For Chad Wheeler, Week 2 was a chance for people to congratulate him on his first-team All-America selection by Campus Insiders at the end of last week. "I appreciated making first-team All-Pac-12," the 6-foot-6, 312-pound left offensive tackle out of Santa Monica said. "That was icing on the cake . . . It's an honor to be up on the wall with all the other [All-American] guys."
Wheeler, who came to USC in the teeth of the NCAA sanctions in 2012 after two years of a bowl ban and with a team scholarship limit of 75 and just 15 new scholarships a year for three years, said despite it all, "We'd like to be in the playoffs, of course,"
Those limits caused us "some long conversation when it came to evaluating players," said top recruiter and offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who came to USC the same year as Chad, "we couldn't make a mistake."
"The Rose Bowl is a great place to start [the USC comeback]," Chad said, as he goes for his 45th career start Jan. 2. That includes his first bowl game -- the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013 -- when USC had available just 44 originally recruited scholarship players. "This is coming full circle," he said, "to be in one of the greatest bowls ever."
It's what he expected. "We knew we'd have to play twice as hard, to practice twice as hard to bring back the legacy of USC," Chad said. "It makes me proud. I'd rather be in the playoffs but this is a great step." But it's not about being there, Chad says. "We're thinking about the W."
Which is how this USC offense is going about it this week -- going back over the game plan that was fully installed last week. "But we want them to evaluate what they're doing," Clay Helton said. "If there's a way we can do something better . . . " then the word is to say something.
This is the week for tweaks as USC goes through Thursday morning, then lets the players go home for Christmas, returning Monday evening and heading off to the team hotel Tuesday morning before the two teams' Disneyland press conference that afternoon. Practice resumes Wednesday.
"I'm just taking it like a game week," Sam Darnold said. "It's practice hard, play hard." But that's not all it is. It's a chance "to work on my movement, on little things," Sam said, "like my hip movement and flexibility." Those are the things teams don't have the luxury to pull out and perfect in the week-to-week grind of the regular season.
"We just have to keep sharpening the axe," redshirt freshman tight end Daniel Imatrobhebhe said, "can't let it get dull. We know what our goals are. We know the game won't be won at the Rose Bowl in two weeks, it'll be won by what we do here."
Rose Bowl remembered
Daniel I. and his brother Josh were born in the Kaiser hospital in Riverside, he says, and stayed here in Southern California until he was five before moving to Georgia. So going back to the Rose Bowl is going home-- two games there in the last three, actually. "It's a dream come true," he said Tuesday after practice. "We used to watch the parade every year."
And now they're back. "I'll be pinching myself when I get there," he says of game day.
Senior Justin Davis is on the same page. "I'm loving every second of it," he says of the Rose Bowl run up. "To be part of a team that's come together like this . . . I'm truly blessed . . . watching past Rose Bowls and seeing that environment where great players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart played . . . "
Back in full pads, USC got after it, going fast and hard if not perfectly precise Tuesday . . . Pretty amazing how so many players you hear answer this question, about their early memories of the Rose Bowl -- from Penn State or USC -- and they say the name Reggie Bush. What an impact he had on a generation of football players . . . No injury report except for no sight of Khaliel Rodgers, out for concussion protocol last week . . . "Two days to go," Ronald Jones II said after practice. No, he wasn't talking about a football thing, it was a going-home thing and the chance to get his favorite Whataburger meal -- "a patty melt" and those special biscuits "they only serve from 11 til 11," he said. He weighs 200 now, "but I might come back weighing 210," he says with a laugh . . . Zach Banner said he's "really excited" about his selection to the Senior Bowl. Said it's "another good thing that's happened" to him for staying around . . . Asked if he's had any coaching feelers from other places, offensive coordinator Tee Martin said he has but no go. "I want to be at USC," he said . . .Tailback Davis' description for the Penn State defense -- "a rowdy bunch . . . a very sound front seven." . . . For more play-by-play from Wednesday's practice, go to TUESDAY WEEK 2 ROSE BOWL GHOST NOTES.
Not a USCFootball.com member? Sign up now and you'll get a seven day FREE trial! Join the Peristyle Family and get all the great information from USC football practices, Trojan football games, access to the Peristyle and all of the premium recruiting updates on USCFootball.com! Become a member today!