UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- Two years ago, Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl conveyed a very different feeling about the USC program to say the least. Remember, the Trojans were one month removed from sanctions levied by the NCAA, which were, at the time, the harshest since the SMU death penalty in the 1980s. Fast forward to now, it's being pegged to win the conference title game with 102 votes, compared to Oregon's 18. It'll likely be a top-five team nationally. Yes, that USC. They weren't supposed to be leading the pack amid the third year of probation. But nonetheless, Lane Kiffin and Co. appear to be chasing a national title this year. So for now, here are a few things we learned from Pac-12 Media Day on Tuesday at Universal Studies.
1.) Running back depth is a 'concern'
Someone was going to ask about Silas Redd, of course. In the wake of reports on Monday night linking USC to the Penn State running back, that was going to be an obvious question. But before it was even raised, Lane Kiffin offered up the following during his opening statement:
"Our No. 1 concern is our running back position. We're concerned about our depth there. We know what we have at quarterback, receiver and we know people are going to try to take those guys away, so they will bring seven‑man boxes and opportunities for our running backs to make plays. We will have to do a great job at developing depth at running back."
So you want to develop depth at running back, eh?
Of course, when later asked, he did give the standard line ... "they're just like high school kids and we can't say anything about that."
At the moment, we don't really know if Redd will end up coming to Los Angeles. It's too soon to tell. But we do know, if it does happen, USC will have a bit of roster shuffling to do. The NCAA announced on Tuesday that for any team facing scholarship restrictions such as USC, they cannot go over the prescribed limit to accept a Penn State transfer -- who is able to play immediately as the result of sanctions. Other programs facing the normal 85-scholarship limit can add beyond that total.
So should the Trojans, who are at the 75 limit now, wish to add Redd, they'll be faced with two options to make room. One is if 2012 signee Darreus Rogers doesn't academically qualify. He is the only player not to have arrived on campus yet. The other would be to strip a scholarship away from a current player. Linebacker Will Andrew, linebacker Tony Burnett and center Abe Markowitz are all former walk-ons, but whether any of them lose a scholarship to make way for Redd is speculation.
2.) Nelson Agholor at running back
There are other backfield options should Redd not in fact transfer. First off, it looks as if Agholor, the incoming freshman wideout from Tampa, Fla., will get a crack at the position. He was recruited by schools as a receiver, primarily, but because of the aforementioned depth concerns at tailback, he'll start out his career there.
"Our plan up to today has been to put Nelson at running back because of the issues there," Kiffin said. "Outside of Curtis, really, D.J. has played a little bit, nobody has played. As of today, that's the direction he's headed."
3.) Robert Woods isn't 100 percent
This isn't a big surprise, necessarily. Woods has been slow to recover since undergoing surgery on his right ankle last December to fix torn ligaments that bothered him throughout the 2011 season. The injury was initially sustained while playing basketball. So he missed spring practice as a result, along with a majority of the Trojans' summer players-only workouts after the surgery. And Kiffin doesn't expect him to be 100 percent healthy by the time fall camp begins on Aug. 6, either.
What's taken so long? "It never really recovered the way it was supposed to," Kiffin said when speaking to a huddle of reporters over lunch.
But here's the thing: Woods wasn't at 100 percent last season, according to Kiffin. He was at 75 percent and still managed to catch 111 passes, breaking the conference single-season mark, which the Trojans' head coach called "amazing."
4.) Lane is likeable
You see it now. Columns, stories about the evolution of Lane Kiffin. He's more mature now, etc., etc. But Kiffin downplayed this once again.
"Winning solves a lot of problems," he said. "The change has not been me. The change has been because our players have won more games."
Whether Kiffin's actually changed per se can be debated or argued. That's fine. But Kiffin is far more favorably received among college football fans than he was 23 months ago. That's fairly evident. People, generally, and especially in Southern California, seem to like him. That's because, as he says, USC, which went 10-2 last season, is winning again.
"You sign up for that when you're a head coach," he added.
Kiffin pointed out -- and his argument might very well be correct -- that this is all circumstantial. If Alejandro Maldonad's kick doesn't go wide left, USC wouldn't have beaten Oregon 38-35 last season. It might've very well lost and not reached the 10-win plateau. So, you know, things can change.
Winning helps. I think we can all agree with that.
5.) Barkley was close to leaving
This isn't the first time he's mentioned this, but it's noteworthy, still. Barkley almost bolted for the NFL. After the UCLA game last November, a 50-0 win for USC, he described himself as being on an "emotional high" and nearly left as a result.
"I thought for sure I was going to the NFL but once that settled down and I started looking into it all, I think I made the right call," he said on Tuesday. "I wasn't really thinking right after that game I was just feeling so great about the season."
And so, as new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez added, "maybe" he'll end up being the No. 1 overall pick in April's NFL Draft anyway.
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