family knows how I feel about them," and he has the "SC tattoo all over my body" to prove it.
This week's final game doesn't necessarily offer the best of news for Kevon, who is maybe better than 50-50 to be back Wednesday but still a game time decision with his high ankle sprain.
"It's my time," Kevon said. "I don't have any second thoughts. We stuck together through some tough times . . . I grew through the years here."
And no matter what happens this week, "I'll be fine," Kevon says. "I'll be able to start training next week" for the NFLPA Bowl Jan. 23. "I'm ready to move on."
And when Antwaun moves on, he'll have the selfie that USC Pres. Max Nikias took with him at practice last week. "At a lot of schools, you don't get that -- the president just comes out to watch practice."
"This game means everything to us," Helton says. ""We talk about finishing. These seniors have been all about finishing."
And now it's not just talk. For these seniors, and at least one more, this is it. It's the finish of one of the most indescribable eras in USC football.
When 7 points isn't a TD, it's a TV
Juju Smith-Schuster has been having a great time getting ready for the Holiday Bowl, he says. He appreciates the USC alums from the Trojan Club who greeted the team when they arrived at the hotel Saturday. And the red-blazered volunteers have been great. But he's really liking the new way of gifting the players.
"You get seven points," JuJu said. "And you can choose gifts from one to seven points." There were all sorts of things to choose from -- jewelry and watches to Beats headphones. But the top choice at seven points -- and JuJu's choice, he said, was "a TV set." How big? "Forty inches," JuJu said. And they deliver it to you at school in two to three weeks.
The next most popular item at the seven-point level, JuJu said, was a queen-sized mattress. "A lot of guys are ordering those," JuJu said.
SUNDAY QUICK HITS:Day 6 of USC's Holiday Bowl prep work -- and the first day in San Diego -- had the Trojans back in shoulder pads with helmets and shorts and jerseys for the 11 a.m. workout at Southwestern College's DeVore Stadium, a terrific facility in Chula Vista . . . the 90-minute extremely enthusiastic session was a full review of USC's completely installed game plan with the emphasis on first, second and third down situations . . . Monday will be red zone day . . . tight end Connor Spears, on his way back from going home to Sioux Falls, S.D., for Christmas, has been stuck in the Lubbock, Tex. airport for two nights now after his plane headed for Dallas-Ft. Worth to get him to his San Diego connection, was re-routed there after DFW was backed up. He's sleeping in the airport where there is no food service and the blizzard is making it tough to get delivery service from outside. He's on standby for Monday morning . . . Center Khaliel Rodgers was moving like normal on the ankle he tweaked last Sunday and said he's ready to go . . . Helton said after practice he has talked to Chad Wheeler, who will not be a part of the bowl prep work or with the team here because of the time to get up to speed but that he's "looking forward to getting him back in January" and that Chad will not be required to do anything in order to return to the team . . . Helton said he was going to keep his comments at that on "a very private matter" and that what he told Chad was that he "wished him the best wishes from the team and the hope that he gets back" . . . Tre Madden said his successful knee scope should allow him to return to training by next week and he should be fully ready to go for both the NFL Combine in February and Pro Day in March . . . After three days off for Christmas including Saturday's travel day to San Diego, USC also had out-of-town players arriving by air in San Diego from their hometowns both Saturday and Sunday . . . Monday's practice will also be at Southwestern at 11 . . . Trojans were heading to the San Diego Zoo at 2 Sunday and will follow up Monday's workout with a 2 p.m. tour of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.CHECK THIS OUT: For Sunday's practice report, check out SUNDAY DAY 6 HOLIDAY BOWL GHOST NOTES.
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