After winning seven straight Pac-10 titles and making seven straight BCS bowl appearances, the Emerald Bowl is definitely a step down for USC, and the result of a disappointing season that saw the Trojans on the losing end of four games.
Pete Carroll, realizing that he didn't want to be in this position again, has made the bowl game against Boston College an opportunity to build his team back up and make some subtle changes for the future.
"It's a new time for us," he said. "To think anything else would be putting your head in the sand."
The bowl preparations began with two physical practices this past weekend, in which Carroll introduced the Trojan Drill, a variation of the famously grueling Oklahoma Drill, which really set the tone for an intense couple of weeks.
"We did something on that weekend that made sense to these guys and I think it kicked us into a different mentality that we need to be in," Carroll said. "We will see if we can carry that over and keep going.
"It's all about sustaining this level of competition on the practice field that makes a difference."
Like the entire 2009 squad, freshman quarterback Matt Barkley entered the season with a lot of confidence and potential, but limped down the stretch after a long season that included some major struggles and costly injuries.
But instead of dwelling on the failures of the regular season, Barkley says the team is motivated and optimistic for the fresh start that a bowl game provides.
"We are turning the page. It's a new start," Barkley said. "It's already a new beginning and I think this break off really helped in just letting us realize that it's a new season already. It's time to pick it back up and get ready to beat the Eagles.
"I have tried to forget about a lot that has happened, even the good wins, and really turn the page to start something new with this game."
After suffering their worst season since 2001, Carroll felt a change in the team's mentality was needed to get back to the success that they have enjoyed the previous seven seasons.
"We have to climb our way back up and we have to do that in a particular manner," Carroll said.
While it's way too early to know if the Trojans have started to make the necessary progress, because actions are always more valuable than words, Carroll believes the right steps are being made in the road back to the top of the Pac-10.
"I feel like we have set a course for us that redirects us a little bit about how we go about stuff, to make sure that we take note of what just occurred, so that we can fix things, adjust, make sure that we are maxing out with our approach and mentality as we grow back into being the kind of team that we'd love to be," said Carroll.
To Stay or Not to Stay…
After a disappointing sophomore season in which he lost his starting spot to Clay Matthews III, USC defensive end Everson Griffen has shown growth in 2009 under the watchful eye of defensive line coach Jethro Franklin.
Griffen earned All-Pac-10 second team honors by recording 44 tackles and a team-high 8 sacks, but did he display enough production and maturity to warrant a jump to the NFL?
That is the question that Griffen will have to make in the coming weeks. The 6-3, 265-pound junior admitted that he has given some thought to his future plans but is in no rush to make a decision.
"I gave it a little bit of thought, and put my evaluation in like all the other juniors do, and I am just waiting to get that back," Griffen said.
Jan. 15th is the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft and the talented junior said he plans to take his time and consult his parents and coaches before letting his intentions known.
"I have to talk it over with my parents and coaches and see what best fits me, and is going to benefit me in the long run."
- Injured tailback Stafon Johnson made his first appearance at practice since suffering a life-threatening throat injury on Sept. 28th. Johnson has started working out and Carroll said considering entering the NFL draft.
"We continue to talk," Carroll said. "We are just waiting for the doctors to clear him to really declare what's going on. He is thinking about coming out."
- USC tailback Allen Bradford banged his knee when he was hit by a defender during a 9-on-7 drill and left practice early. Bradford said he had an MCL strain but no structural damage. Bradford and Pete Carroll both said he would be fine to play in the Emerald Bowl on the 26th.
"He was concerned because he got hit right on it but the trainers said they thought he was totally stable and everything was OK," Carroll said.
- USC wide receiver David Ausberry continues to make progress during practice and is expected to be available for the Emerald Bowl, Carroll said.
- USC Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley has started watching tape of Boston College's defense and has been impressed with their play and their size in particular.
"I have watched a couple of games. Big guys, big physical defense, I don't know if it's typical east coast but big solid defense," Barkley said. "They play their keys well and it will be a good matchup with their size and our speed."
Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates agreed with Barkley's assessment, adding: "Their strength is their physical mentality. They are just tough character people. They are going to come and it's going to be a bar fight."
- USC was named the Team of the Decade by SportsIllustrated.com on Thursday. In the decade, the Trojans won seven straight Pac-10 titles, made seven straight BCS bowl appearances, won two national championships and had three Heisman Trophy winners (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush).
Tailback Allen Bradford left practice early with a strained MCL.
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