The USC football team’s long and miserable off-season comes to a welcome end Thursday night. The Trojans play the University of Hawaii in Honolulu to open the 2010 college football season. Kickoff is 8 p.m.
It’s the first game since the NCAA sanctioned USC for benefits that an agent gave to Trojan player Reggie Bush six years ago. The NCAA has barred USC from post-season bowl games this season and next. It also stripped the football program of 10 scholarships in each of the next two years.
As a result, USC has lost its swagger – and more.
Gone is the Grantland Rice Trophy, given to the Trojans when they crushed Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl – 55-19 – on January 4, 2005 to win college football's 2004 national title.
After nine seasons, Coach Pete Carroll’s gone, too – off to the NFL, professing innocence about the violations that got USC in trouble.
Athletic Director Mike Garrett is gone... well, “retired.” You “retire” when the NCAA strips your football program of two bowl games and 20 scholarships.
Gone, too, are Trojan players and recruits who figure that for two years, the grass on the football field is greener somewhere else.
But still at USC is quarterback Matt Barkley – and Barkley in cardinal-and-gold makes up for what’s gone. The hotshot from Mater Dei High was USC’s starting quarterback last season as a freshman. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, threw for 15 touchdowns, ran for two more – and led the Trojans to nine wins. Not bad for a kid.
USC’s violations had nothing to do with Barkley. He could have figured his NFL dreams had a better chance of coming true at another school. But Matt Barkley stayed – and because he did, the USC swagger NCAA sanctions wiped away could be back soon.
Petros Papadakis, host of "Petros & Money" on L.A. sportstalk radio station KLAC AM 570, expects a solid season from USC, despite the NCAA sanctions and and the embarrassing headlines during the off-season.
Papadakis told KPCC's Patt Morrison that with new coach Lane Kiffin and new athletic director Mike Garrett, "there's more intrigue surrounding USC football than ever because there's so many different faces in the athletic department and so many eyes on the university."
What those eyes will see is a winning season of USC football, says Papadakis. "Frankly, they still are the most talented team on the West Coast."
Papadakis played for USC 10 years ago and works as a game analyst on Fox Sports Network TV broadcasts of Pacific-10 conference football games. He says the 20 scholarships USC will lose over the next two seasons will hurt, but might not stop top recruits from signing up to play for the Trojans.
"Players don't go to USC to play in bowl games, to be frank," says Papadakis. "They go to USC to be showcased for the NFL, and certainly that's not going to be stopping anytime soon."