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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It's a long time till fall, but USC, UCLA appear to have a long way to go

In their final spring scrimmages, Trojans and Bruins show little to indicate they can be factors in the newly expanded Pacific 12 Conference.

April 23, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel talks to wide receiver Randall Carrol; USC Coach Lane Kiffin said his offense has "a lot of work to do."
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel talks to wide receiver Randall Carrol; USC Coach… (Kelvin Kuo / US Presswire;…)

It's not entirely ridiculous to think after watching USC and UCLA conclude spring practices Saturday that one (or both) of these current Pacific 10 teams could finish 11th or 12th.

The conference, after all, doesn't officially become the Pac-12 until July 1, when Utah and Colorado join and the league splits into North-South divisions.

OK, it's not going to happen. Washington State is still in the conference and newcomer Colorado, coached by former UCLA player Jon Embree, is probably going to pay basement rent for at least a few years.

Defense, running game do a lot, Matt Barkley only a little in final spring scrimmage

There was little evidence Saturday, however, to suggest USC and UCLA were ready to rush to the top of the new Pac-12 standings.

USC (8-5) and UCLA (4-8) were a combined 12-13 last year and, remember, one of USC's victories came against UCLA.

The schools staged final workouts — USC at the Coliseum, UCLA at Drake Stadium — under blue skies in discombobulating states.

UCLA finishes spring practice with questions at quarterback

USC is still hip-deep in probation, not knowing whether it will even be able to compete for the first Pac-12 title. The final verdict on its appeal of NCAA sanctions should be revealed any day (or month) now.

History suggests the Trojans will end up serving the second year of a two-year bowl ban, making 2011 another get-through-it season.

UCLA is 15-22 under third-year Coach Rick Neuheisel, yet he continues to lead cheers.

"There can only be one first-time Pac-12 champion," Neuheisel told fans after Saturday's spring game, "and it might as well be the Bruins."

Wow, is this guy an optimist?

Trojans and Bruins fans, for the most part, are still hanging with their respective programs.

An announced crowd of 16,850 stretched out arms and legs in the cavernous Coliseum and witnessed a very rough draft of September's script.

For what it was worth (nothing), USC's "White" team defeated the "Cardinal," 42-29.

Junior quarterback Matt Barkley spent an uncomfortable afternoon in the pocket, completing only 22 of 42 pass attempts for 212 yards with two interceptions.

Barkley, though, had an excuse. He was surrounded by inexperience and uncertainty.

It seemed the Trojans' favorite audible formation was "makeshift."

The offensive line is being retooled while two prospective big-play starters — tailback Marc Tyler and receiver Robert Woods — sat out with injuries.

Woods, according to the head coach, tweaked his ankle playing basketball, failing to heed the old axiom at USC that you should NEVER do that.

Barkley spent half the scrimmage redirecting teammates into their proper football positions.

"It was hard to evaluate," Coach Lane Kiffin said. "You [reporters] probably had to go to your rosters a lot."

We did.

Barkley didn't seem bothered, one way or the other.

"You've got to deal with what you have," he said.

Kiffin, seemingly desperate to get Barkley to the summer on a positive note, pushed Saturday's workout to the final whistle.

The scrimmage ended with Barkley "catching" a three-yard scoring pass from tailback Dillon Baxter.

You have to feel for Barkley, who was rushed into production as a freshman and now stands 17-7 as a two-year starter. The school is on probation for violations he had nothing to do with, and his best postseason victory may turn out to be a bowl (Emerald) that has changed title sponsors.

The best news (for him) is he becomes NFL-eligible next spring.

With Barkley under center, USC has finished tied for fifth and tied for third. Where it is going to finish this year is anyone's guess. The defense will presumably be better now that Kiffin has given the unit the go-ahead to tackle.

But how can you really tell? USC played Saturday's scrimmage without its three starting linebackers. And the defense was going against an offense no one would compare right now to Oregon's.

UCLA's spring (and spring game) were equally murky. The official stat sheet even listed the conditions as "slight haze."

Sure, the kettle corn smelled great inside Drake and UCLA's powder blue uniforms glistened in the West Side sunset.

Everything else was either wait-and-see or duck-and-cover. Kevin Prince, last year's starting quarterback, is recovering from knee surgery. Injuries, among other things, have made it difficult to get a full read on Neuheisel's first three years.

The bottom line, ultimately, is all that matters and Neuheisel knows it — or should know it.

There was not, however, much to derive from Saturday's scrimmage other than to say: check back in August.

There was an interesting glimpse into the future in the form of a hulking freshman quarterback name Brett Hundley, who showed flashes of what someday might be brilliance.

But now? "Brett has great athletic ability, but right now it's swimming in his head," Neuheisel said.

Hundley completed seven of 13 passes for 57 yards, but you know something has gone wrong if UCLA has to start him next September at Houston.

UCLA, safe to say, has issues. The offensive line can't seem to stay in one five-man piece, which renders irrelevant almost every other thing that happens in a spring game.

Richard Brehaut, the football/baseball player, got the first call Saturday but it wasn't the last call. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 102 yards but made enough mistakes to keep the position open until fall.

Neuheisel says the days of inconsistent quarterback play are over.

"Can't do it," he said. "And I'm not going to tolerate it as a coach."

So there's your spring football wrap on the locals. Sorry it couldn't be gift-wrapped.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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