USC offensive lineman Jeff Byers has been preparing for Penn State, not knowing whether it would be the final game of his college career or just the fourth of what he hopes will be five consecutive postseason appearances for the Trojans at the Rose Bowl.
On Friday, after receiving word that the NCAA had granted him an additional season of eligibility, Byers said he would return in 2009.
Next season's Bowl Championship Series title game will be played at the Rose Bowl.
"I was thankful to finally get an answer on it," said Byers, a fifth-year senior from Colorado. "I've been kind of stressing over it and it's been wearing on me.
"But it's nice to know and nice to have the decision I think a lot of people wanted to hear."
Byers, who played in 13 games as a freshman in 2004, petitioned the NCAA for a "clock-extension waiver" because he missed nearly all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons because of injuries.
He had hip surgery in 2005 and then suffered a back injury in the 2006 opener that forced him to sit out the remainder of that season.
Byers started at left guard in 2007 and again this season, though he missed most of training camp while recovering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
As he waited in recent weeks for the NCAA's ruling, Byers said he was unsure whether he would return or make himself available for the NFL draft even if his petition were approved.
But after conferring with his parents, Coach Pete Carroll and offensive line coach Pat Ruel, Byers decided to come back and be a part of an offensive line that will return intact. He also will complete work for a graduate degree in business.
"Coming back gives me an opportunity to do a lot of things I set out to do . . . and develop my football skills and play for another winning football team because we know we're going to be good again next year," Byers said.
Byers also hopes to increase his NFL draft stock.
"He'd like to get himself an opportunity to play at the next level, and he wants to see how much he can improve," Ruel said.
Cornerback Josh Pinkard is still awaiting word from the NCAA on his petition for a sixth season of eligibility.
Pinkard missed nearly all of the 2005 and 2006 seasons because of knee injuries that required surgery.
The fifth-year senior from Oxnard remained noncommittal about his plans to either stay or go pro if his petition is approved.
"I'm still 50-50 on it, not leaning either way," Pinkard said.
Receiver Damian Williams (shoulder) participated in a few non-contact drills and remains on track to return for the Rose Bowl. Safety Kevin Ellison (knee) remains sidelined.
A Rose Bowl pep rally for USC will be held on Dec. 29 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Americana at Brand in Glendale. The event is free to the public.
Carroll's "A Better L.A." foundation will co-host a Christmas party and toy drive today at Helen Keller Park at 1045 W. 126th St. in Los Angeles.
The event begins at 1 p.m. and includes a visit from Santa Claus from 3:30 to 5 p.m.